It took me a while to understand the difference between shadow work and light work healing. This year, after a fantastic guest post on the subject, I became curious! And so, I began looking for books about shadow work, to help deepen my own understanding.
At the same time, I wanted to talk about the lesser known ones through this post. They brought enormous value to my relation with my shadow self, and I hope they help you too!
From overcoming addiction, to learning how to fight fair in relationships; from grieving death, to being prepared for it; there’s a good mix of emotions covered in each of the recommendations below.
Alongside reading these books, I highly recommend trying out these self-reflecting questions to deepen your understanding of your shadow self.
#1 – Healing through the Dark Emotions by Miriam Greenspan
Miriam’s book made my heart explode open (and waterworks flow) while reading her personal narratives around child loss. Her story is one of great strength and perseverance.
But don’t get me wrong, it’s not limited to maternity. That was just one small yet powerful angle to break the ice on a much deeper subject.
Embracing our dark emotions.
And it really puts things into perspective – how can you trust the very God that stands quiet as you suffer personal loss?
This is a bold writing that challenges many psychiatric theories, written by a psychiatrist herself! And I love her spiritual reflections, incorporating ‘unverified’ topics like the dark night of the soul and enlightenment.
Through this book, Miriam introduces her readers to the term emotional alchemy – the ability to transcend our emotions, by working through them. And in that, she talks about rebuilding your faith. Her idea is to stay open to the doubts and work through them into a healthier spiritual life.
Of the many tools and tips provided in this book, I like her simplified acronym, ABS.
To? The emotions in your body, in order to experience healing fully.
In a world where we hide emotions and don’t really know how to deal with grief or a lost sense of identity, Miriam teaches us of vulnerability. All gently yet boldly explored through many real-life stories and her clinical work.
Takeaway: This is one of the books about shadow work that teaches us how to observe and navigate through our emotion-phobic culture. The author’s strength is in subjects of grief and how to hold faith in testing times, without losing sight of your spiritual journey.
#2 – In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté
We all have some form of addiction.
This book was eye-opening and a big reality check – exploring the darkness of human vices. It begins as a reflection on dozens of cases from Dr Maté’s clinical work in Vancouver. And in no time, meshes into his personal accounts and self-reflections about his addictions. And in effect, yours!
Maté makes you realize that even if you don’t have a drug or alcohol addiction, you could be a workaholic, shopaholic or sugar addict. And that’s no better. Every addiction is a form of escapism from one’s shadow self.
This book is another magnificent writing that really works through the psychology of patients. And it also gives you a candid insight on the nature of therapy work behind closed doors.
Takeaway: Of course this is perfect for anyone overcoming a personal addiction. And it is also essential to read for anyone that is supporting a loved one through their addictions. It also teaches you compassion and helps open your mind, giving you a chance to self-reflect and overcome your own addictive behaviors.
#3 – Radical Compassion by Tara Brach
This was one of the books that kept coming back to me, through Instagram posts, and so I finally ended up buying the audiobook.
Compassion has been a keyword in my journey this year, and the title compelled me to give this book a chance. And why I immediately liked it right off the bat, was because Tara Brach shares Buddhist teachings in a modern way, to help deepen our compassion.
Radical compassion talks about a four-step process, with an acronym RAIN, to build our compassion muscles. This acronym stands for –
As you can tell, each step allows us to expose ourselves to dark emotions like anger, resentment, bitterness and so on. We aren’t being told to suppress or shame ourselves for feeling a certain way. This is the fundamental of any form of shadow work.
At the end of every chapter, she walks you through beautiful meditations on each of the four steps. That’s why I recommend the audiobook version!
Though the idea of pausing and ‘thinking before we speak’ isn’t new, when you use her formula to practice RAIN, it becomes more doable.
Takeaway: I highly recommend reading Tara’s book for anyone that might feel like their emotions take over them and they lose sight of themselves, or that need to work deeper on self-love and compassion towards oneself as well as those around.
#4 – Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
I read this book nearly 5 years ago, long before my spiritual journey started. And yet, it felt as if it were preparing me for the ultimate Truth, much in advance.
Being Mortal is written by a renowned surgeon and writer. It talks about the taboo topic, death. His writing is revolutionary, in that it breaks many of our bubbles around the notion of dying through the beautiful mashup of science and philosophy.
And with it, come a large number of self-reflecting questions; all leading to one bigger question – what quality of life are you living, so that you’re ready to die when it ends?
But what – why would anyone want to read about such a morbid subject? Because this is one of the key books about shadow work that address our biggest fear as humans. Dying.
We cannot understand life, until we prepare ourselves for death. And we haven’t done our true shadow work until we begin to walk on this path.
Takeaway: If the topic of dying and death makes you uncomfortable, I would recommend starting with Being Mortal. It will open your eyes.
#5 – The Dance of Connection by Harriet Lerner
I had mixed feelings about this book, because unlike the other books, there weren’t really any fancy acronyms or tools – just simple story-telling and case study discussions. But it sat with me months after reading it.
And I remember even replaying one of her stories in my moments of anger, recently! So that’s why, it makes a show here after all.
The Dance of Connection is a perfect introduction on how to channel one’s shadow emotions into something more constructive. Not only does it discuss conflict management in friendships and marriages, there are stories that reflect on parent-child dynamics, amongst other things.
Feeling hurt translates into many emotions – anger and sadness being a few of them. However, growing up, we’re taught to look at these as taboo.
So having grown up, it’s high time we learn how to express ourselves when we’re feeling hurt. Without hurting another person.
Takeaway: This is one of the simpler and shorter books about shadow work that will give you a new lens for your day-to-day conflicts. I recommend reading this if you, obviously, want to be more fun to have an argument with.
As you explore the idea of normalizing emotions like anger and grief, it becomes easier to embrace our lesser ‘approved’ side. For instance, anger isn’t a big deal anymore, and it’s completely fine if you take ‘too much time’ to overcome a loss.
We cannot embody the divinity, the Light within us, until we learn to embrace our darkness. And in this, we can transmute it to attain higher levels of self-awareness.
Let me know if you have other suggestions, or enjoy reading any of these books about shadow work. I’d love to know!
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