Psychedelics and Shadow work

May 14, 2024 | Wellness

Psychedelics and Shadow Work

Have you ever found yourself reacting to someone or something in a way that you later regretted?

You know, replying to a coworker’s email in a grumpy way because you already answered their question in a few previous emails? (Do they not know how to read!?)

Then later that night, you’re staring at your bedroom ceiling wishing you had responded in a kinder manner?

This part of you that led you to replying in a grumpy manner is a shadow part of you.

In this case, a part of your personality has not been fully developed and indicates what Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist who founded analytic psychology, would call a blind spot. It might be time to engage in shadow work with psychedelics.

Jung would say there is a different, undeveloped part of your personality hiding beneath the idea of who you think you are. It’s the so-called “snake under the rug” or the “jack-in-the-box”, waiting to pop.

This is a classic case of someone who had an aggressive, assertive part of them repressed out of them in childhood. 

Unfortunately, this part does not disappear. It gets repressed and incorporated into what Jung calls “the shadow”. The shadow is sometimes referred to as the backside of our personality. It contains important traits for survival that were repressed in our childhood, and by our culture at large. 

Yes, aggression and anger can be destructive energies. But they can also be extremely constructive. Anger can mobilize energy for self-defense, dealing with personal boundary violations, and provide the courage necessary for facing fear and challenges.

And yes, we all have them.

It doesn’t matter whether we know it or not. Nor does it matter whether we meant to repress these parts or not, or whether we are a part of the lucky group of people who grew up with mostly stable childhoods. 

We all live with shadows that influence our perception and behaviors in the world.

Can psychedelics help us become whole through shadow work?

Yes, it can!

In today’s blog piece, we’ll be going over what exactly shadow work is, how psychedelics can help with shadow work, and why it is so important for our holistic health. 

We’ll then turn to how psychedelic cannabis journeys (such as the ones we offer at Holistic TherapeutiX!) can accelerate our shadow work and the journey towards individuation, the ultimate goal in Jungian psychology. 

Jung, who first coined the concept of the shadow, once said “until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

What did he mean by this? What does it mean to make the unconscious conscious? How can psychedelic cannabis help enhance our shadow work?

Before we dive into the juicy details, let’s go over what the shadow is.

Jungian Psychology 101

Butterfly and individuation

Before we can discuss the shadow, let’s do a basic review of Jungian psychology. Jung believed that the human psyche was made up of three components:

-Represents the conscious mind and thoughts, memories, and emotions a person is aware of. The ego is largely responsible for feelings of identity and continuity. 

  • The Personal Unconscious

-Contains all emotionally charged information and experiences of a person’s lifetime that have been forgotten or repressed but continue to influence their behavior and attitudes on an unconscious level.  

  • The Collective Unconscious

-Refers to shared, inherited unconscious knowledge and experiences across generations expressed through universal symbols and archetypes common to all human cultures. Universal version of the personal unconscious. Jung referred to them as “ancestral memories”

Simply put, Jung’s ego (as opposed to Freud’s) represents the conscious mind and is the center of consciousness. The personal unconscious contains all information and experiences about us that were repressed, and that we are not aware of.

The collective unconscious is where archetypes come from. Jung believed that archetypes were archaic forms of innate human knowledge passed down from our ancestors

He once said “the term archetype is not meant to denote an inherited idea, but rather an inherited mode of functioning corresponding to the inborn way in which the chick emerges from the egg… In other words, it is a pattern of behavior. This aspect of the archetype, the purely biological one, is the proper concern of scientific psychology.”

This is in direct opposition to tabula rasa, the concept in psychology that the human brain is a blank slate at birth which is purely formed and shaped by lived experience. 

These archetypes also play a major role in our personalities. Jung believes that most if not all people’s personalities are dominated by one specific archetype. 

Although Jung thought there may be an infinite number of archetypes, he defined four major ones. 

