In the coaching world we speak of “the shadow,“ a term first used in analytical psychology according to C.G. Jung. The shadow is the counterpart of the persona, the part of our personality we consciously identify with. Shadow work aims to bring to light those elements of our personality that keep us from unfolding, and to integrate them into the conscious self-image. The goal is to acknowledge these elements, reduce inner resistance, make peace. As a key prerequisite, we must learn to develop compassion with our former self.
In my work with people – mostly executives –, shadow work is one of the key concepts. To get an idea of how it works, see this excerpt from a coaching session.
Executive: I have this really great person on my team – committed, motivated, willing to learn. But: Every time I feel I ought to give her some positive feedback I’m almost paralyzed.
Coach: Before we look at the situation from several angles, let me ask you a question: Does she remind you of someone? Do you perhaps recognize yourself in some of her ways?
E: Actually, I do … Like her, I was always very ambitious: in school, at university, in my family. I always worked really hard. But it was never a big deal; I’d never expect to get any kind of recognition. I’d just do my job, that’s it.
C: What does it feel like when you put so much effort and enthusiasm into something, then don’t get any recognition?
E: I’d feel angry, frustrated, sometimes sad. But then I’d tell myself: don’t make such a fuzz, it’s no big deal.
C: Could it be that you find it difficult to grant your employee the kind of praise you never seem to get for your own achievements?
E: Hm … yes, that might be possible …
C: How about you simply ask this person next time you see her, how important recognition is to her and what kind of feedback she’d like from you?
E: Alright, I’ll try.
C: And in the meantime, why don’t you have some compassion with yourself and give yourself more credit ?
Of course I’ve simplified and shortened this conversation. Effective development often requires more than just one step in terms of self-reflection.
But it’s definitely worth it. Coachees often tell me about deeply satisfying moments of success. Once the inner knot has loosened, lots of things become easier – not only at work but in life overall. Which is not that surprising because when we are at peace with ourselves, we can exploit our full potential.
Would you like to learn more about this field? Let me recommend these two books: “Schattenjunge, Schattenmädchen” by Stefanie Körber (for those who read German) and “The Secrets of Shadow” by Debbie Ford.
And should you have some questions for me, I look forward to your call at +436763243844.
“Originally with a background in sales and marketing, I am a qualified counselor and coach with certifications in several behavioral models. For over 20 years I have worked with executives at different levels in international organizations. Topics range from conflict management to communication in challenging situations to team development. Usually, I start sessions by taking out speed – a particularly important element in our fast-moving, high-pressure times – just to regain speed after we’ve untied some knots. Along with a range of relevant methods and techniques, my focus is on self-reflection. And many years of experience have taught me that shadow work is one of the most powerful levers.”