Lessons in Shadow Dancing

shadow self

There is so much emphasis on positivity that it’s very tempting to try and stay “up” all the time, even when we feel like garbage. It seems easier to keep things copacetic, breezy, and happy – no one wants to feel like a burden.

But we all have a hidden shadow dancer… a dark side that’s difficult to handle, uncomfortable, inconvenient. At some point on our path to purpose, we all run into our own dark sister. Some call it the underworld journey. Jung called it the shadow self.

Every single person on earth has shadow shards inside them that are:

ugly
extreme
depressing
doubtful
afraid
angry
jealous
self-absorbed
restless
ungrateful

My shadow self? She likes to tango. She slips into existence and dips me low, sensually. She tempts me with the familiarity of restlessness. She makes my skin crawl and I itch to escape myself as she twirls me until I’m lost in her lies… I blindly search for a zipper to flee this prickly sheath of judgement and worthlessness.

She’s a demanding dance partner, she wants my rapt attention. Any sliding glances back toward light and she slaps me hard, squeezes my cheeks, and slams a needle in my arm that sends liquid fear straight into my heart.

Each time we shadow dance, I get better at the sequence.

Step to the right & doubt that anything I create is worthy.

Step to the left & feel lonely in my own house.

Pause. Twirl.

Step-kick-punch-to-the-gut & start thinking the most awful thoughts imaginable…

About myself, about my love, about my child. About my work, my ideas, my heart, my intentions, my bank account, my thighs, my everything.

The dance ends when I’m stripped naked like Inanna, strung victoriously from the rafters of my own head; rotting, stagnant, putrefying, and hopeless.

This is what the shadow side looks like. It’s no wonder she has no friends.

Yet like any creature, she deserves love and attention. Loving her is the only way to survive the magnetic mercury morphine she syringes into our minds.

Facing these things about yourself is designed to be a trial by fire. Your shadow serves a role in fulfilling your higher purpose – she helps you clean out your ego, she tears down the walls around your heart, she allows the real you to shine through; as bright and luminous as the full moon on a clear night. 

Doing the work means learning how to shadow dance.

How willing are you to be stripped of your ego?

Your attachments
Your identity
Your name
Your loves
Your very being

Shadow dancing rips them all from your grasp and only promises their return if you allow them to perch, uncaged, in your outstretched hand. Because none of these things are really yours. None of them define you. They have nothing to do with who you are.

Your shadow teases you with what it feels like to lose everything. Only then, can you grasp how amazing and ephemeral life really is.


How will you know when your shadow side has come to dance?

  • You will feel like shit.
  • Every old doubt and fear that you thought you’d handled will fly through your head repeatedly.
  • You will find yourself putting up walls between yourself and the people you love the most.
  • You’ll be snippy, full of blame, and unable to concentrate on anything but your mind’s running monologue.
  • You’ll think horrible things about yourself.
  • You’ll think horrible things about everyone.
  • Your body will feel hot, then cold, then numb.
  • Your jaw will hurt from clenching it all night.
  • You’ll crave sugary foods to sweeten the wrong parts of yourself.
  • You’ll feel like crawling out of your skin.
  • You’ll want to move, quit your job, break up with someone you otherwise love (preemptively before they break your heart) or other such restless temptations.

Because these things are so godawful to feel, the habit is to repress or ignore them.

But as you know, caging things doesn’t set them free.

To process your shadow, you’ve got to turn toward the knife. You’ve got to freely FEEL everything you want to run from. Warning: it will feel like you’re dying. That’s a good thing.

  • Say aloud those terrible thoughts.
  • Paint your emotional tremors with long, black, unschooled strokes.
  • Sit in meditation and allow the poison to flush through your system.
  • When you feel yourself shutting out those you love, pry open your heart and risk it. Risk loving like you mean it.
  • Risk exposing your darkest self to the light.

When your shadow dancer appears, turn around and take the lead.

Photo “Whisperer” by Katarzyna Piela

17 confessions
  1. Priya

    I read your post “Lessons in Shadow Dancing”. This is amazing, as I started reading I could not believe how somebody could have written what I feel, word to word…Maybe this is synchronicity. I am a dancer and for past few months I have been working on recognising my shadow self, the process that I am going through is overwhelming..and it felt great to read this, like a release…

    • Foxy

      Hi Priya, thank you so much for being here with me. My shadows continue to invite me to dance with them… asking my hips to circle, to stretch me as a woman… I imagine us, cavorting around a fire in the woods, swirling until the shadows dissipate, integrate, and I am whole again.

