How To Shadow Work: A Guide.

Before I left for work, I received a text from a friend of mine’s ex-girlfriend. I’ve been in not-so-constant contact with her since they broke up. She had added me on to Facebook because I bequeath my friends with free Tarot readings periodically and she kept me around for that purpose. I had never met her and never intended to. So, color me shocked when she started texting me after they broke up. I had already reached out to my friend to talk with him about things because I knew he was having a bad time of things prior to that. (We meet up periodically when I have “the feel” that he needs to talk, which usually means he winds up in my dreams on a nightly basis until I give into the urge to call him.) She reached out to me for a Tarot reading, but also because she knew that we were “birthday buddies.” Since we were born twelve hours, or less, apart, we tend to just kind of “know” things about one another that is absolutely true. Anyway, we talked until I found out she was (A) a Scorpio (and he a Leo!) and (B) she was the crazy girlfriend type.

She sent me a new text this morning about how, after two months of being broken up, she was “so sure” she was “over it.” And that she had dreamed about him the night before and now, was a “pathetic mess.” While I won’t comment on how pathetic she may or may not have been after dreaming about someone she thought she was going to marry, my advice to her was that even though she may consciously believe she had dealt with the issues of the break up, she really hadn’t. And her subconscious mind was going to continue to poke at her at random moments until she did so. I recommended some “basic shadow work” techniques to her: relive the relationship so that you can pinpoint your faults and his, as well as try to relive it as an outsider so that you can look at all events subjectively. And she was like, “I did that, but it still hurts.” I emphatically explained that she had obviously not done that since her brain was still picking at the wound, but she wouldn’t listen to what I had to say. (Ain’t that the way?) I gave up.

This got me mulling in my [few and far between] off moments at work. It came down to the fact that I was the kind of person who “knew the things” and so people would come to me for advice. But, just because I give them the advice that they actually should pay attention to that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are actually going to listen. It also made me realize that just because I say, “do this,” that doesn’t mean people really understand what in the world I was talking about. I can say a thing and I can say it in another way, but that still doesn’t mean that people who aren’t “woo inclined” will understand how one does this. This led me to think about how, maybe, the bits and pieces that I’ve learned from Dusken aren’t quite enough for the people I know who are not woo-inclined. Point in fact, the person I was speaking with this morning has admitted to excessive amounts of atheism. She’s highly skeptical of readings I do for the dead on her behalf, but fully believes every Tarot reading I’ve ever done. (How’s that for double standard?) Another example is a friend of mine’s daughter who needs to do some deep healing after a severe trauma. I’m almost positive my explanations of what I needed her to do were lost on the sixteen-year-old, who also has a deep skepticism and deep atheism. (Do I collect these people or something?)

How in the world do you get someone who doesn’t understand what you need to do to, well, do it?

I began pondering how else I may explain this to outsiders. It’s one thing when you can speak, pagan to pagan or polytheist to polytheist. There are certain connections that you can formulate with people of like-minded or similar spiritual paths. After using a few key words, the two of you can sit, head to head, and start working out what to do. In same vein, there are other bloggers of polytheistic or pagan persuasions who have blogged about these things before for those particular communities. If you don’t have the time or the energy to discuss it with someone new, then you pop over some links and tell them to “go for it!” However, while everyone knows my religious background isn’t exactly a secret, I’m not comfortable sharing links with people who aren’t of the same religious persuasion as me. The links of shadow work, and how to shadow work, entries tend to belong to bloggers who are, well, rather “woo” in their practice. And there’s nothing wrong with that! I fully endorse having (or not having) woo in your life. But, I’m slightly uncomfortable tossing those types of links to people who are, de facto, atheists.

So where is the middle ground here?

I started perusing through a lot of my related entries on my ex-husband. And minus the items that were woo related, I felt that it was a good jumping off point. But hadn’t I mentioned that to the girl this morning? Hadn’t I explained to her that you had to relive the whole experience? Hadn’t I said that you had to at least try to be as neutral as possible while going through it? Personally, while it takes a lot (especially in a years’ long relationship) out of you to be able to do this, it’s incredibly important to try to be impartial while going through the experiences in question. It’s not just a matter of trying to pinpoint where the other person screwed the pooch, but also where you screwed up, as well. And as far as we are concerned about ourselves, we are perfect and can do no wrong. This isn’t the case at all because, well, we’re human. So, it doesn’t matter what we say or do, but in some form or another, we may have caused some serious stress in our partner’s life, which later manifested as the endings of all endings.

