That's right, you heard me correctly, but not in the way you think.
What I mean by “embrace and own” your ugly is when you can look at yourself as a whole and embrace it: The pieces you love with all your heart - like your smile, hair, confidence, and ability to walk into a room and know the vibe. As well as the parts we try to avoid at all costs - like our scars, that weird toe, our shame, rejection, anger, and so on. The light and the dark indicate meeting and accepting your wholeness. That is what shadow work and owning your ugly is. Embracing your wholeness is where your most authentic self can live, thrive and grow.
I've had the sweet and somewhat painful (who am I kidding? super painful!) but worth it, an opportunity to start meeting myself right where I am: the good, the bad, and the ugly head-on. And all I can say is WOW! So many unexpected memories, emotions, and truths have surfaced.
Anger is one of my ugly truths. I've hidden my relationship with anger in my shadow, trying to avoid it at all costs. What happens when we suppress, hide, and avoid emotion is it rebels and shows up, regardless of how hard you try to hide from it. Seeing my anger as part of me and not labeling it as bad, but instead, a part of me that cares so much has helped me on my
journey. This doesn't mean my work is over - it's just beginning.
If you could meet all of you, what would you see that may have been hiding in the shadows?
Before we can identify what pieces of ourselves we’ve left for the shadows, we must first define “our shadow self.” How our shadow is formed, and how we see it showing up.
The shadow self is the part of us we repress, deny, or our disowned selves. It represents the parts of us we no longer want to claim to be our own, sometimes not only qualities we deem negative but positive.
Dr. Nicole LePera defines the shadow Self as "an unconscious part of the Self that we have repressed (often since childhood) to be accepted and loved.” This part of us carries the emotions we repressed because we were told they were bad or wrong and that we then habitually project onto others. It contains the behaviors, thoughts, beliefs, and dreams that were unacceptable to those whose love we desired most (and, as children, also needed quite literally for survival).
Our shadow self is formed when we’re young. Our survival depended on our parents or other primary carer givers. Consequently, we developed strong attachments to them and their way of life. So, suppose you were corrected a lot as a kid for being blunt. In that case, there's a good chance that, as an adult, you still won't feel comfortable speaking your mind and internalizing this message, where it becomes buried in your subconscious, where it can then unintentionally trigger you. Or, if one of your shadows is around speaking your truth, it might bother you to see other people doing so. Every time somebody is outspoken around you, it might bring up unexplainable feelings of anger and resentment since you have been programmed to believe that speaking up is not a safe thing for you to do
We project these cast-away pieces of us onto the world, people we know and love, and even strangers. These denied pieces of you hold the essence of who you are. They store your most treasured gifts. By unmasking and facing these aspects of yourself, you can experience your glorious totality: the good and the bad, the dark and the light. By embracing all of who you are, you earn the freedom to choose what you do in this world.
So how do we get started? How does shadow work begin?
While shadow work is often done with the help of a mental health professional or coach, you can explore your shadow on your own by examining your thoughts, feelings, and assumptions. Below are some helpful steps to help you meet your shadow.
Disclaimer shadow work can be very triggering. So before diving into shadow work, ensure you are in a good headspace, grounded, and give yourself grace. Like anything else, meeting our shadow takes time and practice.
Grab a pen and your journal, and let’s get started.
Shadow work is the process of exploring your inner darkness. It uncovers every part of you that has been disowned, repressed, and rejected and can be one of the most powerful tools in reaching your authentic self.
Let’s start by inviting your shadow self out to play! What pieces of you have you been hiding? What do you think are, in general, undesirable traits?
Let’s bring awareness to these questions I borrowed from Vish Sharma that supported me in my journey, and I encourage you to answer as well when embracing your defined “ugly” parts:
1. When a strong emotion arises, can you take a deep breath and relax into it - instead of avoiding it? Bring your awareness to the feeling in your body without trying to change it. See it as your inner child crying for your attention.
2. Observe any thoughts that arise without judgment. Notice the narrative or story that's tied into this emotion without reacting.
3. Validate yourself for feeling this emotion - say to your inner child: I am here with you, and it's ok to feel this way.
4. Invite the origin of this emotion to arise - when was the first time I felt this exact feeling? Don't
force it - a memory will occur if it is meant to.
5. Allow integration and insight - be open to any insights that may arise.
Exploring your shadow self has many benefits and lasting positive effects on your authenticity, creativity, energy, and personal awakening.
Shadow work can help us tap into our intuition, free ourselves from our unconscious shadow, empower ourselves and accept our strengths, and take a step toward self-actualization.
As I’ve learned more about shadow work and have met my shadow, I can see the unlimited benefits of getting quiet and attuned with our emotions, the things that trigger us, and how we can use our relationships as mirrors to guide us through these shadows—leading us to a deeper connection within ourselves and self-acceptance.
If you are on your journey to meeting your shadow and unsure where to start or looking to have a coach accompany you, I invite you to book a free discovery call and see if we’re a good fit.
You don’t have to navigate this alone.