Are you ready to start deep mental and spiritual work to heal from negative emotions and the past?
Well, I'm your girl, and I am here to help! I've done and I'm still doing deep emotional work, so I understand your desire. I was recently told about shadow work. The mere name of it threw me off so I did some research to understand the concept. I'll break down two styles of emotional healing, shadow work, and rootwork so you're clear on which direction to choose.
What is shadow work?
“The shadow is that hidden, repressed, for the most part, an inferior and guilt-laden personality whose ultimate ramifications reach back into the realm of our animal ancestors and so comprise the whole historical aspect of the unconscious.” (Society of Analytical Psychology, 2015)
The term shadow work was originally discovered by the swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung in his psychoanalytic book The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, in 1959. It's the understanding that everyone has different parts of themselves that are hidden, which are shadows. The shadow is an expression of all our suppressed negative tendencies of our personality. Exploring these shadows can help one to understand themselves and find answers. The shadows typically begin in childhood.
The goal is to work to resolve the shadows to be the best version of yourself in the present and inevitability you'll receive the following results.
- Healing generational trauma
- Improved relationships
- A healthy way to get your emotional needs met
Shadow repression is what happens when we choose not to heal and resolve the shadow. The shadow inadvertently gets repressed and this affects our self-identity. One can then use this distorted self-identity as a cloak. This facade leads to negative behaviors that ultimately lead to an inauthentic life.
Repressed shadows lead to:
- negative self talk
- self sootheing with drugs and alcohol
- mental health difficulties
The Darkside of Shadow Work
The theory is that shadow work can help you to confront your darker self and defeat negative, self-sabotaging behavior patterns. You can then choose a better path for yourself and create new patterns of behavior. This leads to defeating negative self-talk, past psychological trauma, abuse, and emotional pain.
Though the theory of shadow work makes sense on the surface, there's a dark side to it. It is important to be self-aware and conscientious of how our behavior affects our thoughts, how we feel about ourselves, and how we treat each other. However, it's also important to take a deeper dive into the originator of such a theory before infusing this theory into our personal paradigm.
Who was Carl Jung?
Carl Jung studied eastern religion deeply from 1936 to1944. He produced mandala symbolism in 1950. He followed a gnostic and alchemical framework that led to the authorship of several books during this timeframe. Jung was also very well connected to Sigmund Freud. Through his religious and psychoanalytic exploration, he attempted to find objective parallels between both the psyche and spirituality. Hence, the eventual discovery of shadow works in 1959.
How to uncover the shadow?
Shadow work's aim is to develop a new path of enlightenment by confronting your ego/superego (the shadow). Meditation is recommended to uncover the shadow. Meditation is a form of relaxation used to empty the mind and access the unconscious. Mediation is a type of hypnotism that puts your mind in a trance and activates certain brain waves.
The focus of eastern meditation is self, not Christ. God never commands us to empty our minds in order to hear his voice. In fact, he calls us to fill our minds with the word Phillipians 4:8. Emptying your mind will only give Satan a chance to fill your mind.
The Bible instructs us to focus on the truth:
Meditate on the law day and night, carefully doing everything written in it. Joshua 1:8
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Romans 12:2
Pay attention to wisdom and apply our hearts to scripture. Proverbs 22:17-18
What are the shadows?
Jung defines the shadow self, or inner shadow as the collective unconscious with eight different archetypes:
- Self: The center of the personality or psyche — your conscious awareness
- Shadow: The dark and emotional aspect of your psyche
- Anima: An image of an idealized woman that draws people into their feminine side
- Animus: A part of you that has the capacity for reflection and self-knowledge
- Persona: The mask you wear to show the world while you protect your inner self
- Hero: A part of your psyche that can overcome evil and destruction
- Wise old man: A personification of the self that contains your wisdom
- Trickster: A childish part of your psyche that needs gratification
Jung defined the shadow archetype as the dark and emotional side of your personality or psyche. He also defined it as inferior or immoral.
For example, as a child, you were often teased for being too loud. You then start to internalize this belief by evaluating every conversation through this lens. As an adult, your supervisor makes a comment while you’re preparing for a work presentation: “Be careful not to talk too loud when you're up there. You know how you can get!” — and you’re upset.
Why did you get so upset? It was the part of you that was emotionally invested in not being the loud person. Anything that brings your shadow self into the light will be seen as a threat to your identity — and ultimately, your safety.
