The Practical Person’s Guide to Overcoming Trauma: Week 3 - Shadow Work

Now that we are feeling a bit more fortified after Unclogging and Make Room, it is time to deal with our shadow stuff. For those of you who are not versed in spiritual speak, shadow can mean anything from something you don’t like about yourself to something you love about yourself that society considers freakish or wrong.

Because this is the Practical Persons’ Guide to Overcoming Trauma, we will use this definition:

Shadow: dealing with your dark side.

The things about yourself that you may not love, or may in fact despise. We all have them, and they serve to feed the trauma. Anytime we are criticizing ourselves, even if it is only internally, we are out of line with our happiest selves, right? When you are at your most joyful, are you running the internal monologue of how much you can’t stand yourself. NO! We really want to stop feeding the trauma with negative thoughts about ourselves.
Think of the trauma as a virus. It is circulating in your bloodstream, attracting anything that can feed it with unnerving speed. It grows and grows until your reaction to it is taking over your life. Let’s cut that virus off at the source.

I have found through years as a therapist that the quickest way to do this is to deal with the shadow. “Deal with” does not mean beat yourself up, hate yourself more or lose your mind trying to become a different person. It means let’s first bring these shadows to the light. What are they? What about our personality or actions is feeding into this traumatized version of ourselves? And what about us is an incontrovertible truth, meaning this is our personality and it might be something that can be actively altered, but it may not be in our best interest to do so? How to tell the difference?

An example of this would be my former client Sandra.* After being sexually abused as a child, she learned that she could people-please her way out of almost any altercation between her mother and father, a sure lead into the abuse she often experienced. As she grew into a woman, she continued people-pleasing and playing the peacemaker in almost all situations without her own awareness. This led to a very financially successful career as a mediator, work that she very much enjoyed.
As our shadow work progressed, we both agreed that we would not want to change the peacemaking aspect of her personality. This is a beautiful quality that had served her well and would continue to earn her a good living with only a few hours of work per week.
Instead, we worked on the people pleasing tendencies in her private life. Where did she succumb to others wishes for her, her time and her life? She began deciding what the family would do on Saturdays and honestly telling her husband when he did things that offended her or hurt her feelings. She did the same with her kids, and gradually distanced herself from friends that didn’t seem to want to spend time with her other than to peace-make their problems.

Let’s get to work.

Journal prompts for week 3

  1. Where do your shadows lie? What is it about yourself that you don’t like? It’s ok to make a list, but try to make sure every item on the list is somehow linked to the original trauma.

  2. Write next to each item on your list the way that it relates to the original trauma. It’s ok if you don’t know yet. It will occur to you at some point this week or next.

  3. Select the most irritating item on this list for you. Not the most irritating item for your partner, your friends or your kids. The most irritating item for you.

  4. Brainstorm some very specific ways in which you can act differently to work on this one, most irritating shadow aspect of yourself for you. You are not doing this for anyone else but you, so make sure it is one that really bothers you.

  5. Listen to the 5 minute audio for week 3 every night before bed. If you tend to fall asleep while listening, sit up in a chair.

* Names and exact circumstances always changed to protect the identity of my clients.