QUESTION: Is there such a thing as a "shadow worker"? I am familiar with shadow work and lightworkers, but what about shadow workers? To clarify, my whole life (as far as I can recall) I tend to see the shadow of people, rather than the light. For years, I thought there was something wrong with me, that I only saw the negative - because I was negative. Maybe this is true? I have found compassion for myself over the years and let go of this belief. Today, I was asked a question about whom in a particular group I was drawn to, who did I connect to? I said, no one really, but I saw things in everyone that were insightful. I then shared how when I see people I usually see the shadow before anything else. They responded, how do you make friends? I didn’t answer that. I do make friends and have very good ones, but I do let few in because of what I see. I do feel at times, because of what I see, it enables me to do the work I do with people. It gives me different insight of getting in (as a therapist, of sorts).

Back to my question though… is there such a thing as a shadow worker? Does what I have shared make sense to you? Or is it merely a reflection of my own darkness/shadow?

On some level, of course it is merely a reflection of me, but is there something here that needs to be "fixed"? Could a gift of mine simply be that I see the shadow or is it merely a sign that I have work to do that I am not doing?

ANSWER: I like that term, shadow worker, although it is not one used therapeutically. For our purpose, we can define it as someone who is investigating, identifying, and then helping integrate the shadow aspect of someone’s personality. I think that is what you are referring to. 

To break it down so we are all on the same page, the shadow is/are the aspects of self that we learn to deny at a young age. We do this in order to be accepted/loved/fit into our familial storyline. In Carl Jung’s terms: the shadow is “the thing a person has no wish to be”. For example, if anger is not accepted in our childhood (“Good children do not get angry”, says mom), we learn to repress and disown it. With this first step of repression comes the second stage, which is disconnection from a piece of our life force. We lose a piece of our energy due to force needed for the constant repression of the anger. We lose another chunk of energy because anger is life force, and by disowning it we disown a part of our self/energy. 

The next step is projection: after disowning this part of ourselves, we project it onto others. Like a hot potato too painful to hold, we throw it in order to try to get rid of it. This is where we demonize someone else who is angry or gets angry - as if they are crazy, do not possess self-control, or are not spiritual enough. So, we harshly judge others who present conduct we have repressed in ourselves.

Besides losing vitality because we have cut a piece of ourselves off, we can also present psychic and physical disorders. For example, we can be beset by depression since de-pressing anger depresses the life force (of course, not all depression is this). An interesting kink in this defense mechanism is when the ego wall is weakened, as in extreme exhaustion or use of substances, such as alcohol. This is where the suppressed material rushes forward. We all have experienced this in ourselves or someone else when there is a gush of some emotion (anger in our example) as soon as we are altered with exhaustion or alcohol. This is where we lose control and the repressed material gushes forth inappropriately. For example, someone mistakenly bumps into us and we lose our shit, taking even ourselves aback.

So the act of investigating (“I really judge people who get angry”), identifying (“I have issues around feeling my anger”), and then integrating (“I am learning to allow myself to get angry when it is appropriate to do so”) brings us into a more wholeness. This inner work has a direct effect on our mental/physical/spiritual well-being. 

If we are comfortable with and have grappled with our own shadow, then we can be of assistance to others. I take from what you wrote that you are a healer (“a therapist of sorts”). So is this what you are talking about? That people come to you for a session and that you become aware of their shadow self? And help them integrate it? 

We all have shadows. That is the nature of the psychological realm we are mostly blind to. The question I would ask you is: how aware are you of your own shadow? How well have you investigated, identified, and integrated your own shadows? Any therapist or healer worth their own salt must undertake the monumental task of looking within. And still make room for the blind spot big enough to drive a truck through, that we all inevitably will have. 

Certainly anything including “gifts” can be used to not look within (“could a gift of mine simply be that I see the shadow”). Being a healer is one of the more dangerous occupations for not looking at shadow, since we can take the focus off of our own shadow by helping others with theirs. We are always at the beginning when tending to our psychospiritual self, it is ongoing work. And there is nothing to be “fixed”, but rather issues that need to be examined and integrated. Only you can fully answer your question by looking earnestly and honestly within.