The real question here isn’t a matter of whether or not you are capable of doing this, but whether or not you have the gumption to look yourself in the face and admit all your fuck-ups.

There are a lot of people who simply cannot admit that they were complicit in the downfall of a relationship. I know that, for the longest time, I couldn’t see myself as anything more than someone who had been wronged. As the years past, I began to harbor the belief that I was a victim. As evidenced by some outsiders’ comments regarding, a lot of it was victimization (at least towards the end of our relationship). But, I can look back and say, “I screwed up really bad here, here, and here,” and also tell you what I learned from having fucked that shit up. That is absolutely something that’s really damn important. But, as I said, I didn’t first start off that way. As I said, I started off seeing only the fact that I was wronged all across the board. So, how do you get to the point where you can start working on this shit and not have it eat you up inside? I don’t always think waiting around years to start the process (as I did) is a good idea, especially if you need to do the healing now (as in the case of my friend’s daughter).

While discussing this, with myself, I thought about the suggestions I had offered to my friend’s daughter. I was throwing out random suggestions on how best “to heal” and how best to start her round of shadow work. She has a lot more open doors to practice this stuff with. And I think a lot of the ideas I threw out there are pretty damn sound.

1. Write Really Bad Poetry

I thought back over the years, as a teenager, when I would always carry a notebook around with me so that I could write down whatever overly emotive poetry came to mind. Years later, I still have every single one of those notebooks and I can tell you that, while they kind of have a beat or something to them, they are pretty bad. I’m not just talking in that, “Gah, I can’t believe I wrote that,” kind of way, either. They are also bad because they discuss every messed up and screwed up thought that popped into my head at some point or another. There are poems about (TW) suicide, eating disorders, rape, and everything in between. (/TW) The items you choose to write about aren’t just to convey to people without saying, “I suffer from these things,” but it’s also a way to get the pain from those items out and into the open. Even though you may be the only person who actually reads the items and maybe you are the only person who gives a fig, but that notebook/blog/tablet app may just be the quintessential shadow work you need to get to the next step(s). I think that the reason I was able to deal with high school and all the crazy shit that went down for me back then was because of the ability to write those types of poems. Another reason, I think, why it helped so much was because it didn’t matter if I kept the prose or if I followed iambic pentameter (or whatever the fuck it was). It was just a bunch of words strung together in vaguely poetic fashion. In same vein, take that and use it to your advantage. And who cares what the fuck it sounds like so long as it makes you feel better?

2. Write Short Stories

I wrote a lot of novella length items regarding my ex-husband because I finally had the gumption to write the shadow work entries related. I also had a lot of time on my hands to write other types of short stories. While the shorts, themselves, didn’t necessarily mirror the relationship exactly, it focused on key points in the relationship that I had always wanted to make changes to. So, with the red pen of an editor, I went back through my life and red-penned the fuck out of things I had always wanted to change. There is a certain amount of power in being able to change items you want to change. And it doesn’t even have to be characters based on real people, either. If you do the fanfiction thing, then write your life experiences into a fanfic starring your favorite actor, anime character, etc. It’s not as though you need to do a monkeys writing Shakespeare thing here. You are taking an aspect of your life that has hurt you beyond repair and fixing it, just a smidge, at a time. Grammar, spelling, punctuation: nothing matters beyond what you think needs to matter because this isn’t about what others think (if you letter others read it) but about what makes you feel better.

