the art of learning your shadow (+ how it makes you more creative)



“I believe the best way to examine anything is to go to a dark place. You can’t be a storyteller and a speechwriter at the same time.” — Joss Whedon


Making friends with your shadow side could unlock your creative potential and help you bust through any blocks you might be experiencing.

I know, it might sound a bit…woo-woo…like I’ll start talking about animal totems next. But the Jungian idea of the Shadow has always intrigued me, especially as I get older and more sensitive to how it plays out in my own life.

The Shadow suggests that we are more…vast….and nuanced, and complex, than we’re willing to admit (even to ourselves). As children, we learned to shape and trim our persona to get the love we needed to survive. Everything about us that did not fit our evolving idea of ourselves we banished, suppressed, repressed, exiled into this shadowy self-creature, this negative reflection.

The Shadow is made up of all the parts of us that we have disowned.

We only “see” them when we project them onto others.

I still remember my ex telling me, when I was locked in a power struggle with my mother-in-law, that she and I were “a lot alike!”. (And the other people at the table went, “Ooohhhh.”) I would argue that statement – I’m sure she would as well – but it does make me check myself for the very things that exasperated me about her.

The insults that someone hurls in your direction may say more about who they are than about who you are.

What makes it complicated is that every negative trait has a positive upside, and vice-versa. So by casting out those elements of ourselves we deem “negative”, we’re also alienating ourselves from our true potential. Again, we can only “see” this reflected in others: you are what you are attracted to. Of all the people in the world, of all those qualities and accomplishments to choose from, why do you admire whomever it is you admire (and why)? What you are seeing when you look at them could be a latent trait in yourself. Kind of freaky, huh?


I recently had breakfast with the ex. We commented on each other’s twitterstreams, and then he said, “But I would lose the whole ‘badass’ thing. People might think you are referring to yourself.”

“Well, no,” I said. “My tagline is, because you’re a creative badass.”

“Even so,” he said. “It could be misconstrued.”

I thought about it. What I realized is that my ex is not in my natural audience (which, come to think of it, might be one reason he’s an ex). My audience includes people like the twentysomething woman who told me that the term “creative badass” lights her up inside.

It’s not difficult to see how the qualities that make up a badass – strength, swagger, mastery, daring, boldness, risk, rebellion – are those same qualities that the entire female gender was encouraged, or even ordered, not to be. They make up a kind of feminine Shadow. (Even in my own, post-feminist generation, boyfriends would accuse me of being too “competitive”, which surprised me, because I didn’t see myself that way at all. I thought I was rather mild. Although I can hear my boyfriend laughing as I write this.)

Which might explain the popularity of what my editor once termed “post-Buffy vampire fiction” in which women wear leather and are formidable in decidedly unladylike ways.

By embracing that kind of character, it’s possible that women are reaching out for an aspect of identity they’re still figuring out how to integrate, within a culture that’s still ambivalent about women who wield real power. But in books and movies and TV shows, a woman like Buffy can be both blatantly, obviously powerful — and loved.


The price we pay for repressing our Shadow is a lack of authenticity. It also blocks us in our creative work.

It makes us insecure.

When we look inside ourselves, we sense our Shadow – and we’re ashamed. We feel the need to disguise, evade, deny and hide. And because we can’t find it on the inside, we then look to the outside for evidence of our own self-worth. We look to others for approval and validation.

But if this was effective, then celebrities would be among the happiest, most fulfilled, most secure people on the planet. Who would never have to go to rehab.

When you’re worried about what others think, you don’t feel safe. And as Tim Brown points out in his TED talk on creativity, a sense of safety — of protection from withering outside criticism – is required in order to come up with your best, most outrageous, wackiest, playful, risky, innovative ideas. “We fear the judgment of our peers,” says Brown. “We’re embarrassed to show our ideas…And it’s this fear that causes us to be conservative in our thinking.”

In his book about how to conquer procrastination, THE NOW HABIT, Neil Fiore asks you to imagine a beam on the floor about four feet in width. Imagine waking across it. Easy, right? Child’s play. Now suspend that board between two buildings about one hundred feet in the air. Imagine walking across it. It’s the exact same task you did so easily before, and yet….do you think you would hesitate? Do you think you would…put it off?

