Holistic healing is an integrative approach to healing and personal development that considers each person as whole and complete at the core of their being. It holds the foundational principle that as humans we have multiple layers and aspects to us that all interrelate to one another and influence each other too. The aim of holistic healing is to bring harmony and balance to all these aspects in our lives on the following levels: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
Sometimes, we hold beliefs that judge ourselves as wrong, broken or incomplete, which inhibit us in the healing process. There are many experiences in life that lead us to hold these beliefs that begin as early as childhood. Part of our conditioning as humans are the beliefs that we carry that inform us who we are and the value we hold.
If these beliefs are unhealthy or unsupportive then our internal beliefs about ourselves reflect them as truth; away from the belief that we are whole and complete, instead, that we are flawed, incomplete and need fixing. Whilst there may indeed be aspects of ourselves that do need support, healing and careful attention; inherently we are all whole and complete; these two notions co-exist.
Shadow work was founded by psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who named the shadow as exiled parts of us that we separated from and buried within our psyche making it difficult for us to access without support and guidance in doing so. Shadow work has various interpretations and applications in both traditional psychotherapy approaches as well as in holistic healing approaches too.
The application of shadow work in the context of holistic healing will be explored and provide information on how to access, identify and work with the shadow to heal aspects that are limiting your life.
The benefits of a holistic approach to healing
A holistic approach to healing takes into consideration the multidimensional aspects of ourselves; physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. These all interrelate with one another and an imbalance in one area can affect and cause imbalance in another area. The benefit of this approach is keeping an open, curious exploration of these aspects and creating a likely identification of the cause of an imbalance or dis-ease because it focuses on the underlying cause, rather than just treating symptoms.
The larger picture of holistic healing approaches gives priority to overall well-being, health and vitality, moving towards a life that is enjoyable, abundant and optimal. With this more expansive frame of healing, one naturally raises awareness and integrates parts of themselves into balance too. For example, creating a lifestyle that supports all four areas of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being, as opposed to narrowing a focus on one.
Consider the following:
- Creating an exercises or movement practise that activates the body, mind and spirit on the physical level
- This practise may support emotional health too as physical exercise stimulates the release of endorphins and overall we feel better after exercising or doing a movement practice
- Emotional well-being is also linked to the relationships and people who we are connected to in our lives. Being in healthy, balanced and fulfilling relationships that meet our emotional needs contribute to emotional wellness
- Closely intertwined is mental well-being, which is supported by exercise and emotional states of being. Our connection to others, relationships, emotional states and connection to our body (physical) is reflected in our mental well-being
If we think and feel connected to ourselves and others as well as work on cultivating a healthy state of mind (mindfulness, meditation, talk therapy, NLP, CBT) we can bring into balance all of these aspects together
Where does shadow work come into healing?
Whilst a holistic approach is extremely beneficial to healing and integrating all parts of ourselves, it does require some consideration about choosing holistic modalities that are appropriate and resonant with your needs. Trying out various modalities is a good way to gain experience in finding what best suits you.
There are several exercise and movement based modalities such as martial arts, Tai Chi, yoga, walking meditation, and Qigong that are founded in a holistic approach that encompasses mind, body and spirit. For chronic pain or immune based ailments, acupuncture, massage and herbs may be beneficial and for anxiety, chronic stress or emotional reactivity a psychological intervention may be combined in the healing journey too
Shadow work mainly takes place on the cognitive, or mental level, however it is directly connected to our emotional, physical and spiritual well-being. Traditionally an approach rooted in Jungian psychotherapy, there are many interpretations and adaptations being brought into holistic spaces to support mental health and overall well-being. In particular is with shadow work.
The shadow refers to the hidden part of ourselves that lies outside our conscious mind. It is viewed as the parts and aspects of ourselves, our personality, that we prefer to keep hidden from ourselves as they are parts we have (unconsciously) chosen to reject. Whilst there may not be anything negative in this mechanism, there are occurrences within our lives where we act out from our shadow, without conscious awareness of doing so.
Bringing awareness to ourselves on a deeper level is the first step in opening to the shadow; we need to access those parts we have rejected and hidden from ourselves, which takes skill and a degree of intentional self awareness to uncover.
Why is shadow work important?
Mindfulness based techniques are an accessible way to begin this process, as well as meditation and mindfulness based practices that cultivate self awareness. There are many great resources in books, videos and programs to be informed about shadow work. However, to uncover shadow aspects and choose to enter a journey of personal healing and transformation, it is common to enlist support from a holistic practitioner, experienced in shadow work, to support the process of uncovering shadow parts of the self.
Whilst the shadow is a psychic construct that resides in the unconscious, mainly on the mental level, it affects us emotionally, spiritually and physically too. The parts of us that we have exiled, as Jung refers, are still impacting our thoughts, feelings, behaviours and therefore, well-being. Those parts of us we dislike, reject and deny carry shame, guilt and other complex structures and emotions around them.
These are emotions we harbour inside, hidden, are reflected and often projected on our outward life. As these parts have been rejected by us, they show up as dysfunctional, or unhealthy ways of relating, behaving and emotionally reacting to people and situations around us. In order to find balance within the psyche and peace of mind, shadow work is therefore an important aspect to holistic healing.
Through cultivating self awareness, exploring the parts of ourselves that we may have hidden, rejected and denied we can begin to bring them back into a healthy state within us. In addition to self awareness, self compassion, acceptance and forgiveness play a role in integrating and healing the shadow. Reconciling the parts hidden in the unconscious by bringing them into the conscious mind in a trauma-informed, considerate approach are tangible ways in which to access and heal the parts of us in shadow.
Holistic healing modalities that include shadow work
Shadow work is an ongoing process that comes hand in hand with journeys of personal growth and healing. There is often the saying ‘the work is never done’, which is true to the extent that we are always learning more about ourselves and the richness of where and how our life experiences have led and shaped us. Over time, as we evolve, with intentional work, the shadow becomes more integrated into our being which resolves underlying currents manifesting as imbalances across the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual planes.
The juxtaposition with shadow work is that it’s located in the unconscious mind, outside of awareness, so there is more than self awareness needed to access the shadow safely. Creating an intentional container such as in a therapeutic setting, coaching session or psychoeducational environment that upholds a trauma-informed approach supports shadow work to be engaged mindfully and safely.
Whilst you can begin shadow work on your own if you notice any overwhelm, it might be worth seeking support to assist you in your healing journey. The benefit of having someone hold space and support you to uncover aspects you were before unable to see, realise and gain perspective with support the integration moving forwards of reintegrating the shadow back into wholeness and balance.
The following are some practices that include shadow work or begin to tap into the shadow aspects of self:
- Inner Child healing
- Dream Analysis and Interpretation
- Journaling on the shadow expressing your thoughts and feelings on life situations and relationships
- Express emotions and thoughts through creative outlets such as art
- Observe triggers, trauma responses and patterns of reactivity emotionally and behaviourally
- Meditate on triggers that come up for you and reflect on the impact they have on you
- Cultivate an awareness of your inner dialogue and notice the parts that are connected to low self esteem such as criticism, insisting on perfection and not being good enough
- Work with affirmations to bolster self esteem, compassion, acceptance and forgiveness