  2. Clare Alexander

    I’ve been working with intergrading shadow over the last several months, and am now taking an even deeper plunge as Samhain approaches. In times of darkness, of reliving bad memories, of feeling the emotional pain-body of the past, I don’t see the dance. I see myself embracing the darkness in unconditional love and support, because I don’t want to dance. I want unity of light and shadow into one whole individual that works and accepts everything in present Being, free of ego. I have no idea if the work I do is “right” or “correct” in how I embrace shadow-self, but I can no longer parcel the dark parts of myself into moments.

    Even though I have been doing this work for some time, it often feels like I’m still at the beginning.

    • Foxy

      I love what you shared, Clare… I, too, feel like I constantly revisit the beginning; of engaging with both the dark and the light (and the ALL as one) from new perspectives. I don’t think there is a right way to do this work…. only what feels in alignment for us each. Thank you so much for being here.

  3. Erin

    I happened upon this writing as I sat at my computer, the sheets of tears rolling down my cheeks, mimicking the rain outside, before I even started reading. And then as I read it was, yes, yes, yes, that is me, that is where I’m at but it goes further, into grief. Dark obsidian wrenching grief. And what if you never, ever learned to turn around and lead? What if from day one of conception even, you were born into a family whose soul sickness was incapable of nurturing, of the love needed to survive, to thrive. Where do you go from there. I have two left feet. I don’t even know how to dance. And I am so alone. I feel the squirming in my very soul and I want to scream and moan and wail. But I feel it will do no good. I know it will do no good for you see I’ve been here a thousand times. All alone. I need to be heard. I used to escape into the darker world of alcohol and drugs and now I don’t have that any more. I don’t want it any more. I want to be my authentic self. And I am beginning to see why I escaped. It is so painful, this dance.

    • Lauren

      I am cut from the same pattern as you, and I’ve been slowly crawling out of it for the last 5 years since my father passed (it was the best thing to ever happen to my family). I have been slowly unraveling my story, identifying the most painful parts along the way and asking myself, what did I NEED then to make it through? What does a fearful child need when they’re parents are monsters? A child needs to know who they are, and I was always squashed not nurtured, so as an adult I’m now stumbling to learn all the things I’m entitled to as a living being. I never knew I could have likes and dislikes, my own personality! Slowly I am peeling back my layers. All I can say is never stop searching for that which you seek to find comfort in……
      I never thought I’d still be alive today (used to abuse drugs and alcohol also until very recently). Here I am and here you are and here we all are, yearning. Sending loving energy your way. If a suicide chump like myself can find the light out, I belI’ve anyone can. Amd no, things aren’t much easier now that I found the light, but, now I know I have options if I desire.

    • Blanca

      I’m in tears, you’ve described how I feel. Thousands of times we’ve had to dance with our shadow self and every time is dreadful pain, when does one learn to dance? When all I feel is like dying….
      Thank you for sharing!

    • Foxy

      It is so beautiful to see and feel you here, Erin. Thank you for sharing your confession. This journey (the one of living a True life) is the bravest one any one of us can undertake, especially when the “gifts” of our childhood and ancestry are traumatic, painful, and fill us with deep wells of despair.

      I hear you, and I deeply honor your choice to begin to write a new story of your Self. Though it may feel as if you are alone, you can see here that you are not. There is no one who can walk YOUR path but you, yet there are multitudes here, all walking together in our own way. <3 I am thankful for your presence among us.