Now imagine that same board, one hundred feet in the air, but with a safety net directly underneath to catch you if you fall.

Imagine walking across it.

With your sense of safety intact, the task is once again child’s play.

What if creative work could be as fun, as easy as that?


Creative work is about the expression of your innermost self. In the end, we are what we make.

When we talk about creating, so often we talk about developing the ability to “go there”: behind the socially polished persona, beneath the surface layers, to tap into the stuff we don’t show people – or even ourselves.

That’s where the juice is.

That’s where the vulnerability is – and it’s our vulnerability that makes us loveable, that connects us to other people. That makes us authentic. You cannot connect to the world in an authentic way if you’re not willing to express that self to begin with.

Of course, if it was easy, then everybody would be doing it.

So the question becomes: how can you create that sense of inner safety that will allow you to express your real self, to play with your crazy ideas, and show the world something that is uniquely you (and therefore original)? How can you forge ahead with your creative work knowing that you are your safety net, to catch you when you fall?

In their book THE TOOLS, psychologists Phil Stutz and Barry Michaels refers to that sense of safety as your “inner authority”:

It’s not an authority that comes from the approval of anyone outside you; it’s the authority you can get only when you’re speaking from your inner self.”

To tap into it, you align yourself with the “higher force” of self-expression, and you do that by making friends with your shadow. (“Friendship,” as Tim Brown observes, “is a shortcut to play.”) Stutz and Michaels present it as a visualization exercise. Imagine yourself in front of the kind of people who make you feel shaky inside, and then push all your negative feelings about yourself “out in front of you and give them a face and body. This figure is the embodiment of everything you feel insecure about.”

This figure is your Shadow.

Imagine reaching out and forming a bond with your shadow, then turning to your audience, hand in hand with your shadow, and saying LISTEN.

The authors say:

“Our need to please an audience is a deeply ingrained habit. The best way to break the habit is to replace it with a healthier one; that means using Inner Authority every chance you get. If you do this consistently, you train yourself to rely on your inner self, not on the reactions of others.”

When you unite with your shadow, you are no longer trying to hide parts of yourself, which means you no longer fear being exposed. You are expressing yourself, your full self. This force of self-expression

“…has a magical quality: it drives us to reveal ourselves in a truthful, genuine way – without caring at all how other people react. As a consequence, when you’re connected to this force, you speak with unusual intensity and clarity.”

Resonance happens when your inner self connects with your audience’s inner self; there is recognition, there is chemistry; there is “unusual intensity and clarity”.

Some people have the ability to do this naturally. We call them visionaries. Philosopher Eckhart Tolle notes that visionaries are people

“…that function from the deeper core of their being – those who do not attempt to appear more than they are, but as simply themselves, stand out as remarkable, and are the only ones who truly make a difference in the world…Their mere presence, simple, natural and unassuming, has a transformational effect on whomever they come into contact with.”

That sounds pretty badass to me.

What does your Shadow look like? Tell me below.

Jun 2, 2012

36 comments · Add Yours

Very important for me to read, though I had heard the concept before, and thought I knew it intrinsically. Still, after finishing the draft of my novel about race, politics and technology, there were things that needed to come to the surface. The shadow self, literally in my case, continued to lurk. As I now edit, I fill Moleskine pages with reference to manuscript pages – “add feelings about…,” giving permission to fill in the blanks. To summon the shadow self.


To hell with what Elon effing Musk thinks about your tag line. You ARE a creative badass! He doesn’t get to define you anymore, if he ever did. Don’t apologize for your excellence – or your badassery.


This post struck a chord. I have my adventurous, badass moments, but I’m also very good at second-guessing myself. I think I need to have a serious talk with my shadow!


