Shadow Work

First, let me start with something light and funny.

I received the following e-mail from Andy Jones the other day:

“Working on some Celebrate Recovery stuff and came across these self evaluation questions…

Have you exaggerated yourself to make yourself look better?  In what areas of your past have you used false humility?


All pastors.”

*      *      *      *

Richard Rohr, in his book Falling Upward, talks about the need to do “shadow work.” The following are quotes from chapter 11 – The Shadowlands…

Your shadow self… gradually detaches you from your not-so-bright persona (meaning “stage mask” in Greek) that you so diligently constructed in the first half of life.

Your stage mask is not bad, evil, or necessarily egocentric; it is just not “true.”

It is manufactured and sustained unconsciously by your mind; but it can and will die, as all fictions must die.

Persona and shadow are correlative terms.

Your shadow is what you refuse to see about yourself, and what you do not want others to see.

The more you have cultivated and protected a chosen persona, the more shadow work you will need to do.

Be especially careful therefore of any idealized role or self-image, like that of minister, mother, doctor, nice person, professor, moral believer, or president of this or that. These are huge personas to live up to, and they trap many people in lifelong delusion.

The more you are attached to and unaware of such a protected self-image, the more shadow self you will very likely have.

I am actually surprised there are not more clergy scandals, because “spiritual leader” or “professional religious person” is such a dangerous and ego-inflating self-image.

Whenever ministers, or any true believers, are too anti anything, you can be pretty sure there is some shadow material lurking somewhere nearby.

Spiritual maturity is largely a growth in seeing; and seeing seems to take most of our lifetime.

There is also a cumulative closing down in people who have denied all shadow work and humiliating self-knowledge. Watch the Nuremburg trials and see Nazi men who killed millions still in total denial and maintenance of their moral self-image till the very end.

The general pattern in story and novel is that heroes learn and grow from encountering their shadow, whereas villains never do.

We all identify with our persona so strongly when we are young that we become masters of denial and learn to eliminate or deny anything that doesn’t support it. Neither our persona nor our shadow is evil in itself; they just allow us to do evil and not know it. Our shadow self makes us all into hypocrites on some level. Remember, hypocrite is a Greek word that simply means “actor,” someone playing a role rather than being “real.”

Usually everybody else can see your shadow, so it is crucial that you learn what everybody else knows about you—except you!

Shadow work literally “saves you from yourself.”

I am afraid that the closer you get to the Light, the more of your shadow you see. Thus truly holy people are always humble people.

The shadow self invariably presents itself as something like prudence, common sense, justice, or “I am doing this for your good,” when it is actually manifesting fear, control, manipulation, or even vengeance.

Invariably when something upsets you, and you have a strong emotional reaction out of proportion to the moment, your shadow self has just been exposed.

The reason that a mature or saintly person can be so peaceful, so accepting of self and others, is that there is not much hidden shadow self left. (There is always and forever a little more, however! No exceptions. Shadow work never stops.)

As the shadows of things continue to show themselves, you lose interest in idealizing or idolizing persons or events, especially yourself.


I am a husband, father, pastor, leader & reader. I love God, love people & love life.

2 Comments to Shadow Work

  1. Interesting and somewhat provocative teaching with some great points. In my life, however, I’ve come to dislike declarative teachings that don’t themselves offer some humility of opinion. While I can see that overreacting can be a symptom of problematic issues, I would suggest that sometimes a person will have an “out of proportion” reaction not because they have a shadow lurking about but because they’ve been deeply wounded and are still working on the healing. Yes, it is hidden but it’s behind closed doors because that person is trying to recover from the blow. Some people never get past that point and they end up living in the shadows of victimhood, but some are just at the beginning of their healing and need the room to shield themselves for a time. Every equation should factor in grace for the vulnerable, the poor in spirit. Finally, while believers must guard against self-absorption and fickle thinking, we have a great hope, the light of our souls who shines so bright that the darkness must flee. He helps us become comfortable in our own skins, whether we arrive there via recovery or some other path, and calls us to think on the lovely things so that His light will produce endless fruit. This song and beautiful video says it well:

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