“Shadow work is, at heart, about developing self-awareness and ultimately, self-acceptance and compassion. Shadow work is often both therapy and more spiritual, helping you see the different parts of yourself.” ~Maggie Wooll
Advanced Self-Help Healing: Shadow Work in Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
If you’ve found yourself dealing with narcissistic abuse in a toxic relationship, chances are you’ve found yourself feeling lost, unseen, unheard, and even completely invisible. You might not be sure who you are anymore.
While nearly everyone could benefit from shadow work, for narcissistic abuse survivors, not only is it something that could temporarily soothe some of the pain you’re dealing with, but the long-term application could change everything for you.
For survivors, going this deep can be far more difficult and painful than most people realize. I can relate because I’ve been there myself.
Narcissists are so good at manipulating us and keeping us under their thumbs that we are often left feeling like a hopeless mess, with no sense of who we are or what we want. Shadow work may offer exactly the help you’ve been looking for if you’ve found yourself in this situation.
This is just one reason why shadow work is so important for narcissistic abuse survivors.
How can you do shadow work on your own?
Good news – shadow work is one way you can “self-help” your way through recovery. In fact, I recently launched a new series to teach you about shadow work in bite-sized pieces.
Carl Jung, a psychologist from Switzerland, is reportedly the first person who conceived of the idea of the shadow self. In Jungian psychology, the word ‘shadow’ refers to hidden parts of our being.
Jung described it as the “unknown dark side of the personality” that was “instinctive and irrational.”
“There is no coming to consciousness without pain,” Jung said. “People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
He also noted that the shadow is prone to psychological projection. This, he said, would lead to perceived personal inferiority within yourself, just as you might notice that someone else has some sort of perceived moral deficiency.
What is Shadow Work?
“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.” ~Carl Jung, Aion (1951)
Shadow work is a term used to describe the process of facing your own darkness. It’s meant to help you find and fix the “broken” parts of yourself. In other words, shadow work will help you to identify the parts of yourself that you are afraid to look at, either because they are taboo or because they might not be so nice (or because you might feel embarrassed or shy to share them with anyone else – sometimes, you’re even hiding from yourself).
Shadow work reconnects us with our spiritual selves, helps us find the parts of ourselves that have been broken and damaged (and even little habits we just don’t love about ourselves), then guides us on the path to personal growth and empowerment.
How do you know you need to do shadow work?
When I first learned about shadow work, I thought I’d already healed from all of my damage and had nothing left to fix – at least nothing much. But sure enough, I still had plenty of deep-rooted issues – and it really helped me to clear my head, my heart, and my mind so I could evolve into the next best self I could be.
Often we don’t realize that these things exist within us until someone else points them out to us through their behavior toward us (or sometimes even just by using language like “you’re not good enough”).
When we hear something like this from another person (in whatever form), it feels like confirmation of all the things we may already know about ourselves but that we haven’t been able to face before now – so instead we project those thoughts onto other people instead.
Now, there’s another thing to think about: if you’re anything like me, your first instinct when you started noticing these things was to just shove it down and stop the behavior rather than going to the trouble to work through it and move forward in a healthier way.
What’s the difference between inner child work and shadow work?
If you’re wondering what’s different between inner child work and shadow work (or even the difference between inner child and shadow self, know that you’re not alone. When I began to research shadow work, I suspected they were either connected or were one and the same.
And, according to my research, they are indeed connected. The way I understand it, shadow work encompasses more than the inner child, but does include the inner child.
So, in layman’s terms, the inner child will be healed as one part of the shadow work, but the shadow encompasses your whole life up to this point, along with all of the latest traumas.
When you grew out of being a child, your inner child stayed stuck – but your shadow continued along the way with you and saw the rest of the stress and mess you experienced.
How is Shadow Work Used by Narcissistic Abuse Survivors?
Many narcissistic abuse survivors report that doing shadow work has helped them to reclaim their identity and find their true self-worth again after being manipulated and controlled throughout their relationship with a narcissist.