Fantastic post as usual. I can see you have spent some time getting to know your shadow :)

So have I. And yet still, I am surprised by my reactions. My partner is the one I project onto the most. All the things I learned as a child from a child and distant father are projected onto my partner with such great force that it’s still a leap for me to believe that I carry all this around, even though I know I do. Even though the flipside of carrying that sort of shit around has been adrenal fatigue and chronic fatigue and lots of different sorts of varieties of … fatigue :P

So for me, as always, and as with all other women, it’s about exactly what you are talking about here why “badass” has such resonance. Are women still victimised in our respective societies (I live in Australia)? Many would argue no, of course not. But victimisation is carried within your soul, even if it’s not being imposed from without. I think that’s why it’s so hard to face it in certain ways because how on earth do you stand up straight and look yourself in the eye when you realise you’re carrying *this* amount of shit around with you?

But you do. It’s amazing. It’s energising and ennervating and yes, I feel safer the more I embrace these things because they have a lot to say. Jung also practised Active Imagination, where you sit down and actually talk to these parts of myself. Now, *that’s* pretty woo-woo … but the benefits that come from doing it, when long-silenced parts of you actually feel “heard” in some real sort of way, is priceless. And feeds straight into that Inner Authority.

Sorry for rambling. You obviously struck a chord with me as well. Loving your posts, Justine.


Geez, wish I’d proofread before hitting “submit”


I’m badass. You’re badass. Everyone here is badass. And anyone that is afraid of being badass prolly has the spiritual and emotional depth of a puddle…in Arizona…during July. Just sayin’. ;)


My Shadow looks like a blood-red lion with the wings of a crow and the eyes of a snake. It breathes the expressive fire of a Jackson Pollock painting. It is definitely my creative soul. I nodded my head throughout this post. In order to be a full creative being, you must learn to accept the darkness within yourself. It provides the raw energy that allows you to step out and express yourself in a truly genuine way. This is something I’ve always just done without giving it much thought. I’m a quiet, unassuming guy. So many people think the work I produce is too dark or reflective of a disturbed soul. They don’t get it. They don’t see that the darkness is the very thing that reveals the light. But that’s OK. Creative badasses do. And that’s enough for me. :)


Justine, this is truly amazing. It speaks so deeply to me. I often get lost in this type of conversation, but this so clear and crisp to me.


Thanks Justine. I am currently in the middle of performing a season of “The Same Time Next Year” so your comments about connecting with your audience are particularly raw and direct for me. There are only two of us on stage for the two hours and we have spent a lot of time talking about the things you raise in your post. We have been receiving some incredible responses from the audiences and have struggled to put into words exactly why that is. With apologies for the slight edit you managed to capture it better than we have so far:

“Resonance happens when your inner self connects with your audience’s inner self; there is recognition, there is chemistry; there is “unusual intensity and clarity”.

Some people have the ability to do this naturally. We call them actors.

Thank you.


Once again, I feel like you are following me around and peering inside my psyche and then writing about it for all the world to see.

I’ve been agonizing over this need for approval recently. Feeling how much it hurts me and limits me and keeps me from doing my best creative work. All I’ve been saying recently is I just want to be living MY own life, enjoying being in MY own skin and not worrying about how much attention I do or don’t get or what anybody else thinks about me.

My shadow? I project confidence and positivity. An attitude that I can do anything. With great love and ease and humor. And what I hide and feel ashamed about is how deeply inadequate I feel. And how much I want to be loved. That desperate need for attention, approval and recognition IS my shadow.

And I’m practicing, in a tiny way, “pushing the shadow out front” here on your blog. Seeing what its like to consider being friendly and maybe even eventualy playful with this part of me.

So thanks for the invitation. And the opportunity. You totally rock.

And don’t you ever DARE lose the badass!!


Wow. This totally just helped me to figure out exactly what one of my novels-in-progress is really about. I’ve been working on that thing for almost a year now, and it’s been frustrating me because I was having a hard time understanding the core plot, but now I get it. Thanks so much!


She’s been obviously through some tough shit, but she’s a siren with eyes of quicksand and has the constellation Orion tattooed on the back of her neck.

How is it your posts are always so relevant to what’s been on my mind?