  1. The Persona

-The aspect of our personality that we present to the world as a means of social adaptation and personal convenience. We can lose our true self in the persona. Jung described it as the “conformity” archetype. 

  1. The Shadow

-Contains the parts of ourselves that we unconsciously reject, disown, or don’t recognize. Unlike the persona, this involves energies we are personally morally against, as well as what we know society is against. It is a source of both creative and destructive energies. Overemphasis on the persona, while neglecting the shadow, can result in a superficial personality preoccupied with other’s perceptions. 

-A literary example is Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

  1. The Anima or Animus

-The mirror image of our biological sex. I.e., the unconscious feminine side in males, and the unconscious masculine side in women. 

  1. The Self

-Provides a sense of unity in experience. Represents the unification of a person’s consciousness and unconsciousness. Creating a whole, complete self is the goal in Jungian psychology through individuation. Individuation involves integrating the various aspects of personality, including the shadow

The shadow is one of the major archetypes involved in our personality, and the emphasis on integrating it is due to the unpredictable ways in which it shows itself. It can present itself in dreams, in impulsive behaviors, and in projections onto other people.

Do you ever get triggered by someone’s innocuous behaviors? That might be your shadow!

What is the Shadow?

Caterpillar, Undeveloped personality

Let’s now talk about the shadow in more detail.

Although there is some debate, the shadow is a unique archetype in that it involves material from both our personal unconscious and our collective unconscious. Some of the material there is from our personal biography, and some of the material there is inherited from a collective biography. 

More specifically, the shadow can contain material that was repressed in childhood by our environment, by ourselves, and by ancestral society. Shadow traits are not inherently evil or malicious.

The term shadow does imply darkness, but it simply refers to unconscious or unknown. The goal in shadow work is to bring the unknown “into the light”.

In a more general sense, our shadows traits are everything we don’t know about ourselves. It’s everything we have rejected, despised, denied, or have not become aware of (yet). Most people don’t know that some of the material in our shadow can be extremely beneficial, if we can recognize these traits. 

In his book Psychological Types, Jung explained that “the shadow is an inferior component of personality and is consequently repressed through intensive resistance.”

Notice that he said the traits in the shadow are repressed, not suppressed. Repressed means it was not a conscious choice, and we are unaware the repression is happening. 

More importantly, he uses the term inferior to denote “undeveloped”. It’s not that these traits are lesser, but simply that they never got the chance to grow and mature into a fully functioning part of our personality. 

Let’s go back to the impulsive email response example we used above. It’s not that an assertive part of personality is lesser, or less desirable in a person who sometimes snaps. It’s that this assertive part of their personality never got the chance to grow into a functioning, useful part of their personality. 

But it still lives within them regardless. It WANTS to grow and be useful, and sometimes comes flying out in the form of a snappy or grumpy comment. The regret this person feels after snapping is because they are unaware that this assertive part lives within them. They likely see themselves as a patient, kind person and don’t know (or want to know) that they have the capacity to be aggressive or angry. 

According to Robert Greene (Author of several international bestselling books) on a recent podcast episode, a shadow part is like a “lost self that lives inside you and is screaming to come out”. Unfortunately, it will find a way to come out, and most likely in a way we don’t like. 

So, what can we do? How can we learn about these parts of ourselves and develop them in a healthy way?

Shadow Work With Cannabis: Developing The Dark

The process of discovering and developing your shadow traits into functioning personality parts is known as shadow work. Psychedelics can enhance this process immensely.

As part of individuation, shadow work is a process of inviting our shadow parts to join us, and to become a part of us. This will lead to “wholeness” and authenticity.

Jung spoke about individuation in his Two Essays on Analytical Psychology

“The aim of individuation is nothing less than to divest the self of the false wrappings of the persona on the one hand, and the suggestive power of the primordial images on the other.”

To fully individuate, we must learn about two things.

