Know Your Shadow: Tap Into the Unconscious Through Creative Expression

Do you ever find yourself doing things or feeling certain ways without knowing why? You might notice that your interactions with others are off because, for whatever reason, you’ve started to notice that you behave or respond differently to certain people or certain situations. While in some cases this could be your intuition telling you something to be aware of, there might be more to it than that. These feelings and behaviors could be your shadow trying to get your attention so that you can become more fully integrated and aware of yourself.

Over the years I’ve written a bit about shadow, and this blog post will be a continuation of my past thoughts and practices about the topic. I’ll illustrate ways that you can tap into your shadow through creative expression so that you can learn how to bring your unconscious mind into the light of consciousness. By doing so, I hope that you’ll feel more comfortable acknowledging your shadow so that you can become more of who you are meant to be.

What is the Shadow?

Now, you may be wondering what the shadow even is. When we talk about the shadow in psychology, we’re not referring to the silhouette cast by a light. Instead, it’s our perceived weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts that we repress. These repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts lurk in the depths of our unconscious mind and come out in ways that we don’t expect or recognize. As a result, just like physical shadows, these aspects of ourselves follow us everywhere, influencing how we engage with the world without our full awareness.

It can be easy to have negative associations with the shadow. After all, there are reasons why we’ve worked so hard to repress those parts of ourselves. However, we all have shadow aspects to ourselves; it is a part of our identity as individual human beings. [1] Judging ourselves negatively or denying the less-than-ideal aspects of ourselves won’t make our shadows go away. We have to bring these thoughts, feelings, and beliefs into the light of our conscious minds so that they can lose some of the power they have over us.

Bringing the Shadow into the Light

A faceless figure of a person with a purple background and yellow light radiating from them. A caption reads "Don't fear your shadow. Recognize it. Own it."

The challenge lies in bringing this hidden aspect of ourselves into conscious awareness. Traditional rational thinking might not cut it, as our analytical minds tend to judge or justify, further burying the shadow. Additionally, we need to feel safe and willing to sit in the possible discomfort of being with these aspects of ourselves that we’ve tried so hard to deny.

So, how do we bypass the analytical mind to tap into the unconscious, and do so in a way that can help us to feel safe and willing to be with whatever comes up?

Engaging Creatively in Shadow Work

In my practice, I’ve found creative avenues like art and music to be powerful tools for shadow work. This is because they can bypass the judgmental, analytical mind once we enter into a flow state. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow states are key to happiness. When we’re in a flow state, we feel safe and well-regulated. It is easier for us to be in the process of creating and being with whatever comes up while we’re creating.

Below are some ways I’ve incorporated creative activities into my work with clients who were doing shadow work.

Mindful Art-Making

For many people, making art may feel more accessible than making music. That’s why I have paper and oil pastels available for clients to use when we’re exploring these aspects of themselves. The visual art they create serves as a tangible representation of their shadow. Through mindful art-making – a judgment-free process of putting thoughts on paper – clients create a physical manifestation of their shadow. As a way to provide a container for them to create within, in the background is soft music that they agree to be played while they draw. When they’re done, we’ll verbally process what came up for them during the experience.

If you want to do this yourself, grab yourself some paper and whatever drawing or painting medium you have. Select a song or sounds that provide you with a sonic container and help you feel safe. With the intention of connecting to your shadow, start drawing, letting the music help you to remain grounded.

When the music is over, spend some time sitting with what you created. You may want to write down some of what came up for you. Otherwise, you may want to make some voice memos for yourself. Using words to capture these revelations helps solidify the lessons learned during the process.

Getting to Know Your Shadow Through Music

For some people, mindful art-making followed by verbal processing is enough. But for others, a musical dialogue with the shadow takes place following that process or is used instead of that process. With this activity, clients engage in a free improvisation where they connect to their shadow aspects through sound. Available to them are easy-to-play percussion instruments, keyboard, easy-to-play or modified tuning string instruments, or their own voice. The melodic and rhythmic nature of instruments adds depth to this exploration and can bring up surprising insights.

I may provide them with some structure or a musical container by playing a simple pattern on an instrument. However, in some cases, people may want to musically explore on their own. I usually ask them what they would prefer, although there have been times when I sense a need to engage with them in a musical relationship and provide them with a musical container. After the person has come to a place of completion, we may verbally process the experience if they want to.

You can do this at home for yourself if you have an instrument you feel comfortable playing or if you want to explore this vocally. The voice can be an especially potent tool for discovering more of your authentic self, including your shadow. Again, I encourage you to journal afterward about what came up for you. This helps with the integration.

Additional Questions to Ask Your Shadow

The examples above only illustrate ways to connect with your shadow. This can be taken further, though. Sometimes with clients, I suggest they explore questions like “Who are you?” or “What do you want to express?” Holding these questions in mind without judgment or criticism, the internal and metaphorical dialogue remains a genuine exploration of the unconscious. Answering these questions can support with integration.

Embrace Your Shadow: A Call to Action

The next time you feel off and don’t know why, consider it a nudge from your shadow, asking to be seen. Take a moment to play with it through creative expression. You might be surprised at what your shadow wants you to discover.

However, if you feel like you could benefit from some extra support, reach out. I offer a free 15-minute consultation call where we can determine if I might be a good fit for working with you. Let’s embark on this adventure of self-discovery together!


[1]”The Jungian Shadow” by Christopher Perry at The Society of Analytical Psychology

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