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Shadow Work

You may have heard the term “Shadow Work” in reference to mental health and trauma recovery, and the way people talk about it it sounds kind of scary. Like the graduate level course when you’re still doing the 101 stuff - and like, yeah, there’s a sense in which that’s true. You do need some baseline of safety and grounding in order to do Shadow Work.
But once you have that, Shadow Work isn’t really scary anymore. It’s the process of looking back on the things you’ve said and done in the past that you really wish you hadn’t. Moments when you were angry or even abusive; times you’ve let people down, or even harmed them. All of those moments that fill you with shame and fear today, that your mind is desperate to convince you “That’s not me I’m a good person!!!”
The work, it turns out, is always the same. There are no purely good people. You aren’t a good person because you never make mistakes, never act out on harmful impulses, etc. If you want to be a good person, the thing you need to learn to do is to take accountability for your mistakes and using that to help you grow.
But this becomes really scary for a couple of reasons:
In our culture, “accountability” has basically become a code-word to many people that gives them permission to do things like shaming and ostracizing and otherwise punishing someone. It’s very often not safe to take accountability, so you have to learn how to generate that safety first - both internally and externally.
But second, if you’re neurodivergent then your life is filled with people demanding that you take accountability for things they perceived you as saying or doing, but which you never said or did. This creates a whole new layer of complexity.
Finally, even if you account for those things, if you’re undiagnosed and unsupported and don’t understand the reasons you do half the things you do, “taking accountability” doesn’t feel possible because you know it’s just going to happen again, because ultimately you can’t seem to control it.
And so a lot of us wind up overcompensating - “Well any time someone tells me I hurt them that’s just them not understanding me.” This is a sort of self-validation strategy that we can justify, and most of us spend our lives drastically short on the ability to validate ourselves at all, so it’s an easy trap to fall into.
But the problem is that you have to KEEP justifying it - and you will fuck up again. And this part of you will compulsively act to reframe what happened to keep you yourself “good” and “pure”. And THAT is the dangerous part, because you end up projecting all of your own unresolved contradictions onto the people around you. Because after all, if it axiomatically couldn’t be your “fault”, it must be theirs, right?
But, it turns out, if you work through your then everything changes. You realize: Oh, I’m actually not the story I was telling myself. I don’t have to curate the “good parts” and the “bad parts” I’m a complex system and when something goes wrong that’s not automatically “my fault” that’s reductive. But I do have things I can and should do to adjust, and when I focus on denying my role in the problem it becomes impossible for me to make even minor adjustments.
And once you get to that point, shadow work becomes not only possible but easy. It’s just looking at the things you were once so ashamed of and seeing “aww, lil buddy, you didn’t get it, that sucked. yeah you really fucked up. you know what, though? you learned a lot. You can’t control everything, but you didn’t have any idea what to control at all. Here, let me help you think about this...” etc and it becomes just more IFS-style parts or inner-child style work.

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