Ten Things to Consider When Embracing Your Shadow

A man on the mend’s introduction to the truly transformative power of Shadow Work

Martin O'Toole
3 min readMay 18


Photo by Mukuko Studio on Unsplash

Originating from Carl Jung’s psychoanalytic theory, shadow work is a metamorphic mission into the depths of the psyche, unearthing aspects we often suppress, deny, or in some cases, are unaware of. The aim? To observe and integrate these facets of our self, thus cultivating consciousness. It’s more than a mere introspective quest; it’s a deep dive into fear, shame, and guilt — to meet our “shadow self”.

“Shadow work has not been examined in any research studies, so it’s difficult to prove its efficacy as a practice,” says Dr Gauri Khurana, an NYC psychiatrist and clinical instructor at Yale University School of Medicine. But based on her patients’ experiences, she notes that shadow work can help integrate different parts of yourself and foster a sense of unity in your mind and personality.

I dove into my shadow work in two tranches. The first was during my early therapy sessions, shortly after my mum died. The second was after my introduction to the Ayahuasca and Huachuma psychedelic plant medicines. Next was combining it with a meditation practice.

I may have been guilty of a little spiritual bypassing during this process, as I conveniently avoided a scheduled one-to-one with my darker side. Not a Zoom call that anyone’s all that keen to attend. However, eventually, I commenced the painful procedure of self-reflection. Observing past behaviour honestly, I learned to accept co-responsibility for all of it. Now, there was no one left to lie to other than myself.

Perhaps it was meditation or plant medicine. Maybe it was the self-prescribed removal from my former toxic environments. Whatever the magic mix, using this new mindset, I deliberately situated myself in silence. And so I began surfing tsunami after tsunami of melting hot lava-like truth in the form of memories I’d previously worked hard to repress. Along this dark road, I altered my life’s course, embracing the work with an overwhelming desire to change because there was no other option. Besides, having learned much about the dark, I felt compelled to acknowledge its teachings about the promise of the altogether more appealing light.

So, my shadow work involved spending weeks and months revisiting and reflecting while learning about my psychology and spirituality. This enriched and transformed how I viewed my darkness.

Despite its daunting nature, fully embodying shadow work is a conduit for remarkable growth. Its healing power fosters self-acceptance, love, and forgiveness, curbs our emotional triggers, enhances our interpersonal relationships, and illuminates a path towards a balanced existence where light and darkness can coexist harmoniously. So yes, it’s an undeniably painful internal audit, but there’s no denying its alchemic power on one’s path to self-discovery.

For those searching for sustainable happiness, Shadow Work is a personal development process that one simply cannot skip. It’s integral to the first phase of embodying what I call the “Anatomy of Happy”. Since it is a less-than-fun adventure, here are ten tips for your journey to embrace your shadow:

  1. Sit with your darkness; feel the pain until it transmutes.
  2. Master your emotional responses so you are no longer easily triggered.
  3. Free from shame or judgment, acknowledge your negative behavioural emotions.
  4. Free from guilt or judgment, recognise your negative behavioural traits.
  5. Master assertiveness minus rudeness.
  6. Learn to appreciate others’ truths.
  7. Observe and accept yourself; laugh at yourself.
  8. Observe and avoid passive aggression.
  9. Arm-wrestle adversity; seek out and analyse the lessons.
  10. See yourself in others (and others in you), thus minimising your predilection for judgment.

Shadow work is often non-linear, so approach it patiently, without attachment. This work opens the gates to self-realisation, self-love, and forgiveness. It’s heroic. Why? Joseph Campbell once said, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek”. Anyone can read a self-help book or take up yoga. Shadow work is the courageous process of profound self-acceptance; as such, it doesn’t just change your life; it positively affects everyone around you.

Shadow work is the path of the heart warrior.

— Carl Jung

Want to know more about where shadow work fits in understanding sustainable happiness? Check out my new book, How To Die Happy, here.



Martin O'Toole

How To Die Happy author, podcaster, and mental health advocate writing about healing and the Anatomy of Happy.