Shadow Work 

Erin Plew Lyles

Department of Counseling: ArtTherapy

CN/AT 523-4: Hermeneutics of Self:Transformation and Healing Through Imaginal Ways of Knowing

Kate Latimer

August 15, 2023


Describing his process of viewing an art image, James Hillman (Vogt, 2021, Sept 11) asks “Does the image like what I’m saying? Am I responding imaginatively to the image?” and urges the viewer not to try to interpret art, or compare it to something else they have seen, but to instead have a dialogue with the image as if it has an intelligence of its own. Rather than prescribing meaning or guessing at a concept, responding to what is there by asking imaginative and engaging questions. I am learning to ask questions about the artwork that my colleagues bring to class with an open and genuine interest in what the image is bringing, rather than making my own interpretations because allowing the person to arrive at their own conclusions is much more beneficial to their growth. Asking open questions is becoming intuitive and this makes for more fruitful conversations between therapist and client.  

When we are with a client, how do we learn to just be with big emotions that present, rather than trying to categorize, label or fix the situation? Allowing clients to engage with their emotions on a deep and visceral level will allow them to have the experience they need with that feeling, and to process the grief, anger, shame, etc., fully. In my Consciousness I House, I was told by a person that she felt like when she had big emotions when I was acting as her therapist, these emotions were not allowed because I always tried to find ways to make her feel ok. This realization has been a huge growing edge for me, and now that I am aware of this tendency, I try to consciously avoid doing it.

            Learning to embrace my shadow is paramount in my quest for self-knowledge. Without the shadow, I would not have awareness of light that exists within me, as well. Robert A. Johnson (Eternalized, 2022,April 25) says “To deny darkness is to deny half of oneself. The shadow only becomes hostile when they are ignored.You can be guided by your shadow or be dragged by it.” This recalls Toko-PaTurner’s (2017) suggestion that our nightmares are there to draw us toward some part of ourselves that we have been neglecting. The shadows often get neglected because they are the parts of ourselves that we don’t feel comfortable sharing with others. Throughout my transformational healing, I realize that without having a name for it, I have been addressing my shadows and working with them. For example, I have learned to have compassion for my inner critic and begun to understand how to love my neglected inner child for whom I historically felt so much shame. Confronting and loving these shadows has allowed great expansiveness in understanding myself. Dismantling my perfectionistic qualities has empowered me to create space and openness for noticing obstacles that I would not have previously seen. Recognizing and exploring my people pleasing tendencies has prompted me to create boundaries that have caused relationships to either blossom or end if they no longer serve a purpose in my life.

Griffin (Ted Talks, 2022, Feb 22) says that our shadows will never not exist. They are opportunities for us to know ourselves and to heal from the traumas that we have endured. Ignoring our shadows is to deny truth. Moving forward and through our shadows allows for taking an honest look at ourselves and for real healing to occur. Griffin also speaks of the denial of the shadow happening on a collective level. Rather than facing the shadow, our tendency as a culture is to categorize or label something as bad or good and if it is not good to us, we choose war, and fight against it. She points out that our society is oblivious to the history of the traumas that we collectively hold, and if we don’t allow ourselves to examine the ugly parts of our history, we will never understand it and everything will appear as a blur. In order to move forward as a society, we must face the difficult truths of our history and begin the collective shadow work necessary to our full understanding.


As we progress in engaging in guided experientials, the warrior wolf continues to present. In the larger group when I first talked about my drawing, (an image of myself and the wolf floating on a raft in the middle of an ocean, the wolf had just bitten the back of my neck as indicated by two marks with streams of blood coming from them),some ideas surfaced about the wolf with which I couldn’t decide if I felt resonance. It was suggested that maybe the wolf bit me like a vampire bites, to make me transform into his likeness. Also, the idea of the mother wolf who carries their baby from the scruff of the neck, was suggested. Either idea did not feel completely right or wrong. In the image I have my arm wrapped around the wolf and later in the meditation I had a vision of myself and the wolf flying off into the distant colorful clouds together. I like the idea that the wolf is my shadow self, and that doesn’t always mean that the wolf is negative or has ill intentions. I can be timid and insecure, so the shadow of that would be the warrior with confidence, a part that I long to fully embrace. I second guess myself, the shadow of that is fierce confidence. The wolf is in me, but Ido not always know how to access him. The wolf is also sly and can be manipulative in order to get it’s prey, I also possess this shadow. Also, I want to further investigate my childhood fear of the wolf and how that may still be present in my adult self.

I had a lot of resistance in my small group when we explored the artwork that came from this active imagination experiential. It was as if something was blocking me from wanting to further engage with this material. Before breaking into groups, we spoke about the act of engaging in ritual once something important enters your consciousness to solidify it as a reality and to take conscious action to address it. I wonder if something inside me didn’t want to explore the shadow that presented in my active imagination because I didn’t want to engage in this sort of ritual or acknowledgment, or, if there is something shameful inside me that does not want to be exposed. Whatever it is, feels like the beginning of a big self-realization, the start of the exploration of a deep shadow within.


Anders Vogt. (2021, Sept 11).James Hillman: Sticking to the image. [Video]. YouTube.

Eternalized. (2022,April 25). Owning your own shadow: The dark side of the psyche. [Video]


Tedx Talks. (2022, Feb 22).The Semantics of Shadow Work: Valisa Griffin: TEDx Chattanooga.

[Video] YouTube.

The SpiritualLibrary. (2020, Jul 25). Alan Watts ~ Understanding your own shadows. [Video]


Turner, T. (2017)Belonging: Remembering ourselves home. Her Own Room Press.

In Progress Self Portrait depicting myself with a wolf, a raven, and moonflowers. These images have continued to surface as I have begun shadow work. 

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