What is Shadow Work?

Have you ever felt the need to repress a side of yourself? Read about shadow work, its benefits and how psychedelics can enhance the process.
shadow work journal prompts. 3 women depicted in white, orange, and blue to represent shadow work during psychedelic therapy
Author: Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
By Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
June 12, 2023

Have you ever felt like you needed to repress a side of yourself? For instance, you face a situation that makes you feel afraid or ashamed. But instead of embracing the emotion, you ignore it, pretending that it doesn’t affect you. What you’re actually doing is avoiding your shadow self, a darker part of your psyche that longs to be seen and heard. 

This article provides an overview of shadow work, its benefits and how psychedelics can help enhance the process.

Shadow Work for Personal Development

Shadow work is an integration and personal development process allowing an individual to understand the root of recurrent and difficult emotions that affect their life. As a result, they feel complete and whole with who they are without hiding or suppressing their shadow selves which are the parts that they are fearful or ashamed of and minimize the effect of emotional triggers.

The shadow self originated and was popularized by the work of Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Carl Jung. Jung theorized that a person has different parts to their persona. There are parts that we comfortably display to the public and there are parts that we keep hidden. We do not see our shadow selves because we do not want to. 

Our shadows are created from the day we are born. As children, we were conditioned by the expectations of our parents, environment, culture and society. We were told there were certain behaviors and traits that are deemed unacceptable or acceptable. When we expressed ourselves authentically during our childhood and adolescence, the responses we received either encouraged or discourage those parts of ourselves. 

For instance, when a child is quietly reading a book, they are praised for their focus and intellect. When a child follows their teacher’s instructions properly, they are encouraged and rewarded for their efforts.

However, when a child throws a tantrum, they are told to stop and are given a time-out. When a child disrupts the class with a bold joke or silliness, they are told they are misbehaving and are reprimanded. 

These external reactions that we received when we expressed ourselves in ways perceived as negative are what create a shadow self. It pushes those parts of ourselves away from our consciousness; we grow up, adapting to external conditions and becoming blind to our unwanted traits.

What Happens When We Repress Our Shadow 

There are many consequences when we keep our shadow selves in the dark. We are whole beings with a light and dark side. Jung wrote in Psychology and Alchemy,

“There is no light without shadow and no psychic wholeness without imperfection.”

When we continually keep our shadow selves hidden, it negatively affects our relationships—we are unable to show our true selves and connect authentically with others. 

We care more about how others think than how we think of ourselves which destroys our self-esteem. Then we project the negative traits that we view in ourselves onto others.  

We may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol, overeating or substance use to numb painful emotions and deal with emotional triggers.

Lastly, we have difficulty defining our self-identity without understanding, accepting and embracing every part of who we are. This can cause problems in making the right decisions in life, career and relationships that align with our beliefs, values and priorities. 

Shadow Work Benefits

The concept of shadow work is part of Jungian Psychotherapy. A review of empirical studies was conducted on the evidence for the effectiveness of Jungian psychotherapy. Studies that were included in the review included retrospective studies, naturalistic outcome studies, prospective studies, health insurance data and qualitative studies.

Results showed that all studies had significant improvements in symptom levels, interpersonal problems, everyday quality of life and personality structure after completion of therapy; furthermore, the improvements were sustained for up to six years. The review concluded that Jungian psychotherapy can be deemed an empirically proven, effective method. 

Specific benefits of shadow work include the following:

  • Heals generational trauma: Shadow work can help you confront past traumas and grief and understand how your childhood, society, environments and relationships affect your life, mindset, beliefs and how you react and respond to certain situations.
  • Develops empathy and compassion: Shadow work can allow you to identify and accept the negative personality traits that you view of yourself. It builds self-compassion and self-acceptance. In turn, you will have a deeper understanding of the difficulties that other people have with their shadow selves.
  • Allows you to feel whole as a person: Shadow work helps you accept every part of yourself. You no longer deny parts of yourself or self-soothe with unhealthy ways to meet your needs, since you feel like a complete being and realize a sense of wholeness.
  • Improves relationships: Other people’s actions and words won’t trigger you as much because you understand yourself more clearly and have integrated your shadow self into your whole self. Your interactions with others will improve and you are able to communicate more effectively and authentically with others. This can lead to more rewarding and meaningful relationships.
What is Shadow Work? Close-up of a female-appearing person with long hair,  holding up two cubes, showing their reflection in them. The image has a blue filter with heatmap accents in pink.

