By Leah Larwood,

Leah Larwood, Female First's Dream Writer

Leah Larwood, Female First's Dream Writer

Since time began, humans have strived to fit in with the tribe. Quite frankly our survival has depended upon it. Although the stakes are lower these days, the need to blend in continues. However, from being ‘well behaved’ or ‘acceptable’, a mask is created. Temporarily, and on the surface, this may appear to increase our resilience but what’s really going on beneath the mask?

Contrary to belief, demonstrating resilience isn’t limited to strengthening the traits we are most proud of or praised for. Many experts believe it’s about having a deeper awareness about the hidden sides of your personality – also known as your shadow aspects. If we can embrace those, that’s where you can truly harness resilience, as well as many other great possibilities.

What is the Shadow?

All humans are born with a ‘shadow’ and this continues to develop as your beliefs are cemented. Carl Jung first coined the term ‘the shadow self’. It’s made up of whatever you hide from others: your shame, your fears, your guilt and your wounds.

“The shadow contains a source of benevolent power and potential but until we bring it into the light, this power will remain untapped and our full potential unreached,” says Charlie Morley, author and shadow integration teacher.

Positive Shadow

Your shadow isn’t just about suppression, repression and denial of all the undesirable aspects of your psyche, your shadow can also be made up of your hidden talents and your blinding beauty. It’s also a massive source of intuition and creativity.

To fully convey its magnificence, Charlie has renamed the positive shadow, the golden shadow. “The golden shadow is made up of all the bright and brilliant parts of ourselves that we fear may be too great, too awesome or too challenging to reveal to ourselves and others,” he says.

Have you ever felt in awe of a friend, celebrity or colleague or perhaps you’ve had fantasies about a seemingly unobtainable career change or lifestyle goal? These aspects quite possibly represent your golden shadow. The reason you relate to them or feel a strong awe about them is that you may already have these qualities or potential hidden within you – they just haven’t been untapped yet.

So how do you release this blinding beauty within you, to live your full potential? There are practical steps you can take to achieve it, through shadow integration or shadow work as its known.

Once your shadow is more integrated, not only will you experience more inner strength and empowerment but you’ll also able to live a more authentic life. That’s because you’re not suppressing or hiding the ignored parts of you. Instead your shadow aspects will become an accepted part of you, pose fewer problems within your interactions with others or they may even fade entirely.

Shadow work has roots in many ancient cultures and religions. Today it’s taught by various Jungian psychologists, therapists and experts around the world. Many of the visulisations, exercises or reflective writing work involves being able to identify the parts of you that you don’t yet love and that you hide from others – the taboos, your guarded secrets and unfulfilled dreams.

It’s about being really honest and brave about yourself. There isn’t anything wrong with having these qualities or attributes, they just haven’t been integrated yet. It’s then about cultivating acceptance around these things and being able to fully embrace them.

Understanding your shadow psychology is a way to understand your true authentic self and to take ownership of your power. If you are able to integrate your shadow aspect, it will not only allow you to feel more able to deal with future challenges but it can boost your confidence and give you the ability to access untapped potential and energy.

Considering your subconscious is a really powerful source of energy, if you waste effort, either consciously or unconsciously, trying to deny or destroy your shadow, then think how much energy you are using in the process. That’s why when the shadow is liberated it can free up a huge amount of creativity.

In his book, Dreaming Through Darkness, Charlie suggests that shadow integration also produces a more mature personality and leads directly to spiritual growth. “Our spiritual development is actually dependent upon the degree to which we have integrated our shadow.”

How to Integrate Your Shadow

There are practical exercises you can do independently or with support from an expert or therapist to help you bring your shadow aspects into awareness. You could start by simply making a list of all the things that make you feel fearful, ashamed or overwhelmingly proud.

Meditation can help to stay calm as thoughts come and go, often revealing aspects of ourselves that seem new. Sharing thoughts and feelings with a trusted person, keeping a journal, becoming aware of as much as possible of the differences between stuff we make up and stuff that actually goes on.

You might also like to create some positive affirmations to help you accept and overcome these aspects. An effective time to recite affirmations are just as you’re falling asleep or waking up in the morning. Another way could be through writing therapy exercises.

Shadow Work in Your Dreams

There are also practices you can do within you dreams, specifically within lucid dreams. A lucid dream is where you are aware that you are dreaming and offers you access to a really refined state of awareness that’s believed to be even more powerful than being under hypnosis. There you can exert a gentle influence over your dream content and ‘plant seeds’ for positive change. It’s therefore extremely powerful to undertake shadow work within a lucid dream, more so than within the waking state.

For example, one technique Charlie Morley teaches is to call out to dream, once lucid: ‘Shadow, come to me!’ or ‘Golden Shadow, come forward!’ and what should come back is a representation of your shadow self within your dream - whether that’s a three-headed troll, an actress you deeply admire or a school friend representing a part of your childhood.

Once you’ve plucked up the courage to bring your shadow forth, the rest is simple. You simply lean in and give your shadow aspect the universal sign of acceptance and love – a hug.

Reassuringly, your fascinatingly adept subconscious will always protect you and only present you with aspects of your shadow that you are able to deal with during that moment in time.

You will probably wake feeling lighter, centred or more at peace. It’s not always obvious which aspect of your shadow you are integrating during this type of ‘dream work’ but that doesn’t really matter. What is important is that you will have done a really huge piece of healing and integration.

A number of studies, including research from psychiatrist, Andrew Brylowski*, shows that lucid dreaming approaches using shadow work has been recognised: “The techniques appeared to play a role in the reduction of nightmare frequency, intensity, and distress, and to enhance ego growth and personal development.”

Acceptance + Integration = Resilience, Inner Peace and Authentic Living

So resilience isn’t just about how the how you recover from life’s challenges using supportive tools such as meditation, yoga, sleep and diet, it’s also about being honest with yourself about all the things you can’t face and then accepting those things wholeheartedly.

By integrating a shadow aspect of ourselves, we don’t become more of that quality, on the contrary, we become less affected by the experiences that used to trigger emotional reactions in us. By bringing the suppressed aspects of yourself into the spotlight of your awareness, you can achieve peace and freedom to respond more mindfully, compassionately and resourcefully in those situations where you used to be triggered – knowingly or unknowingly. This undoubtedly promotes an inner strength, a sense of empowerment and the confidence to face the next pursuit life presents.

*Brylowski A. Nightmares in crisis: clinical applications of lucid dreaming techniques. Psychiatr J Univ Ott. 1990 Jun;15(2):79-84.

By Leah Larwood

Clinical hypnotherapist, shadow worker and wellbeing writer, Leah also runs workshops in Norfolk to help people use dreams and creative writing to support their wellbeing