I loved the example of the board on the floor, in the air, and with a safety net below. Particularly because I could specifically relate to that example. Recently while on vacation I had the ability to do a ropes course. Not in the air each challenge wasn’t particularly challenging but because you were placed much higher than comfort it became frightening to me. And I was in fact in a harness so technically I did have a safety net, but I was afraid and I did not complete the course. I am a very competitive person. I don’t like to do things I won’t excel at. I don’t like to put myself in situations where I am more likely to lose than to win. I like a challenge, but I want the odds to be in my favor. I frequently hold myself back because of this. I wonder what I could achieve if only I wasn’t so afraid to fail.


@justine, thanks for a human, poignant description and riff on the shadow. I’m sure you’re aware of this org; they do awesome shadow work worldwide:


Oh Justine, Justine, Justine. There you go again, making feel like I still have a chance to be the me I want to be. xoxo


This is awesome. Very awesome. This just got me fired up. It speaks to something I’ve been trying to convey to others (and myself at times) for a while. Will be back here more often. Glad I came across this site.


such an amazing and timely inspiring read for me. i used to embrace my shadow. somewhere along the way we lost touch though. thanks for reminding me to befriend what makes me badass once again.


Justine. Thank you so much for this post. Has me thinking. The bad ass is inside me but I don’t let her out. Need to start making friends with her huh? She is bold and daring and confident. Sounds like what I need to wage the war. I have always known that. Now is the time to claim it. Keep the faith. nic


Thanks for your post! I’ve been thinking about this concept a lot the past few years, about embracing the parts of me that I’ve been ashamed of. I wrote a post about this… well, delving slightly into this, about how my child is forcing me to work through my Shadow. She’s my Reflection and Shadow


badass = ego

conscious = soul

pick one, because they don’t go together very well


@gregorylent Your badass nature is your whole freaking Self; it is you at your most complete and powerful. Your ego is your sense of self-importance, and your conscience is your sense of right and wrong. (And ego and conscience *can* go together, by the way — it is a dangerous, dangerous combination.)


This is hard to admit, but my Shadow is my temper. It’s legendary as being ineffectual, yet disturbing. I’ve tried hiding it, embracing it … everything but channeling it. It’s my worst fault. It didn’t occur to me until after I’d had a long period of trying to keep it under wraps that those negative feelings, channeled properly, could have been fuel for positive change. Well, live and learn. I guess that’s what Joss Whedon meant when he said that when you write, you have to go to a dark place—a place you might hate about yourself and would rather keep in the shadows.


Maybe the way you are formulating questions are wrong; in a sense, that they are not answerable.

For example: If you choose to befriend your Shadow. Aren’t you casting away the part of you who once rejected it? Therefore you will create a second Shadow and you won’t be complete again.

Completeness is in a sense infinite and static and humans adapt to circumstances and permutate, society helps us on that. Neglecting it, might no be wise.

“Where is the harmony? – the young man said – The freedom of coactions?
And the old man looked at him with his blurred eyes and said -You can’t defeat despair, Little Ant, all you can do is keep walking.”

I’m gonna watch Isaac’s proposal vid one more time. I think I want to marry somebody in red dress.


I don’t think integration could be considered “rejecting” the part of you that cast away your shadow; integration doesn’t involve rejecting anything. That’s what transcendence is — including everything, including that judgmental, critical part of you, and then going beyond to become more than the sum of the parts.

And you’re right about completeness being static — which is why it never happens (also why I said ‘most’ complete self). We keep growing, changing, learning and in a sense the shadow points the way, by pointing out the areas that need our attention.

Despair, and I have certainly experienced my moments of it, is like any emotion, isn’t something you conquer or should try to ‘defeat’; you let it move through you, like the weather. You let yourself feel it. It is beautiful in its own way.


Man, my shadow gives pretty good advice sometimes. Especially when I’m stressed out and I’m like “Oh my god, everything sucks. Shadow, what the hell are we going to do?” and she’s like “Dude, chill the fuck out.”

She’s arrogant, sarcastic, and pretty much doesn’t give a fuck about anything until she decides she wants to. She uses talent to disguise the fact that she’s lazy and irresponsible, lies through her teeth without a second thought, and she just laughs when people try to call her out for her flaws.

