What Is Shadow Work? Find out with Helen Leathers

I was asked about shadow work in a spiritual discussion & meditation group I currently run online; It’s a spin-off of our women’s lockdown support group, but that’s possibly another story.

I think because the group is about spiritual discussion some ladies present felt that it was a dark side of spirituality or linked to advanced spiritual philosophy, or perhaps even occult practices. Actually, it’s far more mundane than that – sorry!

Shadow work is a term coined by the psychologist Carl Jung and relates to working on the bits about ourselves that we keep hidden. They might be parts that we consciously push down and hide, or that we aren’t consciously aware of. We might even refer to them as our inner demons.

Our shadow side might include:

  • Behaviour we don’t like about ourself, for example selfishness, anger, behaving like a victim or martyr.
  • Limiting beliefs
  • Addictive behaviours
  • Repeated patterns or behaviours that don’t serve us
  • Social anxiety,
  • Lack of self-worth
  • Things we just don’t like about ourselves
  • Shame
  • Fear

Jung believed we should work on our shadow side in order to life a balanced existence. He said,

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
Carl Jung

I like this quote. It’s almost saying that shadow work is about personal responsibility and empowerment.

If you imagine that we procrastinate and put off taking action because of, let’s say a sense of not deserving (lack of self-worth). We may miss out on opportunities and say ‘it’s not fair, why do I always miss out?’ It would be easy to develop a fatalistic attitude that could keep reinforcing our beliefs: ‘The universe doesn’t provide for me / I’m not meant to have nice things (because I’m not good enough)’.

But when we challenge our beliefs and behaviours (i.e. do the shadow work) we can start to retrain our brains and begin to understand that we DO have more control, we CAN take action, and that we aren’t simply destined to be a certain way. We can embrace a new way of being and step into our own power. Then we can be the mistress of our own life and live it in a more effective way.

I do believe that much of shadow work is related to the idea of being more powerful, and for many women that is scary – it shouldn’t be, but it is.

A Word of Caution About Shadow Work

Our shadow side could have elements; beliefs or behaviours, that stem from trauma It is therefore, very important to be cautious when embarking on shadow work and understand that we might need to seek to professional help.

As coaches we need to know when a client’s issue is moving into an area that might require help beyond ‘coaching’ and refer to a professional therapist. This doesn’t always means discontinuing coaching, although it might, at least temporarily.

You Have Probably Done Shadow Work Without Realising It

By the very nature that you are interested in personal development, you’ve probably done some work on yourself in this area.

If you’ve ever asked yourself why you behave in a certain way, changed a behaviour, or developed a new habit, you’ve been doing shadow work. (Pat yourself on the back, you did good!)

When we… 

  • learn to put ourselves first
  • set boundaries
  • say no
  • shift our energy to a more positive state
  • deal with difficult situations instead of letting someone else, or giving in,

…we are confronting our shadow side.

If you have coaching, you may well have done lots of shadow work.

If you’ve attended any of my workshops, I’m willing to bet that you most definitely have.

Shadow work allows us to take our true place in the world, to step up, to make a difference.

Yes, be cautious.

Yes, choose who you work with carefully.

And, yes, you can do some of this on your own or with a good friend.

And remember, when you shine a light within yourself, the shadows recede.

Is there a little bit of yourself that you ignore or don’t like? Maybe it’s time you asked her out to play and had a friendly chat.

If you’re not sure how, start with journaling about it. My article in the power of journaling might be of use to you.

If you need more help with your shadow work and you’d like to see if coaching is a way forward for you, do drop me a message or book a free 45-minute call using the button in the menu.



Helen Leathers

Transformational Women's Coach, Trainer, Speaker & Author

Combining a spiritual outlook, a pragmatic approach, and a sense of humour I want to help you remember who YOU are and reveal YOUR path so you can step on to it empowered, energised, inspired and guided.

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  1. Lisa Richards

    Helen, congratulations on a wonderful article which I think really gives an insight into a side of life that many people experience but who are either not aware or just simply don’t want to confront their shadow self for fear of what they know is there and more besides which can be very scary. However speaking as someone who has kind of probed such darkness it has yielded many insights and you have helped me do that on various occasions so thank you for continuing to share your thoughts on this and lots of other issues which I believe will help many start to consider changing, if not actually having a go just yet !

    • Helen

      Thank you for your comment Lisa, and I’m glad to have been of some help to you.

    • Kris

      Anybody who quotes Jung is a friend of mine 😃

      • Helen

        thanks, I do like a bit of Jung!


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