  4. Carol Sperry

    I live with my dark side every second, my evil twin. I am finally past the death wish. I still medicate her to hold her at bay. This is just what I needed to read, for it is coming time to begin the dance as equals and lovers, not the conquering bitch and the loveless blob. I wish to meet her face to face, to accept her strength as part of me, to dance and embrace until we are one.
    What do you mean this won’t happen overnight???? I’m a work in progress. Light and love

    • Foxy

      I can feel your spark of humor, Carol – I love that :) Ha, yes, it won’t happen overnight, but time is funny… and in some other “now”… you’ll notice that things have shifted…

      And, we are always a beginner in some way, anyway. So right where we are must be perfect. Ugh. ;)

  5. Blanca

    One day, Hopefully soon, your article will resonate during one of my shadow dances, perhaps during the middle of the dance I don’t forget I need to live again, I’ve known this encounter all to well many times she arrives I die, she plunges my catatonic soul into a deep despair of sadness and I’m once again in my bed with severe depression…..dead! Thousand times I’ve died and I still haven’t learned how to dance…..sigh

    • Foxy

      “A thousand times I’ve died and I still haven’t learned to dance…” – you may feel that to be true… but I feel the poetry in your soul.

      And, you assume I remember to dance when I am in the thick of it. SOMETIMES I am fortunate to remember. But, often, I’m like many others… For moments (some long and some short) I feel like I’m drowning.

      I’ve uncovered that my practice in this lifetime is a constant re-membering. And in order to remember, to wake up, it requires forgetfulness.

      The times when I’ve stepped (or leapt) away from my intention, from my gifts, from my gratitude are the exact times that call those things back to the forefront. So they, too, are gifts.

      Sending you much love and light (and Truth), soul sister. <3

  6. Georgina

    i’ve read about not knowing how to dance. my problem is i’ve been dancing my whole life. but not knowing it. clumsy steps, wrong rhythm, not even understanding the music most of the time. but i danced, oh, did i dance. but now it’s time for me to stop dancing and learn what i’m supposed to DO. to learn HOW to dance. does that make sense? i’ve been shuffling to please others, and i’ve made a fool of myself for almost 60 years, and i am so tired, and so empty. i’ve chased all my friends and family away with my fake dancing, there’s no one left. i’ll likely die alone. now i’m left to learn to dance legitimately and hope i can become a real human being that can stop dancing falsely and dance from her heart and soul and how i wish i had someone to be with me on this journey. to hold my hand, to share my meals, to sleep with me at night. but i’m alone in my house, winter is coming, it’s cold, and i’m learning to dance. with earplugs. listening to only my heart and my soul. and i thank you for that, for making me see that, and making me understand how fake i’ve been my whole life. thank you for giving me a chance. and thank you for letting me realize that i can hear the real music, and that it’s not too late. sending love and light. <3

    • Foxy

      It is such a sacred thing to be on this journey with you, Georgina. Isn’t incredible that we may be miles, states, or even countries apart and can still connect? It is never too late to hear the real music, to decide to listen to and trust your heart, to start again. It is never too late. Love and blessings to you <3 <3

  7. Nganga Sami

    it feel like there is an extension of yourself trying to punish you yet when you look within you realize its also guiding you toward a better you.
    i feel like for me to find my path i need to get lost., for me to discover the truth then i gotta be lied to .
    i seek the light am am ready to meet the dark

  8. Monique

    So today i finally realized my shadow side and as i had the feelings of worthlessness and despair i instantly found this website, and before this i started flip flopping with my boyfriend, and he hates that so of course i got him upset and cried and smiled all at the same time, but i instantly found this site and i immediately started name calling myself, putting mysef down, cried, and i meditated with this, and i suddenly felt like i became in control, i did not fight it, i went into it, and i immediately walked up to the mirror and called myself beautiful. When i think about it, i do sorta sound insane, but i embraced it, and soon after i had loving feelings towards my “darker self”. I did feel like i was dying and i did have an over dramatic situation with my boyfriend, but its tough, and meeting him immediately plunged me into with no warning what so ever into my shadow self. So i know this man is in my life for a specific reason, as i always fought my shadow and ran from it, meeting him changed my whole life spiritually. Even though i do at times feel worthless, and ready to die, something within me always urges me to meditate with it, and learning more about my darker self helped me dramatically.

  9. Terry

    At the age of 70, I lost my husband(death), my home, and my own health. As a trained Jungian,therapist I thought I knew of the ‘Shadow Self’ – I came upon your site and since I do not believe in coincidence it seems it came at the perfect time. Your writings were a balm for me, Thank you and good work! It is clear that it is never too late to dance with the Shadow and having accepted the premise prepared me for the eventual trauma. Three years now and reading your words gave me renewed comfort. Gratitude –

Care to confess?