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  • Writer's pictureAlison Jolicoeur

Exploring the Human Shadow and Emotional Triggers

Deep in the shadow lies our deepest potential for healing, integration, and expression of our whole authentic self. Just like a seed that is buried in the Earth, full of potential, the shadow aspects of our psyche contain the potential for spiritual growth and ultimately enlightenment. In order for us to fully integrate these aspects into our consciousness we must take 100% responsibility for ALL of who we are without repressing, denying, or shaming what we discover in the darkness.

We all have a light and a dark side. In “new age” circles we hear a lot about focusing on the light. I even named my business Beacon of Light Wellness Center, but we have to be willing to shine that Beacon into the darkest of places for true healing to occur. That light is the light of our awareness.

You may be wondering, what is the human shadow?

Shadow Self is a term originally explored by psychiatrist Carl Jung. In his own words, “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”

The shadow contains all of the disowned aspects of our self along with all of the emotions, secrets, desires, urges and impulses - all the juicy stuff that we consider to be unacceptable, shameful, or even evil. Hidden in the shadow also lies many positive attributes including creative passions, intuitive impulses, and innovative drive. If we were taught to deny these aspects, then they were also cast to the dark side.

How is the shadow formed?

The shadow is formed during early conditioning from our parents, teachers, and society at large.

Imagine the child that is expressive and silly in the classroom and is told by the teacher to tone it down and take a seat, or the child that throws a tantrum and is taught that behavior is unacceptable. We all have basic human needs that are instinctual and biologically hardwired, such as the need to be safe and to belong, to be loved and accepted.

As we developed, if our feelings or behaviors threatened our most basic human needs, we learned to adjust our behavior as a means of survival.

In A Little Book of the Human Shadow, poet Robert Bly says “the child puts all of these unwanted parts into an invisible bag and drags it behind him.”

As authors and Jungian therapists Steve Price and David Haynes write:

“But, as we develop our ego personality, we also do something else at the same time. What has happened to all those parts of our original potential that we didn’t develop? They won’t just cease to exist: they will still be there, as potential or as partly developed, then rejected, personality attributes, and they will live on in the unconscious as an alternative to the waking ego. So, by the very act of creating a specifically delineated ego personality, we have also created its opposite in the unconscious. This is the shadow. Everyone has one.”

What happens if you deny your shadow?

To deny your shadow is essentially to remain unconscious. What we deny in ourselves, we will see in others. This is called projecting - when we see things in others that are actually within our selves. Just as the seed contains life force energy, these denied aspects of our selves want to be seen, and to be known, and they will show up whether we like it or not. When denied, the shadow can manifest as addictions or other mental, emotional, or spiritual imbalances.

The place where we play out our shadow aspects the most is in relationship. Many relationships have suffered because the shadow self has taken the helm and operated on autopilot while the conscious self has taken a back seat. When this happens we run the risk of saying or doing things we might later regret.

Psychotherapist Robert A. Johnson writes:

We generally seek to punish that which reminds us most uncomfortably about the part of ourselves that we have not come to terms with, and we often ‘see’ these disowned qualities in the world around us.

When the shadow is reflected back to us we may find ways to punish those who mirror us by criticizing, rejecting, hating, or in the most extreme cases - physically harming them. This leads to dysfunction and eventually destruction of the relationship.

How do we work with the shadow?

One of the most effective ways you can begin to identify your shadow is to pay attention to your emotional reactions toward other people, especially the people you are closest with because those are also the people you are most comfortable with. When we are triggered and have a strong negative reaction toward someone, that points to very valuable information about ourselves. It can be a challenge to catch ourselves in the moment, but if we take time to reflect at the end of the day on our interactions with other people, we can begin to look at who and what triggered a strong emotional response. This points directly to a disowned aspect of our selves.

As Jung says:

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.

Explore these aspects. Objectively look at these aspects from all angles and accept them as a part of yourself. Perhaps you can identify when as a child you began to disown that part of yourself. Journal about what comes to the surface when exploring the shadow. The shadow can be explored within a Shamanic Reiki session - journeying back to a time when a part of the self was denied and dialoguing with the inner child, or the shadow self. Many insights can be gained if we are willing to look to what lies hidden.

Another way to get to know your shadow side is to channel these aspects creatively. Explore your hidden emotions through art, music, yoga, movement, dance, writing - whatever calls to you! Allow your self to feel all of what bubbles up and express it creatively. By doing this, we begin to embrace what once was hidden, which leads to integration and greater wholeness of the self.

In today's world, with all of the built-in distractions, shadow work is a noble enterprise. We can see how the collective shadow plays out in the political arenas and is perpetuated throughout mainstream media. The outer world is a projection of the inner world. If we all would be willing to collectively take responsibility for what we see in the outer world, stop projecting our problems onto the other (fill in the blank) and do the inner work, think of how our outer experiences would change!

If we are willing to bring the light of our consciousness into the darkest places, the rewards are deeper love, acceptance, and compassion for yourself and others, more meaningful relationships, more confidence and expression of your authentic self, more mental clarity, more wholeness, spiritual integration, and connection.

More Humanness.

To book a Shamanic Reiki session with Alison, Shamanic Reiki Master Teacher,

Call or Text 845-202-3515 or email

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