3. Scream A Lot to Loud Music.

The reason I’m saying “to loud music” is because maybe you don’t have the ability to just scream your head off. It’s possible that you don’t have a car to run to and start screaming to. It’s also possible that you may still live with your parents and they might be very concerned over finding their child screaming for apparently no reason (especially if you haven’t told them what your trauma is). Or, maybe you just don’t feel comfortable screaming for no reason whatsoever. Whatever the reason, I recommend doing this to really loud, bass-infested music. And in so doing, you may not realize how much it makes you feel better, but it does. One of the problems, I think, that causes the traumas to fester is an inability to let out all of the pent-up emotions. Writing, to me, helps in that regard. But sometimes, those things aren’t the be-all, end-all for the needs of the trauma. So, as a teenager, I would put on some Tool (favorite band) and I would scream until I was hoarse or I would scream the lyrics. I highly recommend if that if you do decide to scream to music, you choose something that is appropriate for the mood that you are needing to create. Screaming is great on its own, but if you’re going to listen to music while doing so, then something that epitomizes either the trauma that’s caused the harm or your emotions concerning it are an excellent addition.

4. Cry A Lot [to Loud Music].

The music part on this one is pretty fucking optional. If you want to be depressed as all get out, then sure, cry to some Celine Dion over a break up (or whatever). But, really, the crying part is probably the most important aspect to this. A lot of people (like me) do this really unhealthy thing where you bottle up your emotions. It’s really not recommended by anybody and as someone who has done this for long enough, I can attest that it causes more problems in the long run. What I can say is that crying is something that we need to do. I’m not really sure on the science of it all, but we have the ability to make tears for a reason. And we have those tears during high emotional moments for a reason. So, by not letting those high emotional moments cause an ending-in-gagging crying jag, then you’re doing yourself a severe disservice. So, seriously, I think it’s something you really need to do when it comes to working on shadow work.

5. Therapy.

I’m not a fan of therapists. I’ve had quite a few in my life and I have found one that I actually trusted enough to tell everything to. I had one that told me that I feel too much – exactly what you should say to an emotional twelve-year-old – and another who made me feel like my date rape was my fault – and she was a rape counselor! So, I’m not overly thrilled with the whole idea behind going to see someone you pay to listen to you for an hour a week or however many times you actually go. However, I also know that it has helped me to have impromptu therapy sessions. I’m not just talking about the person you pay, but since you pay them and they have to listen to you, it’s kind of a bonus, but I’m also talking about the ones you have with your friends. Or, if you don’t feel like you can mention your real emotions to your friends, then that means therapy in any and all means that you think will pay off. If that means eating an entire gallon of ice cream, then you do it. If that means taking a lot hot baths, then do so. If that means losing yourself, almost literally, in a book or twelve, then do so. If that means talking to your pets, then do so. If that means talking to strangers on the Internet, then do so. If that means talking to trees, the ocean, a river, a bird, your car, to yourself, then do so. Whatever the word “therapy” means to you, then follow through with it. Just talk. Just blather. Just go on and on and on to yourself or whatever or whomever and don’t stop for anything. Let every little thing come pouring out in a complete rush and don’t stop until you’ve shot out every aspect of the pain imaginable.

While these items aren’t the entire list of things I did as a teenager to get through some pretty hellacious times in my life, they are the items that I think are the best and fastest recommendations. While not all of these items will prepare the person for the next step of reliving the past, it will definitely help in getting the pain out of you. It will also help to get the whole thing moving. By allowing the pain of the trauma to stagnate, you’re pretty much condemning yourself to that much more work for that much longer. By being able to at least partially address the trauma in minor ways, you’re preparing yourself for the next steps.

Related Posts

The Shadow Work Series by Duskenpath

16 thoughts on “How To Shadow Work: A Guide.

  1. Reblogged this on The Jackal's Dance and commented:
    Thanks for this. I’d have vague ideas of how my shadow work was going to go, now I have some ideas…and I guess that dream where Anpu was holding out a book of poetry and stories I’d written wasn’t that far off.

  2. This looks like a really solid list for people who aren’t into the woo. I traded poetry for pages and pages of journaling, but it’s the same idea. I like to tell people that if they’re going to be depressed, they should really go for it, and they might accidentally have fun while screaming to loud music!

    • I filled up my DeadJournal with so much depressive tripe that I could have won awards, I’m sure. But it really did help me so much. I really, really think I was able to get through high school because of all the writing I did.

  3. Added: I personally recommend the Violent Femmes for this. They’re raw, highly emotional, and ridiculous enough that you can’t help laughing if you ham it up enough. Though there have definitely been times when I’d had Schism from Tool playing on repeat too.

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