Are You Afraid of The Dark?



What’s the deal with Shadow Work?

During my usual daily media rounds, I came across a buzzy headline from The Atlantic about a 24-year old-who outsold Oprah.  As this hack spoke to my interests in media and precocious intrigue, I dutifully clicked.

Inside was a short piece about a person who brilliantly leveraged current means of entertainment, à la TikTok, to sell an old medium of reflection (the journal) and a lesser-known concept of psychological exploration that has become popular in wellness circles and executive retreats with an ominous name. This concept is called Shadow Work.

Currently, the book is near the top 20 of all books on Amazon and number one in many mental health and therapy lists.

Upon reflection of this kind of phenomenon, I was reminded of an episode of Family Guy. In it, Brian, a long-suffering writer, pens a bestselling self-help book titled Wish it. Want it. Do it.

While I didn’t press on the perfectly situated button to part with my $18.80 plus tax for the paperback version on Amazon, I did check out its available online pages and the media content that this young entrepreneur has managed to build with little background or experience.

One may argue that she doesn’t need it as consumer-facing products rarely seek or need a professional co-sign. However, some may say one should avoid tricky situations regarding overselling and underdelivering. But that’s not the ethos. Instead, free experimentation is encouraged.

Move fast and break things, right?

If you introduce limits, you’re a hater, right?

I am by no means an expert on or use Shadow Work. I am acquainted with the history of therapy and use multiple therapy modalities in various contexts. Over the years, I’ve also explored various therapeutic modalities that blend different frameworks, techniques, and personalities (Kill that Poopy-Pants Mentality).

What is the Shadow?

The concept of the Shadow was popularized by the Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung (1875-1961). According to Jung, the human mind comprises various conscious and unconscious elements known as the psyche. The conscious mind houses our thoughts, values, and beliefs that we readily acknowledge. However, another side exists, the intricate realm of the unconscious, where lies the aspects of our psyche that we may find discomforting or repulsive – the shadow.

The shadow shouldn’t be misconstrued as a mere collection of evil traits, malevolence, or Chucky dolls. Instead, it refers to the parts we have repressed, denied, or neglected. It encompasses our buried emotions, desires, and beliefs that society, upbringing, or our conscious mind deems undesirable.

Jung once stated:

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it fate.

Jung’s career is an interesting one that maybe I’ll write about in more depth in the future. I still have a few of his books to explore, adding to my personal Library of Babel.

Shadow work, then, is the process of exploring, acknowledging, and integrating these unconscious aspects of ourselves so that we can achieve inner harmony and wholeness. To embark on this journey, one must first engage in work to develop an openness to face the aspects of their psyche that have been concealed. This process today can come in different flavors through various methods, such as deep introspection exercises, engaging in discussions with a skilled therapist, paying a few grand to a guru at a retreat, or a journal.

Shadow work came around in the early twentieth Century when the broader treatment umbrella of psychoanalysis was the dominant modality for mental health, even preceding most of the medications we would know very well later  (Mother’s Little Helper, anyone?).

Famous names were made, such as Jung’s contemporary, rival, and self-reported OG unconscious whisperer, Sigmund Freud, his daughter Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, and others.

The practice of psychoanalysis waned by the middle of the century due to questionable efficacy, lack of scientific rigor, indefinite length of treatment, and controversies in practice.

Since then, people have been working to add scientific rigor to psychoanalysis, and pieces of its practice have made their way into the current dominant therapy modalities. These treatments were driven by a desire to be replicable, measurable, and practical.


Therapy Today

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (or CBT), developed by American psychiatrist Aaron Beck towards the end of the psychoanalysis era of dominance, focuses on helping patients identify and change dysfunctional thought patterns that lead to maladaptive behaviors and emotional responses.

CBT and newer modalities, such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy developed by American psychologist Marsha Linehan, who was trying to navigate Borderline Personality Disorder, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy developed by another American psychologist, Steven Hayes, who was trying to navigate Panic Attacks, are representations of treatments that attempt to be more focused and intentional in aims among others.

With the advances in psychology and neuroscience, we are slowly unraveling the scientific basis for understanding how to change our relationships to emotion and behavior.


Seeking Authenticity

Back to the book, you see why this sounds attractive?

Even on its back cover, it melds the ‘exploring the hidden aspects of your psyche, known as the ‘shadow,” with ‘transforming negative patterns into positive growth’ which is found in those current-wave therapy modalities.

The Shadow Work Journal taps into many’s longstanding desire: the pursuit of authentic living.

However, this can become quickly misconstrued as: how can I live as I currently am without the hard and sobering aspects of change and feel more okay about it?

That’s the beef I have with current understandings of radical acceptability and these shallow yet effective marketing machines we’ve made ourselves into. It speaks to a navel-gazing inwardness that is all too common and increased by social media platforms that help sell the journal—places where you can have thousands to millions of followers but still feel lonely and empty. A great position is to be both the plug and the cure.