Shadow work involves looking at aspects of your personality that aren’t healthy or positive, so they can be brought to the light and resolved through positive action steps like journaling or meditating on them until they resolve themselves internally.
Shadow work can also help survivors deal with painful memories related to the abuse cycle itself (i.e., flashbacks).
This process is often difficult for people who’ve experienced narcissistic abuse because they’re triggered regularly by things like social media posts or news articles about similar situations happening around us today.
At what point in narcissistic abuse recovery is shadow work most effective?
When you’re ready to do your shadow work, you’ll need to be beyond the first stage of recovery if you’re going to be effective and not retraumatize yourself too much. Why?
At the beginning of recovery, you might find yourself sort of spinning and feeling very raw. In this state, you’re not going to be very effective with shadow work, due to both your own fragile state and the fact that you’re going to be trying to figure out the narcissist and their own psychology at this point.
That’s exactly why I believe that shadow work will work best for survivors who are in the last stages of healing and evolving after abuse.
As we muddle through the early steps of recovery when we’re often feeling like it’s painful to even be awake, much less digging into ourselves to find the hidden broken parts.
We’re just not there yet; we’re not really ready or even equipped to do our shadow work as we suffer through the early stages of recovery.
But by the time you’ve gotten past the first few hurdles in recovery, you might be looking for a deeper or more advanced way to work through your traumas and finally, release them – once and for all. Shadow work might be just what you need.
You’ve just taken the first step in this process by reading the information above. Now, it can help to understand why you need to do this work and how it will help you heal from narcissistic abuse in ways that other healing modalities can’t.
5 Steps For Doing Shadow Work
You might feel like you’re beating your head against a wall, but you will get there. We will be using a modified version of my DUO Method to do our shadow work together.
Here are the steps we’ll follow doing our shadow work.
Step 1: Identify the problem. What do you want to work through or fix in yourself? (Discover)
Step 2: Acknowledge the problem and accept it. Accept without condition both the problem and yourself in the process – you’re not bad or evil because you’ve struggled with this or any other issue. (Unconditional self-acceptance)
Step 3: Look at the problem (this is where you have to dig deep) and do your research to understand it. (Understand)
.Step 4: Be honest with yourself about what’s been going on, who’s been involved, and how this has impacted your life in a negative way for years now, even when it was just one or two small things happening every once in a while that added up over time until all of a sudden everything changed overnight…because it usually does! (Overcome)
Step 5: Unconditionally accept and learn to love you for YOU. This is where evolution happens for a survivor.
Shadow Work Prompts for Narcissistic Abuse Survivors
One of the simplest and most effective ways to start your shadow work is through journal prompts. You’ll want to get a dedicated notebook or to even use YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok to record yourself and your efforts in mind and to keep your thoughts in place and organized.
I’ve recently launched a new series for narcissistic abuse survivors on my video platforms. Here’s the first video for your convenience.(I’m using the hashtag #shadowworkforsurviors on all platforms – so feel free to follow wherever you prefer. I’m on YouTube, TikTok, IG and Facebook Reels)
If you want to get a jump start on this process, you can start by taking some time to answer each of the following questions in your journal or video diary.
How can I feel safe in this world?
What is my worth, and how am I going to get it back?
How do I trust people again, or do I even have the capacity to trust people again?
What are some of the ways that I have been damaged by being in a relationship with someone who was toxic like this one was?
How do I express my emotions now that they’re no longer being oppressed by my abuser’s behavior?
There are simple ways to begin doing shadow work, but it takes a long time and can be painful. In any case, it’s totally worth the effort. You can do it!
Healthy relationships are a challenge for anyone, especially those of us who have been through narcissistic abuse. However, by doing shadow work, you can heal your past trauma and find the confidence to move forward with your life.
Shadow work can be used as part of the process of healing after narcissistic abuse. The idea behind it is that when you have been in an abusive relationship, you have become confused about who you are and what is real. Shadow work offers the opportunity to rediscover yourself and redesign your life.
