What is Somatic Shadow Work?
“Trauma is not what happens to us,
but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathic witness."
- Peter Levine
Somatic Shadow Work is a process of becoming the empathic witness to the unseen pain of our past. Through this witnessing, we recover the disowned aspects of ourselves- our shadow.
What I really love about this work is this: By creating intimacy within- in other words, when we really see (into-me-see) our most vulnerable parts, we open to true intimacy with others, and no longer experience emotional loneliness. Because we can hold ourselves, we become able to be held by others.
My approach is trauma-informed and anti-oppressive. Throughout the process, I will always guide you back to yourself as your own highest authority.
To experience Somatic Shadow Work first-hand, check out my wealth of recorded shadow work meditations on Insight Timer. You don't even need the app to access them all- for free. I suggest listening to "Shadow Work for Inner Child Healing" for a great introduction to my method.
If you'd like more general information about shadow work, read on:
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.