So basically she’s all of the things I try to keep in check so that I don’t come across as a complete sociopath, but at the same time she’s way more of a badass than I am.

If you’ll excuse an extremely pop culture comparison, my shadow is kind of like Tony Stark and I’m more like Pepper Potts. Even though I find her exasperating and chide her for being irresponsible, she laughs away my stress and insecurity. She’s not very good at hard work or keeping friends, but then again I’m not that good at taking criticism or seeing the big picture. Neither of us could possibly run Stark Industries alone, but somehow we can keep the ship on course together despite our constant bickering.

And yes, I use superhero movies to analyze psychology. That’s just how I roll.


I am a huge fan of the Evil Queen– the powerful, brilliant, cunning, unapologetic, blatantly sexual woman who always puts her own goals first and never lets anyone boss her around. Maleficent is my all-time favorite Disney villain. My friend and I used to have this ongoing joke that my favorite TV and movie characters almost always ended up killing, maiming, or emotionally torturing her favorites– and I was kind of proud of that.


That comment from your ex reminds me a lot of his father :-) Going to reread this article a number of times. Not new, but nicely put. Essentially your road to your authentic power lies in your transformed weaknesses? Would like to post sections and a link to my blog pretty please?


Due to the fact that we all perceive ourselves and others based upon our beliefs, we create our shadow selves out of judgments we make on these perceptions and beliefs. And through this judgment we give our shadow selves form and it is kept separate from who we believe we are or who we want to be. I am sure over time, each of us has had to reexamine our beliefs because we outgrow them; they were created at a specific time in our experience which is no more. In this reexamination we begin to perceive differently, act and believe differently and integrate the shadow self.


Thank you. I very much needed to hear this, and I know I’m not the only one. Will be sharing.


Mine looks like my 6 year-old self hiding behind my mother’s pants leg when introduced to my 1st grade teacher. I wet myself that year because I was too afraid to ask to go to the bathroom.


If I had to guess about what my shadow is like, I guess I would say it’s as if my shadow and me are in a conflict and it destroys me inside… sometimes outside as well, it feels like madness. My insecurities make themselves known, while the rest of me tries desperately to correct them. Mainly I’m afraid of being weak. For some reason I always thought that if I was stronger than those around me then I wouldn’t fear their judgement. This fear comes out every so often and makes me look and feel insane as I try to resist but end up turning into someone else entirely as I end up punching something till my knuckles bleed with a voice in my head that won’t stop telling me “you are weak” that later turns into “you’re not strong enough. is this all you can handle? there hasn’t been enough blood yet” it feels like someone else is in my head, but it still feels like it’s me. I’m not sure how exactly to explain this but it’s something that scares me a little. The rage it causes is so intense it almost hurts. Is this my shadow? how do I make it stop?


My shadow is a 10 foot male in a black hoodie,black sweat pants and black shoes. His
Personality is daring, mystical, and an awesome creature when
He appears and speaks in a deeper version of me..
FYI he Carries a Bassas Emerald tipped, onyx bladed author


Sorry I ment a “syith”@Emerald


I’ve been dealing with the shadow for yearrrrsss and couldn’t seen to figure out what it was I though I was cursed until I started reading until the Aha moment came to me,I couldn’t understand why I was repeating the same relationships patterns coming into the same people over and over no matter where I moved what I did or how I did it ,the same person was showing up.I finally realized that the repulsion that I had for them was in myself,and I did not accept myself so if I didn’t except myself how could I accept them, I am working on it till this day.I have it intensely with family friends friends of friends even sometimes strangers. I guess I was very dense and had no idea .I’m working on it .I don’t give them a reaction. I simply give them a response of my Core being ,chosen not to fight anymore or get defensive i simply have nonreactive demeanor it is what it is type of thing and that’s exactly what I tell them.


I am very interested in what you spoke about. I am constantly hiding parts of me because it has been deemed mean or bossy. I hide from the world and I have changed to fit everyone around me so much that I really have no idea who I am. Thank you for this post it helps a lot…I love the badass tagline never change it.


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