Your abuser has controlled your reality by gradually changing how you think, how you feel, and what makes sense to you. As part of this process, they may also have convinced you that there are parts of yourself that are negative or bad.
It can be helpful to think about shadow work as a process of facing the parts of ourselves that we have been avoiding (the shadow). This might include our pain, our feelings about being controlled or manipulated by others, or even just our own feelings about ourselves.
Start Getting Help with Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Today
“No matter what you’re going through, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and it may seem hard to get to it but you can do it and just keep working towards it and you’ll find the positive side of things.” ~Demi Lovato
The Brick Wall in Narcissistic Abuse and Toxic Relationships
If you ask me, being in a relationship with a narcissist feels a lot like running your head into the same brick wall, over and over. And despite the fact that it gets bloody and beaten, you don’t stop. You just keep running your head into the wall, hoping to get through it (and make it happy) – and while you logically realize, eventually, that there’s no breaking that wall down, and that the wall is not capable of change, something in you makes you keep hitting the wall, bloodying your head and hoping for different results.
How do you find hope when you’re dealing with narcissistic abuse?
So let’s talk about the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m about to wax philosophical on your ass, so get ready. If you’ve ever been in a relationship with a narcissist, you can probably agree that eventually, you stop living for yourself and start living to avoid the next blow-up, drama, or manipulation.
So many people have come to me as they were beginning the process of recovering from an abusive narcissist asking me how I was able to redefine and rediscover myself after escaping my own narcissistic abuse situation. And this is what I tell them.
As I see it, living without that kind of passion is sort of like living in the dark. Food doesn’t taste as good, the air doesn’t smell as nice, the colors don’t seem as bright.
Without passion in our lives, it’s as though there’s a barrier between our senses and the world around us, one which doesn’t allow us to fully experience our lives.
This barrier could present itself in the way of depression, anger, fear, or any number of debilitating emotions. Or maybe there’s a certain situation in our lives of which we’ve lost control. Maybe it’s simply that we’re bored, and that we’ve begun to take our blessings for granted.
This can lead to a very toxic state for our souls and even our bodies. But we can change our minds, and this can change our lives. Start now by trying this Bliss Mission.
Bliss Mission: Discover What Inspires You
Begin with figuring out what inspires you. Then, find a way to make it happen. This can help you to start living with passion, and living with passion is one of the first steps to becoming whole, to becoming truly happy.
Whatever your passion or inspiration, take some small step toward it today, and let the rest flow. If you’re not sure where to start, consider taking a walk to clear your head, or writing in a journal to work it out. You could draw or paint a picture, or cook your favorite meal. Take a bath or do a little yoga. Whatever works for you.
Tell yourself that today is the day that you begin living with passion and purpose. And then, my friends, do it. Your life will be richer and your heart will be happier.
Feel good! You ready? Let’s do this.
Resources to Help with Gaslighting in Narcissistic Abuse
It wasn’t until I became a parent that I fully understood, and came to love that saying. Just knowing “it takes a village” made me feel like there was somebody, and possibly even several somebodies, out there on my side, rooting for me. It made me feel not so alone and not quite so worried that I was screwing up my own little human.
As a parent you need to select your village wisely. Take one wrong piece of advice from the village idiot and you’ll be getting the parental stink-eye from a lot of other folks out there.
I don’t feel “it takes a village” is relative to just parent’s though. It’s important to have a village of support when you’re trying to live a healthier lifestyle and lose weight. I take my tribe selection seriously!
I carefully choose the people that I take advice from and who I let into my weight loss bubble. Funny my saying that since I blog about most of it publically, but that’s not what I really mean. When you talk openly about trying to lose weight or change your habits you get input, asked for or not, valued or not. People like to give advice and help. Mostly it’s with a pure heart and good intentions.
I will listen to a lot, from a variety of people, but I only actually take a few people’s advice to heart, adding them to my village. You know what I mean. We all have well intended friends and family who still think the cabbage soup diet is the way to go. Those people would be on the “smile and nod” list and only shown property on the outskirts of town. Whereas hearing what works from a friend who really understands the craziness that is my head, that advice gets filed in the “good stuff, remember that!” and lives nearby in the village of my mind.
