As first posted on feministbookclub.com
If you have seen those trendy Tik Toks about spirituality, you have probably seen someone talk about shadow work. I remember the first time I’d heard someone talk about shadow work. I thought, “That sounds weird, no thank you.”
Shadow work is now an integral part of my self-care, and it has definitely made me a better feminist and activist. This is a powerful tool for growth and healing.
What is shadow work?
Shadow work is basically getting to know all the undesirable parts about you. Sounds awful, right? Well, eating five whole servings of vegetables everyday isn’t something that is appealing to me, but it’s necessary.
As humans, we are already conditioned to pick out what is terrible about ourselves, but this work is different. It’s more than that scene in Mean Girls where they’re all listing out the things they hate about their bodies (ugh, my nail beds suck too!).
Shadow work is taking a look deep inside yourself and examining why the undesirable things are happening or why you find these things undesirable. When you discover the root cause of these feelings or behaviors, you can start to discover what you need to heal or grow.
So, what does this look like in practice? I’ll give you an example from my own life.
I am absolutely the worst at asking for help. As a Cancer, I will confirm that the stereotype of us having a lot of feelings is true. But because I have so many ~feelings~ I only share what’s bothering me some of the time, so as to not burden my friends and support system. As a result of this bottling, I can become gross and emote all over the place at inconvenient and inappropriate times (definitely not in this blog post on a platform about books…)
As I started doing shadow work, I realized that pretending everything was ok was something I did growing up to make my mom’s life easier. I grew up in a single-parent household, so my mom had bigger issues to worry about than my abundance of feelings over trivial things. Over time, this became a survival mechanism as I became the “therapist friend” and picked a career working with sexual assault survivors.
In this shadow work, I began to learn when to prioritize my feelings before I got to that explosive place. I get to learn more about my needs. I get to love on the parts of myself that I was very mean to. That’s pretty cool.
How can all this make you a better feminist?
Feminists and activists should be doing shadow work more. So much of our activism has become polarized that we have become ashamed of being our authentic selves. We don’t want to admit what we don’t know, so we stay silent out of fear of getting it wrong. There is this pressure to be the perfect activist so we don’t get called out.
When we are called out, we internalize this shame and think we are a bad person. Shadow work helps to address these feelings of inadequacy. Where are these feelings coming from? What about this is hindering our growth?
While self-love isn’t a prerequisite for loving other people, learning how to love your whole self can make it easier to learn how to learn how to love the entirety of others. Your shadow isn’t the broken parts of you; it’s what makes you complete when you walk in the light.