Yes, we shouldn’t feel perpetually bad about ourselves.

Yes, we should accept ourselves more.

However, accepting ourselves shouldn’t be a crutch preventing growth or justifying harm to others.

I project that most people who buy this journal, like with many other journals proceeding it and afterward, will do it for a few days, and then it’ll collect dust in the annals of faster reward and more catchy attention time sucks.

Some may do and finish the journal, feel good for a while, and then revert to their patterns.

Some may get something out of it and continue that work with another person, or God forbid, become a Shadow Work Influencer. The world is one’s oyster, and my role is not to speak on one’s path. As one of my friends in the space likes to say, “You do you.”


Insight in 24-Hours or Less

In some parts of the world, and I’m talking from the privileged one I find myself in, there is an aversion to struggle. Since we can get our groceries, take-out, and packages at lightning speed, why should that not be the same for enlightenment? Why couldn’t a tool that could come to us in the form of a book, an application, or a pill/injection change our lives forever? It has in other cases.

While I won’t rule that out for the future, one observation I will make is, what if that is not the point? Looking at insight as something to solve defeats the purpose of insight. It is not outcome-based. It is journey-based. It is not meant to be defeated like a video game boss. It is meant to be achieved, earned, and used.

As the Greek philosopher and peak Stoicism name reference, Epictetus, once put down:

Even though you have these powers free and entirely your own, you don’t use them, because you still don’t realize what you have or where it came from.

The journey allows the practice to overcome and use that knowledge for future times, which are often obstacles.

Much of the world understands this inherently because their closeness to the world’s darkness is much more apparent. Many of us were reminded of this on a mass scale a couple of weeks ago in Israel and Gaza, and it continues to play out globally. It shouldn’t take these times to make us realize how much our lives exist outside of ourselves. But it does.

We look for the demons hidden deep in ourselves when we feel like the rest of our world is comfortable.

Is it that our digital and hyper-connected world needs tweaking to find ways to integrate who we are as people instead of relying on a performative existence?

Self-help genre been poppin’ for centuries and it’s not going anywhere.

While seeking personal growth is admirable if it’s thorough, if shallow, it can also become a caricature of what it’s intended to do and may leave us at the same place or in a worse place than where we were.

Creative ideas lie in this need for self-actualization and the growing but not definitive evidence of how our minds process aspects of ourselves that can become distressing. There could be some truth to those ideas, but often, that kernel lies in a lot of fluff that needs to be refined.

Many therapeutic modalities exist, from Narrative Therapy to Art Therapy to Equine Therapy and more. As I noted with some of the more popular modalities like DBT and ACT, they were developed by someone to meet a need they felt wasn’t being met.

I admit quality therapy is in high demand. Waiting lists for in-person therapy can be months long. Digital options that provide a platform for therapists to provide their service are a potential solution but are in their infancy and still suffer from the same necessities such as building a therapeutic alliance, navigating technology capabilities, finding the suitable therapy modality for the person, experience needed, and dedication to the practice for both the therapist and the patient among other concerns.

But as in many things, it is not just the course, book, or intervention. It is the second word in the phrase. The work. The dirty, hard, push-and-pull work.

People are going to experiment. Connecting psychoeducation with the youth and the general public is an issue. The mental health ecosystem must highlight its expertise and roles with quality information and expectations at each step. This is hard in a field with many unknowns, but it’s possible.

Where there is uncertainty, people will claim to solve that uncertainty. If there is a vacuum, someone will fill it.

People are not feeling alright.

People are struggling.

I’m not going to tell you the stakes of this distress because you likely know them, and they are cited in many news and media and Surgeon General reports.

In the age of ‘I know my body,’ we must carefully navigate any therapy appropriately and know when our development requires help. When left to our own devices without necessary guidance or insight, we can throw things out in the open without any way to deal with them.


The Verdict

We all struggle. Understanding what we can do to improve our struggle and when we need help is part of education and expectation.

That being said, if a book, course, personality, whatever, can keep a person from exploiting usual maladaptive survival strategies that provide a net negative to that person and the people around that person, go for it.

Can it help some? Sure.

Will pockets be lighter? Probably.

Will it inspire them to gain further knowledge, and if needed, help? Hopefully.

Will they be forever changed by the experience? It depends on the definition of change as we are, in a way, constantly changing even though we may cling to certain aspects of ourselves. No day is the same after all. Alright, I’ll stop.

This yearning to change your life is not new; it has been and will be here, especially as we are closer to one another through our technologies and the relativeness of our lives is ever apparent. To borrow a term from Gen-Z, many might say most people are “cappin’,” or exaggerating, for my elder statesmen.

We do the best we can with what we have.

It’s the human condition.

Thank you for reading! Check out the weekly Minket puzzle here.

The information contained in More Chaotic is for informational and entertainment purposes only. This newsletter is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something discussed on this platform.


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