1. The social mask and false identity the ego created for itself in the course of early development.

2. The unconscious influences of the archetypes, such as the shadow. 

While we’ll only be talking about the unconscious influence of the shadow in this piece, that is still a major step in the process of individuation. Shadow work is not an easy process, and psychedelic cannabis journeys can speed up the process. 


Goddess Doing Shadow Work

Developing your shadow traits involves first learning what your shadow traits are, and then embracing these young, forgotten parts of your personality.

There are a number of ways to do this, but in a general sense, it starts with reflecting on situations in which a shadow trait might show itself. Reflecting on these situations during a psychedelic cannabis journey will allow you to see your shadow presenting itself much more clearly. 

 Let’s use three common situations when the shadow comes forward. 

  • How you act when extremely stressed.
  • Resentment, and the solutions resentment offers.
  • Disliking someone for unknown reasons.

1) Overwhelming Stress:

In those moments in life when everything starts to feel really overwhelming, your shadow may present itself. This is in response to the feeling that your normal way of functioning won’t do, and your shadow self will come forward to try to help. It could be you are normally an extroverted social bee, but when stressed, you find yourself staying in much more. Your shadow is offering you a solution when your “normal” self can’t.

It could also be that you are normally very empathetic and caring about others, but in great stress, your shadow may believe it is healthier to temporarily focus on your own needs. Even to the point of being callous.

Unfortunately, stress impairs our self-awareness. It becomes much harder to notice these behavioral shifts.

This is why a psychedelic cannabis journey can be so helpful. In the safety and calm of a journey, you can get out from the storm of stress and view your behaviors from an objective, calm point of view. Recognizing your shadow behaviors becomes much easier. 

2) Resentment:

We can also use resentment as a guide. Whenever resentment builds, some of our shadow self begins to come out. Resentment usually stems from something we are becoming bitter about, and that we don’t know how to deal with properly.

Maybe someone cut in front of you in line at the grocery store. They also have a full cart, and you have a meager carton of eggs (sigh). Let’s say you’re the kind person who avoids confrontation, so you say nothing.

But when you get to your car, resentment has built. You may fantasize about what you had wish you had done, or what you still could do. (“I should follow them to their car and give them a piece of my mind!”). 

Obviously, you know this is not a healthy way to respond to a minor situation. You also don’t see yourself as the kind of person who would do this.

But the fantasy is coming from somewhere (hint: it’s the shadow). Although following them to their car is a terrible idea, your shadow is trying to show you that you have the capacity to stand up for yourself in a healthy way, and it wishes you had said something in the store. 

Reflecting on your resentments, and the fantasies they induce, is a great way to learn about your shadow. In the safety of a psychedelic cannabis journey, it becomes much easier to get into touch with this aggressive part of you. This part can be very useful in your life, if it becomes developed. 

3) Disliking Someone For Unknown Reasons:

Another way to learn about our shadow traits is to take note of times we meet someone and immediately dislike them for unknown reasons. Let’s use an example. Maybe they are nice people, but they are also the “life of the party” type. Confident, funny, engaging, joyful. 

We may find ourselves disliking them and we don’t know why. The “why” is our shadow. In this case, the extraverted, charming part within us never got the chance to fully develop. This part in our shadow is triggered by seeing this realized in someone else, and projects it’s discomfort onto the other person. 

Realizing just exactly why we dislike this person can be difficult in a sober state.

This can also manifest itself in the opposite direction. Have you ever immediately been enthralled by someone you just met? This happens to you due to what is contained in our golden shadow.

Our shadow can see magnificent traits in someone else that we also have, but that never got the chance to develop. Integrating our golden shadow can be extremely rewarding and powerful in our lives.

In a psychedelic cannabis journey, it is much easier to contact our shadow self through deep introspection. We can learn why we are projecting discomfort (or intense admiration) onto someone else. Psychedelic cannabis can help us engage in much deeper self-reflection and self-awareness. Without this, learning about our shadow parts is much more difficult. 

