What is Somatic Shadow Work?
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
- The Gospel of Thomas
Somatic Shadow Work means seeing, feeling, and integrating the repressed aspects of your authentic self, as they appear in the body. We are born whole, and as such, our bodies contain the keys to retrieving and amplifying our fullest, most authentic life.
The term Shadow in its psychological sense stems from the work of famed psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung. My original methods of exploring the shadow through the body I call Somatic Shadow Work. More general forms of working with the shadow, used by Jungians throughout the 20th and 21st Centuries, are simply called shadow work.
Working with the shadow is the process of recovering from childhood conditioning, and thus differentiating the learned self from the authentic self.
The learned self is the mask that we wore as children to assure the approval of our caregivers, which meant that our needs would likely be met, and that we would likely be safe. To a degree, this mask is necessary, since some structure and conformity are integral to living in a society. The problems arise, however, when we begin to censor and deny our own internal experiences to fit in. In other words, we mistake our learned self for the authentic self, which is our own unique soul that has its own purpose, gifts, and emotional capacity. When this mistake happens, feelings of emptiness, depression, anxiety, and a wide range of other symptoms can result. As adults, we may seem to "have it all", and yet something deep down within us cries out for a feeling of aliveness that we believe to be lost. It is the classic "midlife crisis", though it can strike at any age. The path to reclaiming that aliveness is shadow retrieval.
Our shadow refers to aspects of the authentic self that we had to repress beneath this learned persona. Most of us repress these aspects so early in life, and so thoroughly, that we are completely unaware of them until a crisis brings them to our attention indirectly.
For example, when I was a child, it was unacceptable for me to confidently share my authentic and spontaneous opinions. If I did, I would experience emotional and verbal abuse. Thus, my 4 year old self unconsciously and automatically disowned the “confident and assertive” aspects of myself, and I began to believe myself to be completely adaptable, only voicing opinions that were shared by the people surrounding me. The result of this false identification is that I became disconnected from my inner knowing, became involved with abusive partners because I could “adapt” to anything, pursued a career that was not my true calling for nearly 10 years, and in the end, found myself extremely “successful”- and depressed.
Until we integrate our shadow, our life will continue to mirror it back to us in the form of conflict, difficult relationships, sexual blocks, illness, and other situations that encourage us to see and integrate it. This is due to the law of attraction, which is the spiritual truth that the signal we broadcast to the universe in the form of our vibration is what we receive back in return. Unconscious, unhealed aspects of ourselves project much stronger than superficial positive thinking. It is necessary to address and integrate the shadow in order to live the life that we truly desire.
In session, I may invite you to move or vocalize in a way that feels natural in the moment- only with your full consent, of course. It is often these sessions that are the most groundbreaking, as our bodies have immense innate wisdom and instinct for self-healing. Often, we need only to listen to them.
Appointments with me generally run as follows: We begin with a seated 10-15 minute consultation. Whether you see me in person or online, we will begin the main process of shadow retrieval, which can initially look like a guided meditation. I may ask you to bring to mind an emotionally potent and difficult present-day event or something similar, and we will explore those emotions as completely as possible, especially where and how you feel them in your body. In this way, we define the "feeling tone" of the memory. I may invite you to move or hold a posture that this feeling tone seems to call for. After that, I may then ask an earlier memory to arise in which you felt a similar feeling tone. We continue, following this "train" back as far as it goes, typically into the root memory in early childhood, which is the point at which you unconsciously disowned an aspect of yourself. We will then encounter your child self as your adult self, validate her or his emotions at the time, and then proceed to meet any unmet needs. Often, clients report feeling as if they merge with their child self from that time, which shows us that the shadow aspect has been integrated successfully.
The shadow retrieval process appears simple, but is disarmingly potent. It can feel like emotional surgery. Clients most often report no longer feeling as triggered by similar circumstances in their lives after experiencing this process. That is one example of how shadow retrieval leads to greater freedom, contentment, and stability. The greatest benefit, however, is that we come to trust ourselves more, since we deeply accept parts of ourselves that were previously rejected.
Clients often become quite emotional during sessions. So make sure you're not going back to work afterwards, and can take loving care of yourself. I will leave 10-15 minutes before the end of our session for processing the experience and grounding, so that you feel as supported as possible in returning to "normal" life. I also have a page specifically on post-session self-care.
Please contact me with any questions, concerns, or requests about this process.