Shadow Integration: Embracing Your Inner Darkness

Shadow Integration: Embracing Your Inner Darkness

The Descent of Inanna, one of the oldest known epic poems, chronicles the journey of Sumerian Goddess Inanna, the “Queen of Heaven and Earth”, into the underworld to visit her sister – the Dark Goddess Ereshkigal, Queen of the Dead.

To reach the underworld, Inanna is made to pass through 7 gates, removing a royal garment at each one. Gate by gate, she is stripped of her crown, beads, ring, scepter, and even her clothing. Naked and vulnerable, she arrives at the throne room of Ereshkigal and is killed by her sister. 

Three days later, Inanna is revived with the food and water of life. Merging with her sister, she arises from the dead and returns to the world of the living. 

This ancient tale is one of many myths that depicts a descent into the underworld (which is symbolic of the unconscious) and the experience of death and rebirth. 

Individually, the sisters symbolize the goddess’s dual aspects. Jointly, they represent the polarity and full spectrum of the feminine – the light and the dark.

Inanna symbolizes the light, while Ereshkigal represents the unseen part of ourselves – the ‘shadow’ that is often hidden or repressed. The story itself illustrates the importance of integrating one’s darkness and embracing their full, embodied truth. 

The Sacred Shadow: Counterbalance to Light 

The Shadow. The Underworld. The Void.

Everything and nothing exists in this space. Where all life begins and ends. The winter and the womb. The fertile darkness where all things originate and all seeds grow. Comforting and intimidating. Freeing and daunting. It can feel both overwhelmingly small and huge. 

The void is the darkness that lies at the center of the universe. It is the source of all destruction as well as creation. Within the unknown, every possibility exists.

So why do we fear it?

Why do we push down, repress or shun the shadow parts of ourselves? 

Our ‘dark side’ – our shadow – is generally made up of the parts of ourselves we deem unworthy or unacceptable. The qualities that don't ‘fit in’ with our conceptions of ourselves. The idea of the ‘Shadow Self’ was coined by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who explained that the shadow holds repressed thoughts and feelings, including positive traits that were invalidated or minimized by others. Whether from parents, relatives, teachers, or society as a whole, when we receive messages about what's acceptable and what's not, those unacceptable things about ourselves are pushed into the shadows.

He believed that when the human shadow is shunned, it begins to undermine and sabotage our lives. He argued the importance of integrating the shadow – claiming that it actually contains some of our most powerful gifts and talents, and presents us with a profound opportunity for psychological and spiritual growth.

Yet we have been largely taught to fear and reject that which is unknown. As a yang-dominant, masculine culture, we often fear the formless, infinite dark of the void. 

We are more comfortable with the known than the unknown, even though the unknown may serve us much better. We have been conditioned to disconnect from our own darkness – at a great cost to our well-being, mental health, and creative expression. Such repression has kept us from expressing ourselves in the ways that are authentic to our soul, from what makes us feel fully alive. 

What so many do not realize is that our darkness is actually a key to our liberation. Our shadows hold the secret to our rebirth. They are a portal to profound inner wisdom and transformation. What once seemed to be an ominous and foreboding realm can actually become the greatest key to embracing our most embodied, powerful self. The shadow descent invites the ultimate mystery of truly knowing oneself in sacred totality. 

To become more masterful, conscious and awake, our great work is to begin to cultivate a relationship with our shadow so that we are no longer unconsciously ruled and driven by it. To no longer relate from it, but more compassionately to it.

“The Shadow can be a source of emotional richness and vitality, and acknowledging it can be a pathway to healing and an authentic life.” – C. Zweig & S. Wolf

Embrace Your Full, Authentic Self 

A lot of modern spirituality is enmeshed in the message of ‘love and light’ and is overly focused on ‘peace and joy’ while considering darkness negative – something to be avoided or transcended. 

But humans are dualistic by nature, and there cannot be light without shadow. When we deny our darkness, we are denying our truth. To deny any element of oneself can introduce disease, and true peace comes from embracing all of us.