(If you want to learn about other wellness benefits of cannabis, read more here.)

So how do we develop and integrate these shadow parts?

Integrating the Shadow

A God becoming one with Shadow

Learning about and meeting our shadow is actually more difficult than integrating the shadow. Psychedelics can help this aspect of shadow work as well.

Integrating your shadow, in practice, is somewhat simple after we learn what parts need to be integrated. 

Integrating the shadow is about embracing the shadow. Although we shouldn’t let it control us, we also shouldn’t run from it. 

A common reason many of us have repressed aggressive parts in their shadow is because their aggression was repressed in childhood. 

Ever have a parent tell you that you should “never talk back!”? 

Our parents did their best, but this is not a healthy way to develop aggression or assertiveness. In fact, a child unconsciously learns it is not acceptable to stand up for themselves. This assertive part is pushed to the shadow.

A healthy way to deal with a questioning child would be to have a conversation with the child, and let the aggressive part speak. At this age, guidance from the parent can help the child develop this part into a healthy, functioning part of their personality.

As adults, the work is quite similar. The difference is, we have to be our own parent for this undeveloped part. We have to give it room to speak and teach it how to assert itself in a healthy way. 

Hear out its fantasies. Learn what it’s trying to say. Then, work with this part to come up with healthier ways to express itself. Doing so will result in a developed assertive part that can help you stand up for yourself in an effective way.

Aggression and the capacity for anger is something that can give us energy, and we can learn how to use this energy for something useful. 

Anger can also be an antidote for fear. Having an undeveloped angry part of us removes a possible way to deal with fear. 

Developing these parts is much easier in a ceremonial retreat setting. Due to the enhanced neuroplasticity psychedelic cannabis can induce, this work can happen much faster than in a sober state. 

The process is the same for when we are feeling extremely stressed, or when we dislike someone immediately for unknown reasons. 

During a psychedelic journey, once we have recognized our shadow showing itself in extreme stress, we must re-parent this part of us. Perhaps it’s not such a bad thing to become more introverted during times like these. However, completely shutting ourselves out from our social circles may be too extreme. By developing this part of our personality, the solutions it offers will be much more reasonable. 

Working with this part in a journey can result in a healthier way of becoming more introverted during times like these, while still leaving a little bit of room for social relief.

As for the dislike we feel for someone when we aren’t sure why, it’s once again about re-parenting whatever undeveloped part is projecting itself onto others. Once we recognize that we don’t have a developed extraverted, charming part, we can begin to develop this part.

That might mean putting yourself in social situations more often, if you’re the introverted type, and an extraverted part of your shadow wants to develop. By bringing these parts into the light, we will not immediately dislike people so often and we will develop a fuller personality. One that makes us feel authentic, and whole.

The work of integrating our shadow parts is much easier during a psychedelic journey, and we can make progress much faster than in a sober state.

Psychedelic integration is also a major factor in integrating these shadow parts. Much of the work can be done during the journey, but fully developing these shadow parts requires a focus on these parts during psychedelic integration.

Integration for shadow work should involve embracing our shadow parts, creating opportunities for them to grow, and re-parenting these parts so that they grow to be healthy parts of our personality. 

By embracing all aspects of ourselves, we can lead our lives through wholeness and authenticity.  

Julian Bost

Julian Bost is a Development Specialist and Psychedelic Sitter for Kinesthesia Leadership and Holistic Therapeutix, a Psychedelic Freelance Writer, a Psychedelic IFS-Therapist in training, and a volunteer for the Nowak Society of the greater Denver area. Julian’s experience includes stints with Psychedelics Today, REMAP Therapeutics, and the Integrated Research Literacy Group. Although his background was originally in economics, he has spent the last several years focused on psychedelics, chronic pain, and mental health. He has studied this intersection through the lens of cognitive psychology, human anatomy, and neuroscience. He also has over 15 years of experience resolving his own pain and injury as a lifelong athlete.

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