How Psychedelics Integrate With Shadow Work

Psychedelics have the power to reveal the unconscious parts of our minds into our consciousness. Specifically, psychedelics induce “temporary disruption of neural hierarchies”. Images of brains on psychedelic substances showed decreases in frontal regions (associated with thinking) and increases in the posterior regions of the brain (associated with emotional and visual processing). This means that plant medicines cause the information flow in the brain to reverse and allows us to access parts of the brain that hold our emotions that are contained by our cognitive grip.  

A safe and intentional psychedelic trip with the right context, set and setting can bring forward psychological, emotional and spiritual blockages to our focus and increase our emotional awareness. We are able to fully identify the bodily sensations that occur with our feelings and triggers. 

This allows us to create distance between ourselves and our emotions and view them from an objective point of view. We are able to see our shadow selves without fear, judgment or shame and learn how to manage and embrace that part of ourselves. Ultimately, psychedelics can act as a tool or catalyst in accessing our shadow selves, allowing us to better understand, and accept the truth about ourselves and cultivate personal growth. 


Ayahuasca can help us access hidden parts of ourselves and heal our inner child. It is a powerful tool that helps reveal core beliefs that limit us and create fear and suffering, expanding our awareness and shifting our perspectives on past painful memories and experiences. It allows us to make peace with our past, and let go of blame, resentment and anger so we can move forward and change our life for the better. 


Psilocybin is known for its visual hallucinations, feelings of euphoria, emotional processing and mystical experiences that can give individuals new life perspectives, and change attitudes in the long term. 

It can help us connect with our shadow selves. James W. Jesso, an author, public speaker and psychedelic expert talks about encountering his shadow side with psychedelics. 

When asked about his experiences with his shadow side and how psilocybin has helped him understand and work with it in a way that’s productive, that facilitates maturation and development, he responded with the following:

“…the most important things that I’ve been learning with Psilocybin is to have courage to feel what I’m feeling, regardless of how uncomfortable or painful it might be, and to have the courage to be transparent about the fact that I am in a vulnerable, painful place. 

And either with others and to be seen in that way, but also with myself to acknowledge like, “Yeah, I’m here, and I’m vulnerable, and I’m hurting and that’s okay.” 

And to trust that if I give the feelings space, if I give them, which is to give myself the love of my attention the way a parent, a good healthy parent would give the love of their attention onto a crying child, that I’m more likely to have those feelings complete inside of me, and my nervous system adapts to a functional adaptation to those feelings, which is, “I’m safe”. 

No need to engage stress or threat response here—No need to push awayNo need to dissociateNo need to save it up to act it out later. I can just be with it right now and not have to play out any other stories it’s telling me.”

Using psychedelics to access your shadow self can promote healing, improve relationships and develop a feeling of wholeness and integration; however, it is important to remember that it can also bring to light deep wounds and unresolved traumas that you may not be ready to face. Shadow work can be an incredibly uncomfortable and painful process. 

Please reach out to a licensed provider when using any psychedelic substance for shadow work. Check out our vetted psychedelic therapy directory for a provider near you or online.

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Jeffrey, S. (2019, April 15). Shadow Work: A Complete Guide to Getting to Know Your Darker Half. Scott Jeffrey. Retrieved from https://scottjeffrey.com/shadow-work/

Journal Psyche. (2014). The Jungian Model of the Psyche | Journal Psyche. Journalpsyche.org. Retrieved from http://journalpsyche.org/jungian-model-psyche/

Jung, C. G., Adler, G., & Hull, R. F. C. (1968). Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 12: Psychology and Alchemy. Princeton University Press. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hhrm3

Roesler, C. (2013). Evidence for the Effectiveness of Jungian Psychotherapy: A Review of Empirical Studies. Behavioral Sciences, 3(4), 562–575. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs3040562

The content provided is for educational and informational purposes only and should be a substitute for medical or other professional advice. Articles are based on personal opinions, research, and experiences of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Psychedelic Support.

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Author: Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
Katharine has over 15 years of experience working in British Columbia's healthcare system, leading patient safety incident investigations, quality and systems improvement projects, and change management initiatives within mental health, emergency health services, and women's health. She has published in scientific journals and co-authored health research books. Her bylines include Verywell Mind, CBC Parents, Family Education, Mamamia Australia, HuffPost Canada, and CafeMom. Check out her books at Sum (心,♡) on Sleeve.

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