Shadow integration is a process of bringing the hidden parts of the self into consciousness. Integrating the shadow leads to greater integrity and healing of the hidden parts of the psyche. Additionally, because our greatness is often in shadow as well, by integrating our darkness we can recover a sense of deeper aliveness, leading to an enhanced sense of freedom and vitality. 

Through the practice of shadow work, we can:

  • Gain more self-love, confidence and self-esteem
  • Enhance your creativity
  • Improve your relationships
  • Discover your inner talents and gifts
  • Increase compassion towards yourself and others
  • Improve your overall wellness 
  • Deepen an understanding of your life’s purpose 

If we want to live more fully and be our most authentic selves, we need to turn towards our pain, not try to suppress it. The only way out is through, and the only way to eliminate darkness is by illuminating it. To integrate and accept this darkness is to fully step into our totality, the highest most whole version of our authentic being. 

How To Embrace Your Darkness 

There are various methods that can be used in the practice of shadow work. Here are six strategies for integrating your shadow and bringing it into the light of awareness:

  • Become Aware of Your Shadow 
  • Before you can integrate the shadow, you have to develop an awareness of it. 

    To do this, start by witnessing and becoming conscious of your habits, or any patterns that may be holding you back in life. 

    This is where meditation can become a powerful tool. Meditating is a way for all people to become aware of their thoughts, feelings, and emotions – the goal of shadow work. Sitting with your thoughts allows you to think more clearly and deeply, which helps you explore the depths of what is hidden within your shadow self. The more you learn to witness your mind, the more you'll see how and when your shadow self influences you.

  • Notice What Triggers You
  • It’s also important to recognize your triggers. Triggers in adult life are a reminder of trauma from the past. These triggers help provide an inkling as to what’s hidden within our subconscious mind. Begin to notice when certain feelings arise, and what you tend to judge most in others. Such behaviors are often a projection of what we have denied and repressed within ourselves.

  • Think Back to Your Childhood
  • It can also be helpful to review your childhood, which is when the shadow itself develops. Take the time to reflect on your past experiences in order to understand what may have been repressed. Ask yourself: Was I completely accepted as a child? What was expected of me? Was I judged by any specific behaviors or emotions? If so, which ones? 

  • Express Yourself Creatively
  • Journaling is a safe way to let out your thoughts, both light and dark, in order to express all sides of your being. Make journaling a daily practice, and don’t censor yourself. Write whatever comes up without overthinking it. At first, what comes up may feel uncomfortable, but it’s important to lean into it if you want your shadow self to feel heard.

    Other forms of artistic expression, such as painting, singing, or music – can also be powerful ways to let your shadow self express itself. When creating art, allow yourself to feel all the emotions you need to feel. Create what your inner self wants to create, no matter what it looks like.

  • Avoid Self-Judgement
  • When you practice shadow work, make sure to embrace and have compassion for the aspects of yourself you once hid. Judging them will only further the rejection of your true self. Like a child, the shadow longs for acceptance and acknowledgment. Your shadow is part of you, and we all long to feel whole, integrated, and complete in our lives. 

  • Seek Support
  • Exploring the shadow self can be painful. Shame, frustration, and fear are difficult emotions to navigate, but you don’t have to do it alone. If shadow work brings up overwhelming feelings, reach out to a loved one. 

    Or, if you’re uncomfortable sharing these intimate parts with family or friends, a therapist can be a great source of support as you navigate and explore the darkness. Having a safe place to be vulnerable and an environment that encourages examination, backed by the peace of confidentiality, can accelerate the healing process. 

    The Bottom Line

    We all have a shadow, and while learning to integrate and embrace it may not be easy, it is worth it. Integrating our darkness, our shadow, is essential to realize our full potential. We cannot have light without dark; dark without light. And within the dark, profound renewal and rebirth await us. 

    For true wholeness means shadow and light, unified.



    Danielle Rateau is a writer, yoga and meditation instructor, certified health coach, and global traveler. In 2022, she lived and worked at an ayahuasca retreat center in Peru. She is currently expanding her offerings through the study of trauma informed breathwork and sound healing. 


    Connect with Danielle on Instagram: @daniellerateau

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