A new look at shadow work

Trigger warning for abuse, sexual assault, and other horrible experiences

Any student, or causal reader of Jungian psychology will be familiar with his concept of our shadow selves. If you’re not familiar with it, and sure, there’s no reason you should be! it’s the exploration of the unconscious or hidden parts of ourselves, including those parts of us we repress or try not to acknowledge. Usually because they’re the less-nice bits.

You know – the bits that ache to punch someone cos they annoy you. Or the parts that enjoy some (what you consider to be) abnormal sexual position or activity. Or even some part of you that wasn’t accepted when you were growing up and therefore you swear isn’t part of you. (Not that I have experience in any of these! Ahem. Nope, not me…. totally lying here by the way)

Anyway, I came across what looked like an interesting book the other week called Existential Kink by Carolyn Elliott and bought it. I mean look at it – why wouldn’t you?

Image of the front of the book Existential Kink by Carolyn Elliott, PhD. which has a woman’s face, mostly covered in shadow, but a strip of light or non shadow over her eyes and with her right hand covering her right eye. There is a red circle with white writing on the top left hand side saying “A method for getting what you want by getting off on what you don’t”

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Many of the works on shadow work have a tendency to be a bit victim blamey and don’t take into account the fact of abuse, intimate partner violence, sexual assault and other horrible things that happen all over the world, every day. And, if I’m even more honest, there was a tinge of that in the book, although at least childhood abuse is eliminated from the question.

And ok, I can accept that someone who has had multiple abusive relationships may need help to figure out what is it about these partners that attracts them and how to work out the warning signs. I don’t think abuse is the victims/ survivors fault though. No one causing their own abuse. And that’s something these kind of books keep on putting out there. So, if you are, like me, the survivor or victim of an abusive relationship, just remember this: it’s not your fault. You didn’t force someone to abuse you. OK?

On the other hand, I can see, looking back, how I have done work similar to what is described in this book about things that might have led me down that path. The author describes getting very friendly with the physical feelings that certain situations evoke in us. As in – if you are constantly short of money, then imagine being completely broke and see what the physical feeling evokes in you and luxuriate in it. Obviously, this process is explained miles better in the book, but essentially, I like the idea of exploring fully the conditions we want to escape and never seem to be able to. The author encourages you to feel these emotions and physical sensations so thoroughly and deeply that you orgasm (hence the name!) Now, I can’t say I orgasmed from my experiments with the book, but I did find it useful to identify ways I no longer seek sensation in life, but have them covered through specific activities.

And the prologue is shite. Persephone and Plute are in different pantheons for a start and her ideas behind what happened to Persephone – well it’s rubbish in my eyes. However, I did follow on through with the rest of the book and I’m glad I did.

And at it’s core, the process is similar enough to most shadow work processes I’ve seen, but the sexual element is a new one for me and makes the whole thing more attractive (your mileage may vary!) Because a lot of the shadow work process, whether group or individual, I’ve worked with before can ignore sex and desire as part of shadow work. I’ve worked with one or two good ones that at least sexual desire exists and is part of human life, but it’s not widespread. Which I suppose speaks to the need for something like this.

Essentially this book works through with you a process taking you through as many of the taboo subjects or areas we’re not meant to be attracted to in life as possible and helps you see if these are things you need to address, and how to address them. From that point of view, it’s a good book.

It’s also well written, well researched, on solid foundations as they say. I mean, it’s not like you’ll completely go over to the dark side, unless you really want to. But understanding why we feel the way we feel or why we have “issues” we can’t move past is really helpful in actually moving past them.

Now this is an adult book, both by topics and language. It’s not aimed at kids. So, there’s a bit of language in it, there’s discussion of sexual things in general, there’s references to orgasms and other sexual acts. So, if that sort of talk offends you, don’t buy the book, it’s not for you. If you’re not interested in looking into the darkness of yourself, it’s not for you either. If you look to align yourself completely with “light and love” eliminating any mention of darkness from your life – ignore this completely, it’s not for you.

To be fair, if you already have a shadow work process that works for you, this may not be for you, although you might pick up something useful for yourself along the way.

But, if you are interested in exploring the deepest, darkest corners of your soul, where you know the skeletons are buried and looking to move past what is holding you back into a new future? This is definitely for you. If you want to explore the things that you have repressed, for whatever reason, and dig up the dirt on yourself – go for it here. And even if you want to dip your toe in, this is a reasonably safe process by which to start off as well – although maybe tackle your issues around toffee lattes before hitting the deep childhood stuff…

All in all, as with any shadow work, do your homework and don’t start engaging with something you don’t trust, but I found this book to be really good, enjoyable read and useful process to follow.

Author: galros2

I've been working with Brigid for many years now and looking to share my experience and knowledge with those who wish to learn. Check out my links here: Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/brigidsforge Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MyBrigidsForge School: https://brigid-s-forge.teachable.com/ Blog: https://mybrigidsforge.com/

One thought on “A new look at shadow work”

  1. Thank you for your book review Orlagh. I will definitely pick this book up when I get a chance.

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