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Alcohol and Mental Health

Shadow Work: The Murky Parts of the Mind

July 11, 2023
8 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 11, 2023
8 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 11, 2023
8 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 11, 2023
8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 11, 2023
8 min read

Shadow work — is this some New Age spiritual practice? Not exactly. Rooted in the theories of renowned Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, the concept of the “Shadow” refers to the unseen facets of our personality that we prefer to keep hidden, the parts that don't often come out during our day-to-day interactions.

Your “shadow” can include a diverse range of traits — those pesky fears, the desire to procrastinate, that twinge of jealousy when a friend achieves something you’ve been striving for, and even the small guilty pleasures we all indulge in when no one is watching.

Meet Your Shadow

Despite the somewhat ominous name, the shadow isn't all bad. It's a complex mix of the less-than-ideal, the suppressed, and even the remarkable aspects of our personalities that we've been made to believe are unacceptable. The shadow isn't just the part of us that experiences anger or greed — it's also the part that feels joy, love, and courage, often at times and in ways we least expect.

So, how do we explore this shadow? Through the process of shadow work, which involves delving into and understanding these hidden elements of ourselves.

Shadows in the Bottle

When it comes to alcohol use, your shadows can play a significant role. For some, a glass of wine or a cold beer might serve as a momentary retreat, a detour from dealing with challenging feelings or unsolved matters. It can serve as a form of self-medication, numbing the anxiety, stress, or emotional pain that are part of our shadow selves.

Our shadows might also reflect feelings of guilt, regret, or concern related to our drinking. We might have butterflies in our stomach about the effects of drinking on our health, relationships, or job performance, or feel guilty about past incidents that happened when we overindulged. These worries often remain tucked away beneath the immediate joy that a drink can bring, making it tricky to break out of the cycle.

Most importantly, however, our booze-related shadow can also contain the seeds of a desire and potential for change! At some level, we recognize that our relationship with alcohol needs to shift — an inner knowledge that represents an as-yet unrealized capacity to develop healthier coping mechanisms.

Embracing the Shadow

Shadow work is not about banishing the shadow or pretending it doesn't exist. It’s about understanding that our personalities are filled with a mix of good and bad, light and dark, joy and sorrow. The goal of shadow work is acceptance, integration, and balance — a recognition that our vulnerabilities and flaws make us human and unique.

Here are some ideas to start your exploration:

  • Shadow meditation. Establish a quiet, comfortable space where you can reflect and introspect without distractions. This is your mental “me-time,” so make it count. Design a guided meditation for your shadow. Imagine a safe space where your shadow can freely express itself. What does it say? What does it look like? How does it feel? Develop an open-minded, non-judgmental approach to your thoughts, emotions, and reactions and approach them with a spirit of curiosity.
  • Journal. Write about your thoughts and feelings as honestly as you can. A journal can be a safe, private space to express yourself freely.
  • Practice self-compassion. Be gentle and patient with yourself. This is not a race, and everyone has a shadow, so there's no shame in exploring yours.
  • Create a shadow board. Make a visual representation of your shadow traits. This can be a drawing, a collage, or even a digital art piece. It's a fun and creative way to understand yourself better.
  • Soundtrack of the shadow. Create a playlist that represents your shadow. Pick songs that resonate with your unexpressed feelings and hidden traits. Music often gives voice to our deepest emotions, and this playlist can become a melodic exploration of your shadow.
  • Inner dialogue. Find a quiet space, close your eyes, and envision your shadow sitting across from you. Ask it questions, express your feelings, and listen to what it has to say. To avoid getting some odd looks, this one is probably best to do when you can have some privacy!
  • The shadow box. Find or make a box and fill it with objects that represent your shadow. This could include pictures, trinkets, letters, or anything else that symbolizes the traits of your shadow. This physical representation can help you understand and accept your shadow more tangibly.
  • Mask making. Create a mask that represents your shadow. Decorate it with colors, symbols, and words that resonate with your unexpressed traits. This is a creative way to give form to your shadow and understand its facets.

Books About Shadow Work

As we dive deeper into shadow work, having some trusted guides can make the journey more rewarding. Here are a few highly recommended reads:

  • Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche, by Robert A. Johnson. This is a beautifully written, succinct introduction to shadow work. Johnson's insights guide readers in acknowledging and understanding their shadow aspects.
  • Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth, by Robert A. Johnson. Another gem by Johnson, this book delves into the techniques of interpreting dreams and engaging your imagination to reveal your shadow. It offers practical advice on integrating these hidden parts of yourself.
  • A Little Book on the Human Shadow, by Robert Bly. This is an engaging, poetic exploration of the shadow concept. Bly uses a blend of story, poem, and commentary to illustrate the process of acknowledging and facing the shadow.
  • Romancing the Shadow, by Connie Zweig and Steve Wolf. The authors provide guidance on facing and embracing the dark side of our personality. They use compelling real-life stories and offer practical exercises.
  • Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature, edited by Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams. This anthology compiles essays from renowned psychologists and thinkers — including Carl Jung himself! It's a comprehensive exploration of the shadow concept in various contexts.
  • Dark Side of the Light Chasers, by Debbie Ford. Ford provides a roadmap to confront and integrate the Shadow. The book includes exercises and questions for reflection, helping readers to uncover their hidden aspects.
  • The Shadow Effect: Illuminating the Hidden Power of Your True Self, by Deepak Chopra, Debbie Ford, and Marianne Williamson. This collaborative book explores the idea of the shadow from three distinct perspectives, providing a well-rounded view of how we can harness the power of the shadow for personal growth.

Embrace the Shadow

Remember, the goal of shadow work isn't to become “perfect,” but to develop a deeper understanding and acceptance of ourselves. It's about recognizing that our personality is a blend of varied traits, and each one contributes to making us unique. It's also about embracing all aspects of ourselves, leading to inner balance.

Just as we take time to strengthen our bonds with our loved ones, let's take some time to strengthen our bond with ourselves. The path to shadow work is as unique as you are — so explore these steps and modify them in a way that suits you best. And remember, it's perfectly fine to get a little lost, to take your time, and to explore at your own pace — in this journey of shadow work, there are no wrong paths, only paths leading to a better understanding of ourselves. Have fun with it, and enjoy this one-of-a-kind journey of self-discovery.

Start Your Journey With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

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The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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