Shadow work should always be coupled to meditation. Shadow work is the practice done after the meditation has completed. Shadow work will analyze the negative thoughts and integrate them into your consciousness. As most people have figured out, negative thoughts play in your subconscious and impair your decision-making ability. This phenomenon is called subconscious sabotage.
To help illustrate this work, I will use and example from my life. I have always had trouble talking to people and making friends. My shadow work has revolved around improving this area of my life.
Many times I would sit down to meditate and the thought “No one likes me” or some variation would arise repeatedly. I could not shake the thought, and it would ruin my meditations. I realized if I do not actively analyze this thought I will never be able to meditate.
I first started working on my feelings of low self-worth in therapy. Therapy can be very helpful when a person begins shadow work. Frequently, logic can not outweigh and suppress negative thoughts. A third party can give an objective view of the situation.
Unfortunately, everyone cannot afford therapy. In the event, a person cannot afford therapy the internet can be a great tool. I would recommend websites such as Psychology Today, Actualized.com, and The school of life. Both are secular sites that base advice on psychology and philosophy. They all do an excellent job of giving a reader or listener enough information to do the further searching.
If a person is religious, they can use advice from their church, synagogue, or mosque. However, make sure psychology and the religion are the bases for the teachings. Personal advice that only amounts to believe harder is not sufficient. There needs to be an actual action plan given to dig deeper into an issue and tangible solutions to fix the problem. An excellent resource for Christians that combines psychology and Christianity is Spiritual Living Center Atlanta. They have a youtube channel with plenty of free information for self-help.
For me, I realized through an in-depth study of psychology, that the cause of my issues with not feeling sufficient stems from being considered a nerd in school. I was a very smart child, but I could not make friends. People used to say I was stuck up and talked about things that were not interesting. I internalized these criticisms.
Most people would tell you to stop there, at understanding the cause. However, if you do, you will end up blaming your childhood or society for everything. You have to know an event or series of events from your past caused the thoughts. Since your past caused your thoughts, then they are not integral to you. You can release these thoughts and the behaviors caused by your thoughts and not fundamentally change who you are.
The next step is shadow work is to understand how a negative thought causes negative behavior. Decide that you want to improve your life in a particular manner and watch which behaviors advance or retard your agenda. You have to determine when you begin to act in a way that is not conducive to reaching a goal.
For me, I wanted to make more friends, specifically land a girlfriend. I started joining a ton of meetup groups. You will find this type of behavior in many self-improvers, compulsive, yet theoretically, helpful activity to solve a problem. I was going to a new meetup every night. If I did not go to a meetup, I felt guilty because I felt I was not working on my problem.
I also noticed even though I was going to numerous meetups; I was not making new friends. I realized that I am subconsciously sabotaging possible relationships. I also had unrealistic goals for my ideal social life. I thought I should be Zack Morris, the fictional character from Saved by the Bell. I should have everyone in school giving my high-fives. Every girl you meet should be eating from my hand. These ideas I mostly got from fictional characters in movies.
I had to realize that due to my past I will never be the most popular person in the world. I am very guarded because the result of my life experiences led me to believe I would not be accepted. I sabotaged relationships because I did not feel those people were safe. It all began to make sense.
This realization was a huge step, yet it was not the end. If you stop there, you will just accept yourself with no changes. The goal is to integrate the negative aspects of your personality. You still want to achieve a goal you just have to make sure it is a realistic goal and fits with the person that you are natural.
I am still trying to build relationships, romantic and platonic. Now I concentrate on a few groups that I enjoy. I build my relationships over time now. Instead of putting on a mask that I think everyone will like, I am genuinely myself. When you expose yourself and become vulnerable, you will need to put small pieces out there to prove to yourself that you are safe. Once you feel comfortable, you will put more of yourself at risk. I had to accept that this will take time. My goal now is to have a few close friends, not being popular.
That is a real progression in shadow work. You accept who you are naturally and work with yourself. You can still improve; you just do it in a self-loving way. Also, you realize that you do not need to fit into an external ideal.