Now, what is rootwork?
Rootwork is the process of healing from past emotional hurts that currently cause negative traits of behavior. In order to thoroughly understand footwork, it's important to go back to the beginning of time. Since the fall of Adam and Eve humanity has faced the effects of the sin problem. The sin problem has caused a defective mental, emotional and physical state of being that has left the entire human race emotionally detached. Who are we detached from? Jesus. We are emotionally detached from Jesus. Now that sin is in the picture, there's are war between Christ and Satan for our minds.
This war affects us because we chose who we want to give allegiance. Do we want to follow Christ, or do we want to follow the enemy? Any thought that is negative comes from the enemy. He has many ways of getting us to believe lies about ourselves, others, and God. These lies manifest in our thoughts, feelings, and behavior, which is our overall belief system.
God wants to heal all of humanity from the snares of the enemy. That is why he says that he wants to uproot all of the plants that God has not planted (Matthew 15:13). However, this is a process and requires our cooperation.
What does root working require?
Rootworking requires a commitment to Jesus to walk you through the defective areas of your character. It starts from the book that has all of life's answers, the Bible. We must make the choice to allow Him to reveal patterns of thinking that don't align with His character. The Bible gives several examples of roots and plants. God wants to uproot any area in order mind that keeps us from thinking about ourselves, others, and him in a healthy positive way.
This process will inevitably require one to go back to childhood because negative patterns of behavior typically start in the formative years with our mother and father. "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." Psalm 51:5 Since we were sinful from the beginning of conception, Jesus wants to go back to the very beginning to heal any negative traits that led to our dysfunctional thinking. He wants to plant the fruits of His character in us. (Galatians 5:22-23) Having the fruits of the spirit is not inherited due to the sin problem. This is something that requires our full surrender, submission, and commitment to Christ.
Listen to my interview with Karen Styer to get a better understanding of roots.
How do you work through a root?
There are three main steps to starting the root working process.
1. Commitment - Surrender, and dedicate yourself to Jesus. Make a commitment to him to work through all negative feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.
2. Prayer - Ask God what is behind your negative thoughts and feelings. Continue digging with Jesus until he reveals your deeper motives.
3. Journal - Write out your feelings to unpack your thoughts.
These both sound similar. What is the difference between shadow work and rootwork?
1. Shadow work has a dark side. Since shadow work is based on spiritualism, satanic imagery, and philosophies are incorporated into its process.
2. Shadow work is self-focused. It requires you to lean on yourself to find the answer. The Bible says that the heart is deceitful. Jeremiah 17:9. Considering this, do you really want to rely on yourself to find your deeper motives? Rootwork is God-focused. You're leaning on Jesus (your creator) to give you answers about yourself. Therefore, root working is a failproof method.
3. Shadow work is just plain scary. Some of the images associated with this method are creepy. Root working is not scary. It's about connecting with Jesus and in Him, you will only find the light. 1 John 1:7
What route should I choose to heal from the past and resolve negative emotions?
Overall you should know that though shadow work can give the impression of emotional healing, it also comes with a dark/demonic side. Satan does have the power to give false healing. Though this method may give some relief, anything that is mixed with darkness is a counterfeit. Therefore, by engaging in this type of healing you're also communicating with demonic forces Ephesians 6:12.
Stay away from shadow work and cling to Jesus' method of healing! If you want to learn to start working through your roots, sign up for my 8-week program called Recreate & Renew. You will receive specified coaching to help your work through roots and heal in Christ.
Until Next Time...
Denetra Gary, LCSW
Complement & Complete
8 benefits of Shadow Work and how to start practicing it. 8 Benefits of Shadow Work and How to Start Practicing It. (n.d.). Retrieved April 3, 2022, from https://www.betterup.com/blog/shadow-work
Bishop, P. (1984). The Eastern Buddhist. Jung, Eastern Religion and the Language of Imagination, 17(1), 42–56. https://doi.org/https://www.jstor.org/stable/44361697
Mcleod, S. (1970, January 1). Carl Jung. Carl Jung | Simply Psychology. Retrieved April 3, 2022, from https://www.simplypsychology.org/carl-jung.html
Society of Analytical Psychology. (2015, August 13). The Shadow. Retrieved April 2, 2022, from https://www.thesap.org.uk/articles-on-jungian-psychology-2/about-analysis-and-therapy/the-shadow/