Weeding out the village idiots from the village people () can be a tricky and sometimes uncomfortable job. It’s not like they walk around with “I give bad advice intentionally” on their foreheads and sometimes they’re people who you are close with, be it emotionally or in proximity.
I have had office mates who I’ve had to uncomfortably tell “I really appreciate your trying to help but I have a team of people I am working with and it really overwhelms me to receive so much advice. If you wouldn’t mind I’d like to just follow what I’m doing and not get any further input.”
Man, that conversation is a hard one to have. It’s not nice. It has potential to make them feel bad and then you feel bad and nobody wants to feel bad.
Putting yourself first is hard, but important. You and your village are truly vital to your success.
My mental neighborhood starts with the people at Novarum, a health center in the Netherlands. Although I graduated from their bi-weekly sessions over two years ago, I still consider them an integral part of my success thus far. I also know they are there, just a phone call away, should I feel myself sliding down a slippery slope into old habits.
Me and Carolyn prepared to spar
Down the road from Novarum lives my pal Carolyn. She just simply gets me. I have interaction with her almost daily and she understands my kind of crazy. And believe me, it’s a special kind of crazy. We all need that one friends that just gets it. On top of being my mental collaborator she’s my sparring partner and workout buddy.
Me and Hilary, my village grocer
My village grocer is Hilary. She’s studied food, is passionate about food and is vocal about food. She’s the delicate balance of information, as I need it and can handle it, and advice. What I love best about her though is that she is always respectful of my boundaries.
Cindy, one of my trainers & me – at the gun show
Living in their own quiet cul-de-sac are the trainers from my gym. They shout encouragement to me as I tear through my workout. We laugh together when they say “burpees” and I reply with “I hate you”. They intimidated the hell out of me when they first moved into the ‘hood but after giving them a chance I know they want me to succeed just as much as I want to be successful.
And the best part about my village is my own home. I have the biggest cheerleader kissing me hello and goodbye every day. My husband, Marco, is one of the most understanding, supportive people I’ve encountered throughout my life. He’s seen me struggle with every aspect of the health game, so he knows it’s difficult. He encourages me in a non-pushy way, which can be a delicate dance. He eats what I want to eat because he knows I’m trying to be healthier. He’s gotten on the exercise bandwagon with me when I didn’t have anybody to work out with and we enjoyed it together. He believes in me even when I don’t believe in myself. There is no better villager than that. Get one of those in your town as soon as you can.
Marco and me
What kind of neighbors make up your own mental village?
I distinctly remember what I felt like prior to getting help for some food issues and previous to working out regularly. For a while, as I mentioned in this post, I avoided being with people, even people I liked. It was a dark, dreary, terrible way to feel every single day.
Now post-workout I also try to avoid people but for a whole other reason.
My name is Sarah and I am an endorphin-aholic.
Let me preface this by letting you know I work out at my office. I am fortunate enough to have a gorgeous, fully equipped gym, complete with enthusiastic trainers and classes, in the lower level of my building. This has its perks. My fortune continues in having a boss that lets me workout during actual “on the clock” hours so I can avoid the gym’s busy periods. Did I mention I love my job and my boss?
I knew exercise was supposed to make you feel better, “they” said. But we all know how “they” can be. “They” have a lot of fickle opinions that change with the wind and the wind seems to whip in a new direction every two weeks.
They were right about endorphins though and I am here to be a witness!
If you’ve never been on an endorphin high let me tell you what you’re missing out on. Imagine taking the tingle of a first kiss and gently mixing it with the excitement of that big drop on a roller coaster and then add a twist – a generous twist – of that adrenaline rush that comes along with your ultimate song being played in a club and you know you’re about to cut a rug. Mix all of that up, add a shot of espresso and voila, that’s how good my post workout endorphins make me feel.
