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Embracing The Shadow Self

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Embracing The Shadow Self

by Wes Annac,
Contributing Writer,

What should you do when you experience a spiritual awakening in which you realize reality is an illusion, everything is connected, and you’re slowly evolving on a mental, physical, and spiritual level? It’s lot to take in, and what you do afterward is crucial.

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You have a few options; some that will take you higher and some that will stall your spiritual growth indefinitely. You can, for example, start behaving in a way you assume is more “enlightened”. You can try to be positive every second of every day in hopes that your forced good mood keeps you in harmony.

Constant Positivity Only Goes So Far

You can go straight to social media, proclaiming to the world that you’re #woke and telling everyone to just stay positive (despite the very real hardships people go through every day).

This will work for a while. You’ll feel like a woke warrior with a high vibe and an unshakable spirit. If something goes wrong, you’ll tell yourself to just think positive. It will all work out if you avoid negativity and refuse to get upset. Don’t think about what upsets you or bums you out. Just be positive.

Before too long, however, something will feel amiss. Your curious mind, which led you to awaken in the first place, will continue questioning things. This will include your newfound philosophy.

You’ll continue to deeply examine life and the “you” living it until you discover an inherent flaw in your previously infallible belief in positivity.

For most of us, that flaw is that despite our incessant love and positivity, we still feel sad. We still get angry. We still get weak and succumb to the world’s temptations. That dark side of us we thought we transcended is still intact and begs for our attention.

This is where self-honesty becomes important. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll explore those negative feelings and consider that they have a role to play in your life. If you’re not, you’ll think you’ve simply failed to be positive for a few moments and push yourself right back onto that self-destructive path.

Don’t Stop Being Positive

I don’t recommend giving up on positivity altogether, because it’s good for you. It’s healthy to look at the positive and the negative. Personally, if I didn’t see both sides, I’d either be in denial or miserable and depressed.

To focus only on positivity is to bury your head in the sand regarding the problems in the world and in yourself. You’ll feel good, but you’ll be blissfully unaware of these issues that desperately need your attention. This is the opposite of being awake.

But if you focus only on the bad and decide that positivity in any form is naïve, your world will turn dark quick. Give yourself permission to be positive, optimistic, and hopeful. But don’t ignore the world’s problems or abandon your dark side for the sake of staying emotionally high.

“If you’re trying to stay high then you’re bound to stay low” – Matisyahu (1)

So, you have a choice when you first “wake up”. You can tell the world how awake you are and insist we all stay positive; or, with meditation and introspection, you can silently contemplate your shortcomings and the role your dark side can play in catalyzing spiritual growth.

I know the latter option doesn’t sound too fun. The concept of endless happiness and bliss is much more appetizing. In chasing endless happiness, however, you avoid a fundamental aspect of the evolution of mind, body, and soul: the shadow self.

What Is the Shadow Self?

Let’s learn a little about this part of ourselves we fight to ensure never reaches the surface.

According to Mateo Sol at Loner Wolf, Carl Jung created this now well-known archetype to describe a fragment of our unconscious comprised of all that negativity we repress because we think it’s bad for us.

Soul work, Mataeo writes, inevitably makes us aware of the darker aspects of our psyche.

“If you’re truly honest about self-exploration during your soulwork journey, you will come across many aspects and traits about yourself that you will find difficult – if not completely disturbing – to accept.” (2)

Carl Jung, he writes, was led by reading spiritual scriptures to create the “Archetypes model”.

“In the domain of psychology, renowned psychologist Carl Jung devoted a lot of thought to this problem of the ‘Shadow Self’, being deeply invested in the research of ancient esoteric knowledge and spiritual scriptures to not only treat the mind of man, but his soul as well.

“In response to his serious preoccupation Jung created the Archetypes model, a concept wherein he believed our unconscious minds are fragmented or structured into different ‘selves’ in an attempt to organize how we experience different things in life. Two of Jung’s major Archetypes are The Persona and The Shadow Self.” (3)

Mateo describes the persona and the shadow self:

“…The Persona, according to Jung, defines what we would like to be and how we wish to be seen by the world.  The word ‘persona’ is derived from a Latin word that literally means ‘mask’, however in this instance the word can be applied metaphorically, representing all of the different social masks that we wear among different groups of people and situations.

“On the other hand, the Shadow Self is an archetype that forms part of the unconscious mind and is composed of repressed ideas, instincts, impulses, weaknesses, desires, perversions and embarrassing fears.

“This archetype is often described as the darker side of the psyche, representing wildness, chaos and the unknown. Jung believed that these latent dispositions are present in all of us, in many instances forming a strong source of creative energy.” (4)

The Mask Is Here to Stay

In my opinion, the persona is unavoidable to an extent. We all wear a mask. We all have this side of us tied to the ego that doesn’t want to be embarrassed or humiliated and just wants to fit in.

The world could certainly use more authentic people, but I don’t think we can or should remove the mask entirely. The problems come when we latch onto the mask and forget about the shadow self or the unconscious altogether.

One way we become reattached to the persona after a spiritual awakening is by insisting on being positive and refusing to see the negative. We decide one day to never take off the mask and let our hurt show. In this way, an awakening can unfortunately lead to the opposite of what was intended.

Instead of exploring our unconscious, which is our link with the other side, we abandon it. By adopting false positivity, we cling to the persona and push the shadow self ever deeper until it’s forced to erupt just to get our attention.

Spiritual Bypassing

This suppression is known as “spiritual bypassing” or using spirituality as a reason not to explore your subconscious because of the demons that lurk deep below. Confronting these demons is the chief purpose of a spiritual awakening, and the fact that it’s often used not to do this is a little ironic.

