BEGINNING SHADOW WORK – (Identifying Shadow Characters)


BEGINNING SHADOW WORK – (Identifying Shadow Characters)

(Excerpt from ‘Romancing the Shadow’ by Connie Zweig.)

I thought to share this as it might be helpful for those who want to understand the process of shadow work and how to go about it as a practice –

“The first step is to identify the presence of a shadow character. These signals typically appear as mechanical, repetitive thoughts (“I’ll never succeed; I’m too dumb; I’m too fat; I need to get high; I can do it tomorrow”), or intractable feelings (fear, guilt, sadness, anger), or specific bodily sensations (tightening in the abdomen, chest, or throat; a feeling of emptiness; a craving). When you begin to recognize these signals, you have an opportunity to avoid being swept away by practicing witnessing.

The next task: You need to recognize that this thought, feeling, or sensation is not who you are; this is not your identity, your Self. As you personify the internal character in an effort to make it more conscious, you can create a distance between it and the Self. Then, you can begin to grow more familiar with the specific thoughts, particular feelings, and bodily sensations that belong to this character.

To personify the character visually you might ask, Who is there in this moment? Is it a male or female character? Young or old? What does it feel like? What does it need? You ask these questions to evoke an unexpected image. You do not ask them to evoke an old, well-worn answer, but to invite an unknown stranger to come out of the darkness, to make itself available for a conscious relationship.

Then you might ask, What is the voice of the character saying? Some of these characters’ inner voices are only partially conscious and require acute attention to track. Shadow characters typically lack compassion and are highly critical. In other words, they may say, “You can’t do it right” or “Who do you think you are?” and in this way reinforce feelings of failure, worthlessness, and unlovability, which create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or the shadow characters may be overly praiseworthy, reinforcing a false, inflated identity, saying, for example: “You’re much smarter than everyone else and deserve to be recognized. They’re losers,” thereby setting you up for an impossible standard, which ultimately results in constant attempts to prove yourself. And, of course, this message results in inevitable attacks by the critical inner voice, which bring feelings of failure and separation from others.

Then you might try to detect the feeling or sensation that precedes the voice inside your mind by asking, What parts of the body feel tight and constricted, numb or empty, tingling and alive when this voice appears? Most people feel sensations in the chest, middle and abdominal areas.

Next, you can trace the roots of this shadow character by recalling a recent time when you fell into the same self-sabotaging pattern. Perhaps you disregarded your own needs or boundaries by making a commitment that you did not want to keep. Or perhaps you had sex although you really did not feel erotic. Maybe you remained silent with a friend or colleague and avoided expressing your authentic feelings or opinions.

What thoughts, feelings, or sensations stopped you? Which character told you not to express yourself? Perhaps you listened to a voice. What did it say? Each character has a few standard phrases that it uses to usurp power, such as: “You’re stupid.” “He’ll attack me.” “You’re unworthy.” “It doesn’t matter.” Or perhaps you had a feeling. Specify it. Where did you feel it in the body? What qualities did it have?

To go farther back and trace the history of this pattern, close your eyes and recall an earlier time in your life when you experienced the same inner messages, emotions, or bodily sensations. Once you uncover the history of this pattern and trace its roots, you will see that your reaction in the present moment is really a reaction from the past, a shadow character’s attempt to protect you from re-experiencing an old emotional wound, which instead sabotages you in the present.

As these patterns recur repeatedly and you identify the image, thoughts and feelings, they can take on a shape, a personality, even a name. In this way, they become what Jung called shadow figures, differentiated out from the general mass of unconscious material. A few of our client’s examples: the General, Trixie the Vamp, the Failure, Helga, Meany, Kali, Baby Laura, the Terrorist, the Nazi, the Loser, the Dutiful Daughter, Maude the Fraud. By discovering their name, locating them in the body, and eventually hearing their messages, you can loosen their hypnotic grip over your life and uncover new choices for yourself. If you use the breath and self-observation to slow down and identify the pattern the next time it occurs, you may have a nanosecond in which you can choose not to respond automatically and potentially express yourself more authentically.

Furthermore, you can benefit from discovering the consequences of continuing to obey or disobey a certain character. If you begin to observe yourself falling into a maladaptive pattern in daily life as you automatically obey the message of a shadow character, you can see that the results are predictable: The character repeatedly creates its own suffering.

In the beginning, we suggest that your goal is not to change rapidly. You have probably been responding in this way for decades. So while you may seek immediate results, we suggest that it may be valuable to observe the pattern for a few more weeks or months. Your goal is to learn to witness the character’s patterns through self-observation and awareness, to be with the shadow rather than to slay it. You can use breathing techniques to center yourself and witness the character, thereby breaking your identification with it.

At some point down the road, you will meet the shadow character and feel a greater choice: you will not feel compelled to obey. You will be able to wrestle with it, reject its message, and contain the feeling, rather than act it out. For that moment, you are freed of the clutches of the complex, and you are romancing the shadow. And the character, which had been an enemy, becomes an ally.

As you continue to bring this shadow character into the light of awareness, the Self can regain the seat of power, so that you can make more self-affirming decisions more consciously for the benefit of all.

Unconscious of your story, you are in its grasp; but with consciousness, an alchemical process begins: The solidity of the complex dissolves and you can open up to the arrival of a new archetype, the birth of a new cycle of life. In the shadow, then, lies our myth and our fate.


After you have learned to identify the voice, that is, to know when a shadow character has taken over the seat of power – you can begin to listen for the voice of the Self, the ruler of the kingdom. At first, this voice speaks in an almost inaudible whisper. It may feel like a soft, gentle nudge, or it can be seen in the mind’s eye as a fleeting image.

We like to think of it as a radio station that plays celestial music, a higher frequency that’s accessible but difficult to find. You will know, however, when you reach it because it sounds so right. At first, fiddling with the dial, you may catch the voice of the Self for only a few seconds. It can be difficult to hear it above the din; a shadow character may say that you do not deserve something, or you will be punished, or no one will listen. The Self, on the other hand, may speak with authority, but it is not denigrating to you or to others. It offers guidance and an intuitive sense of right action. As you focus on the voice of the Self you will begin to hear it more frequently. You get it, then lose it, perhaps projecting it onto a lover or spiritual teacher. Then you can reclaim it again, until you finally lock on. Gradually, you can distinguish the signal from the noise, the voice of the Self whispering below the clatter. And as you realign with it and the shadow character moves backstage, you become more self-directed and self-accepting. As you begin to trust the wisdom of the Self, you will have the compass you need to sail on stormy seas.”

– Connie Zweig, “Romancing the Shadow.”


~ by revolutionwithin on November 2, 2013.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: