What Shadow Work Meditation Taught Me About My Dark Side

If you really want to grow, you have to take a hard look at the dark parts of you, too.


It's hard to come to terms with the messed up parts of other people. But it's even harder to come to terms with the parts of ourselves that are weak or wrecked. During this time of self-isolation, it's brought me to the point of soul-searching. I began to dig deep and unfold the parts of me that didn't seem to be evolving or were simply untapped into. When we take a look back on our lives we always place our focus on what has gone good for us and the parts of ourselves that are most likable, but that's surface level understanding of who we truly are. If a person really wants to grow, then you also have to take a hard look at the parts of yourself that are least desirable and possibly even dark.

In psychology, the term "shadow" is defined as the hidden parts of self or the unconscious aspect of personality. I took it upon myself to dive deeper into the parts of me I didn't like to face because they may have scared me, made me feel uncomfortable or I just didn't have a clear understanding of those emotions. Using a technique called Shadow Work, I began to reveal the darker side of my thoughts and feelings to help me gain a better perspective of who and what I'm capable of. It's not all sunshine and roses diving into the eerie parts of self but, I was looking to bring myself to a healthier understanding of what things play a fundamental role in the way I respond, engage, and live my life.

I struggled with trying to understand why I'm always putting forth effort into my relationships, friendships and work and often not receiving reciprocity from the sources I gave my all to.

I realized that my upbringing had a great influence on the woman I am today and the core values I've held onto throughout my life. My identity was halted at five years old when I began to take on the burdens of an adult as a young child. My mother and father have been married for 35 years this coming July, but when I was a young child my father got sentenced to prison for 17 years over a physical altercation that turned deadly. The pain that my mother endured from my father being imprisoned and taken away from the lovely family environment they built brought us all great grief to the point that it was nearly unbearable. I decided then that I had to be a strong girl for my mother so that she could get throiugh these 17 years my father would be away with ease. She had enough on her plate and I never wanted to be another source of worry for her. I only wanted to bring her joy and relief. I adapted to emotional detachment and an ideology that showing fear or emotions only made me weak.

The technique of shadow work is simply about asking the hard questions we may be afraid to face. Unfortunately, that's not always an easy task to tackle. The answers won't necessarily flow to you right away but, it's about exploring the depths of self that may not be knowingly present. No one is perfect and we all have flaws, that's what makes us unique. Those flaws however need to be tended to just the same as the parts of ourselves that we nurture.

Starting the process of shadow work through journaling, I wrote down 10 things I liked about myself and 10 things I disliked about myself. Once I read over them, that's when I began to analyze the Who, What, Where, When and Why of both sides of myself. Good and Bad.

This technique of meditative journaling revealed what my dark side was trying to teach me about myself:


Diving into the WHO of my life showed me who made an impact on me and how it caused me to form other relationships with people. Because I saw things through an adult lens, I felt pressure to take on the role of authority very young.

I made decisions based around what would make other people happy throughout my life, often neglecting my own feelings and needs.

I morphed into what other people projected onto me, thinking I could handle more than the average person could, but never reciprocating that same energy back.


The WHAT dealt with the battles I choose to fight in my life and what I deemed necessary to prove a point on. I've always had a rebellious nature. I was trying to prove that I could handle things on my own because other people have always depended on me and I've always come through. Freedom is extremely important to me and I didn't like being told what to do because I felt as though I had things figured out. That, in turn, made me go out of my way to prove a point when anyone doubted me or what I was capable of. It made me feel exhausted many times to the point that I couldn't enjoy myself or I'd avoid engagements just so I wouldn't feel depleted if I had to make a point. I was always protecting the well-being of others but who really was there looking out for me. I chose to be of service to many when I should of chose my own sanity.


Asking the question of WHERE and WHEN allowed me to see where I was willing to draw the line between right and wrong. I had adopted many of the beliefs, thoughts, and logic that I absorbed from my environment. My environment growing up impacted the person I am today deeply. Having boundaries in many of my relationships, whether it be personal or business-related, has always been an issue. When it came to family, friends or lovers, I'd be willing to do almost anything within my power to help them. Seeing the good in everyone, I struggled with knowing when to walk away at times because I could see the potential in people. In business, I'd take on a workload that was oftentimes extremely excessive, leaving me feeling stressed.

Growing up, I saw every woman that looked like me going the extra mile to make ends meet or please their loved ones, so I believed that's what I had to do as well.

I lacked a clear understanding of what boundaries I need to set for myself and oftentimes let people cross the line. Once the lines were blurred, it was hard to recognize what was actually right or wrong. I couldn't make clear decisions if I couldn't decipher what was necessary (or unnecessary) in my life.


The ultimate question of WHY I am who I am was based around the simple fact of my unchanged behavior. All the fear I kept inside, self-doubt, and lack of understanding was often expressed in manic behavior. The shadow or hidden parts of myself, especially surrounding my upbringing, never truly had a light shone on them. I had to get the courage to see which aspects of my life made me feel conflicted. I could never understand why certain events would continue to arise in my life repeatedly. Once I realized that areas of myself were blocked from the opinions and outlooks I adapted, I began to allow myself to see from other viewpoints and perspectives. That ultimately led me to realize that I lacked power over my circumstances when I put the well-being of others before myself.

Taking a look back on the pieces that make me who I am,is a complete eye-opener. Such simple questions being asked dug deep into the things that I believed were healed and whole. It's a process of discovering self. In order to achieve goals and obtain the self-love I desire, I had to accept the parts of me that aren't always praise-worthy.

Understanding that I am not everyone's keeper but instead my own keeper was the essential lesson I learned through the shadow work process.

I carried the burdens of others way too long and I had to learn to set clear boundaries between what deserves my energy and what doesn't. My strength was never tied to how much I could take on or handle, but how much love I shine into other people's lives.

Featured image by Shutterstock

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

This article is in partnership with Staples.

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