Jordan Bates at High Existence describes spiritual bypassing, citing psychotherapist Robert Augustus Masters.

“In the early 1980s, psychologist John Welwood coined the term ‘spiritual bypassing’ to refer to the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid confronting uncomfortable feelings, unresolved wounds, and fundamental emotional and psychological needs.

“According to integral psychotherapist Robert Augustus Masters, spiritual bypassing causes us to withdraw from ourselves and others, to hide behind a kind of spiritual veil of metaphysical beliefs and practices. He says it ‘not only distances us from our pain and difficult personal issues, but also from our own authentic spirituality, stranding us in a metaphysical limbo, a zone of exaggerated gentleness, niceness, and superficiality.” (5)

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The purpose of this “exaggerated niceness” is to separate ourselves from those negative feelings that will eventually come to the surface anyway. Tragically, some people genuinely believe that to let these feelings in is to stray from their path. They try their hardest not to acknowledge anything negative.

This constant positivity keeps you in the shallow end of the mind, stopping you from diving deeper, finding the monsters at the bottom, and kicking their asses (metaphorically, of course). When you finally acknowledge them, everything changes.

Not for the Faint of Heart

Since I like to cite spiritual teachers in these writings, let’s hear from a few about the harshness encountered on the spiritual path and why we should be open to it. It turns out there’s no shortage of guidance on the inevitability of struggle and the ways in which it can help you become a better “you”.

According to Bernadette Roberts, this journey is not for the faint of heart.

“This is not a journey for those who expect love and bliss; rather, it is for the hardy who have been tried in fire and have come to rest in the tough, immoveable trust in ‘that’ which lies beyond the known, beyond the self, beyond union, and even beyond love and trust itself.” (6)

One challenge, she writes, is the dissipation of the ego and subsequent descent of the “cloud of unknowing”.

“In experience, the onset of this process [of God-realization] is the descent of the cloud of unknowing, which, because his former light has gone out and left him in darkness, the contemplative initially interprets as the divine gone into hiding.

“In modern terms, the descent of the cloud is actually the falling away of the ego-center, which leaves us looking into a dark hole, a void or empty space in ourselves. Without the veil of the ego-center, we do not recognize the divine; it is not as we thought it should be. …

“From here on we must feel our way in the dark, and the special eye that allows us to see in the dark opens up at this time.” (7)

St. John of the Cross affirms that the spiritual path contains plenty of “darknesses and trials”.

“The darknesses and trials, spiritual and temporal, that fortunate souls ordinarily encounter on their way to the high state of perfection are so numerous and profound that human science cannot understand them adequately; nor does experience of them equip one to explain them.

“He who suffers them will know what this experience is like, but he will find himself unable to describe it.” (8)

Brother Lawrence encourages introspection after an awakening.

“When we enter upon the spiritual life, we should consider and examine to the bottom what we are.

“And then we should find ourselves… subject to all kinds of misery and numberless accidents, which trouble us and cause perpetual vicissitudes in our health, in our humors, in our internal and external dispositions; in fine, persons whom God would humble by many pains and labors, as well within as without.

“After this we should not wonder that troubles, temptations, oppositions, and contradictions happen to us from men. We ought, on the contrary, to submit ourselves to them, and bear them as long as God pleases, as things highly advantageous to us.” (9)

Your demons become your allies when you embrace and work to heal them. You no longer worry that the universe is punishing you and instead take responsibility for your role in your struggles. When you ignore and avoid them, they grow and grow until they become your most formidable opponents.

They’re easier to deal with if you confront them early on when they have less power over you, but their power grows if you continuously ignore them. They slowly take over, demanding you do what would’ve been far easier in the beginning.


The plain truth is that you can’t run from the “negative” things that form the individual and collective shadow self. Nor can you run from the struggles on your path. You’re a spiritual being, but you’re also human. Your dark side is a natural part of the human experience, and struggle is a natural part of life.

Suppressing or ignoring them is not.

You can get to the heart of this beast within you by letting it surface and figuring out what caused it to form (besides the fact that it’s natural).

Then, positivity will arise naturally when the moment calls for it; as will anger, sadness, disappointment, and all those other feelings we don’t prefer. The difference will be that instead of pushing them back down, you’ll feel them, learn their lessons, and let them go. This is evolution.

Let the process flow naturally instead of clouding it with forced positivity, and you’ll enjoy true, authentic happiness and spiritual growth.


  1. “Matisyahu – King Without a Crown Lyrics”, Lyrics Mode:
  2. Mateo Sol, “Shadow Self: Embracing Your Inner Darkness”, Loner Wolf
  3. Loc. Cit.
  4. Loc. Cit.
  5. Berandette Roberts, The Experience of No-Self. A Contemplative Journey. Boston and London: Shamballa, 1985, 13.
  6. Bernadette Roberts, “The Path to No-Self” in Stephan Bodian, ed. Timeless Visions, Healing Voices. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1991, 131.
  7. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, trans. Complete Works of St. John of the Cross. Washington: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1973, 69-70.
  8. Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God. Mount Vernon, NY: Peter Pauper Press, 1963, 22.

About the author: I’m a twenty-something writer & blogger with an interest in spirituality, revolution, music and the transformative creative force known as love.  I run The Culture of Awareness, a daily news blog dedicated to raising social and spiritual awareness and supporting the evolution of the planet.  I also have a personal blog, Openhearted Rebel, in which I share writings related to spiritual philosophy, creativity, heart consciousness and revolution (among other topics).  I write from the heart and try to share informative and enlightening reading material with the rest of the conscious community. When I’m not writing or exploring nature, I’m usually making music. Follow me on Facebook (Wes Annac) and Twitter (Wes Annac)

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