Oh, and they make me chatty (okay, chattier). How unfortunate for the poor souls who innocently step into the elevator with me post exercise- all ‘dorphined up.
Sarah and Carolyn enjoying their well deserved endorphins
In the elevator heading back to our desks, my workout buddy, Carolyn, and I have been known to high five one another for pushing so hard stating, “man you killed it today, you ran!”… and then we just continuing to high five every other passenger in the elevator, celebrating our victories. They had no choice. They must high five.
This is endorphins.
Wide eyed and unsure of what just happened, the innocents would step out on their floors and continue with their day. We smiled widely and waved farewell to them (only to later resolve to stop doing that to people, lest we lose our jobs).
Even on days when I didn’t feel like working out but made myself go, I would be awarded with my endorphins. When I can’t be my own cheerleader, it’s like they’re telling me “way to go Sarah, you did it and we’re proud of you.” They rush over me and they simply just make me feel good. They make me feel proud. They make me feel happy. They make me feel alive and strong.
If you’re on the verge of starting an exercise routine or are just entertaining the thought for somewhere down the road please, please just do it. If you can’t because you just aren’t there, mentally, trust in the endorphins to take care of some of your mental health. Take that one little step and get your endorphins running. You will be so glad you did.
For as many people as there are on the planet, there are probably twice the amount of ways to show somebody that you love them.
Traditional people can love you with cards or with flowers.
Kids love one another with a tug of the hair or punch in the arm.
Friends send you funny memes that only you will really “get”.
Parents leave hidden messages in lunchboxes.
Some love via text.
Some love through a song.
Some promise everlasting love with a ring.
How do I love?
I love with food. Sure, I love other ways too but food has been a constant sign of fondness for the larger part of my life.
For a woman conquering a weight issue, this can be a challenge.
I love to love people via culinary gifts. I adore watching the full bodied reaction of somebody enjoying a cupcake I’ve created with my own two hands. The relaxation of their body. The smile on their face. The lick of a finger. The deep sigh. For that moment, you made their life smile.
I’m no one way street though. I don’t just love people with food, I let them love me right back in the very same way. Just this week a colleague went to London and brought me back Cadbury Crème Eggs because she knows I have an unnatural affection for them. All lined up in a pretty little row at my keyboard, sat four magical foil-wrapped eggs, with that realistic, slightly creepy, egg white center and yellow yolk. A gift of friendship was well received with a yelp and a “squeeee!”
What do you do when gifts of friendship and love threaten to hamper your weight loss goals? What happens when your Mom makes your favorite dessert because she knows how you love it but it doesn’t fit in with your day? What do you do when love leaves you a five pound box of chocolate? You can’t just throw out perfectly good food! What about all those starving children… yes, we all know where that sentence leads us. The children are still hungry but your thighs aren’t exactly thanking you either.
I read the most brilliant analogy on a website once and it has stuck to me like glue. The key to battling food love is to accept it.
Some people will always love you with food. They will always send you home with leftovers because they know it’s your favorite. It’s how they love. Accept the gift, graciously. You do deserve that gift of thoughtfulness.
But what about those goals of yours? Therein lies the secret key that you’ve been searching for.
Receive the gift, but realize what the real gift actually is. They’ve given you the gift of love, thoughtfulness, caring, kindness and consideration. They’ve wrapped those deep seeded emotions, specific to you, in gorgeous packaging – love wrapped in brownies. Fondness tied up with a noodle bake bow. Friendship disguised as crumbly cake… whatever food it is you love… they’ve wrapped their emotional bond to you in that food. Now you’ve graciously received that gift of love and accepted it.
It feels really nice, doesn’t it?
With a clear conscious, because you graciously accepted the gift, you can now throw that wrapper away, just like you do with other gifts. Throw that brownie/noodle/cupcake “wrapper” away. Throw it away knowing that the gift of love was received loud and clear.
The empty wrappers will join my foil covered Cadburys in that great waste disposal in the sky but man, I can still feel the love!