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Loving Yourself at your ‘Worst’: an Introduction to Shadow Work

shadow work


Imagine the holiday weekend traffic is bumper to bumper and you still have another 20 miles to go. You don’t even want to go to this event. Over an hour has already been wasted on the freeway and the car in front of you is taking its sweet ol’ time. 

Finally, after an eternity, the cars start moving (slowly but at least they’re moving), but suddenly a huge SUV swerves into your lane and cuts you off. Hello??? IT WAS MY TURN!!! 

You slam on your brakes. As your car lurches to a stop, the SUV’s brake lights blind you, and your coffee, the only thing getting you through this drive, spills everywhere. Are you kidding me??? 

Your heart starts pounding and your eyes zero in on that freakin’ SUV. Road rage starts to boil up and the next thing you know your hand has been laying on your horn for the past four minutes.

Or imagine this scenario: You shuffle up to the front door under the weight of the 6 groceries bags you’re lugging like a pack mule. No second trips to the car. You nearly drop your keys and try not to scream. 

Ugh. This has not been my day.  Shifting your weight, you finally manage to get the key in the door and cross the threshold. 

As you enter the kitchen and drop all the groceries before the circulation in your arms is cut off for good, you notice that your partner left all the kitchen lights on again… AND they didn’t even run the dishwasher… Why am I the only one who does anything around here? It’s so simple, just turn off the lights when you leave the room! They always do this…


We’ve all been there. Maybe it wasn’t bringing in the groceries or road rage but we’ve all had those moments. And we rarely regard them as our finest. You get triggered, lash out, and then grapple with the guilt and shame for having lashed out. 

We all have days like this. Days where everything seems to go wrong, and you end up lashing out at the people you love. It’s not your finest moment, but it’s part of being human.

Triggers come in all shapes and sizes and can turn you into a hot-headed monster in the blink of an eye. Anger, anxiety, shame, guilt – can all bubble up to the surface and cause you to react in ways you never intended.

Lucky for you there is a silver lining. When you’re triggered, you have an opportunity to learn about your own shadow. No, not the kind lurking in dark alleys – the kind lurking within you.

Lashing out at a loved one or even just another person isn’t usually the plan, but you’re human and you will get triggered. What you do with the experience of being triggered, and how you learn from it, is how you can turn lemons into lemonade. 

When you’re triggered you have an opportunity to learn more about your shadow.      

Your shadow is an unconscious part of you that you want to bury away from the light of day. You don’t want to own it, claim it, talk about it, feel it or experience it.  And you certainly don’t want it to be seen.  

You freak out when you see this part of yourself out in the world. You get triggered. Your ego reacts and fights against it.  Your ego is trying to keep you from noticing this piece of yourself you have pushed aside for so long. 

This can be a hard truth to realize.  You don’t want to believe these things bothering you are also true of you. But it happens more often than you think. When you see your shadow out in the world that mirror can feel like a spotlight.   

Maybe you left the lights on as a kid and were told it was wrong. Or you can be forgetful and you’re ashamed of that quality. Maybe you can be ‘selfish’ and put your needs above everyone else’s which is why you got so upset that someone cut you off in traffic. 

The beautiful thing about discovering more about your shadow is that the result is the opposite of shame and guilt. Embracing your shadow allows you to integrate those parts of yourself, so you can love yourself fully and completely. 

Integrating your shadow is about loving all parts of yourself. When you learn to work with your shadow in a constructive and self-aware way, you can become a more balanced and whole individual. 

It’s a gift to get to wake up and see what else is there for you to love. Reclaim it, own it, and become more whole.

Everyone has a shadow. Everyone has parts they don’t want to face. 

It may be as simple as forgetting to turn off the lights, or may be deeper like putting your own needs above others.

When you become triggered, take a moment to breathe deeply and acknowledge your emotions without judgment.  Know that your shadow is simply a reflection of yourself that is neither inherently good or bad. Practice mindfulness and self-compassion learning to accept all parts of yourself.  As you do this you will become more balanced and whole. 

Carl Jung, founder of the concept of shadow, believed integrating your shadow is essential to personal growth, individuation, and a great source for creativity and vitality. 

So the next time you find yourself triggered, take a moment to look within. What part of yourself is being reflected back at you? What can you learn about yourself in this moment? Can you accept and love this part of yourself? 

Learn to embrace your shadow, and become the best version of yourself.

Photography by Kelley Raye //

Dr. Caneel Joyce is a CEO Coach and social scientist who helps people break out of the invisible traps and make whole-life changes easily and naturally.

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