Every zodiac sign has its star qualities. Think: Capricorn’s powerful leadership, Gemini’s go-with-the-flow flexibility, and Aries’s self-starter energy, to name just a few. As with most things, though, the signs are multidimensional; each has its own set of less endearing traits, too, like Aquarius’s detachment and Libra’s people-pleasing. In both astrology and psychology, these not-so-positive traits (ones that you may unconsciously hide away) make up your shadow self.
Because of the ways we naturally tend to repress—rather than acknowledge—our shadow selves, the traits they encompass can hold us back from achieving our full potential. That’s where self-reflection and shadow work comes into play, as a means to cultivate a better understanding of your dark side and learn to integrate and even embrace it. Though you can do this work for any shadow side you might identify within yourself, the most common dark side of your zodiac sign can be a helpful jumping-off point for a foray into shadow work.
What, exactly, is a shadow self or shadow side?
Duality has been mythologized: light and darkness, good versus evil. Clearly, humanity loves a good polarity. Are you the friend that tends to project their perfectionism á la criticism toward others? Or, maybe you tend to fight for control, and it typically ends in a whole lot of drama. If you were to ask psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who originally developed the idea of the shadow self in the 1940s, he’d probably call these pesky quirks your shadow qualities.
“The shadow self represents the part of our personal psyche that often remains just outside of our consciousness, especially without intentional work,” says therapist Jor-El Caraballo, LMHC, author of The Shadow Work Workbook. “If the persona represents the face that we like to show to the world—aka our outward personality—then the shadow represents the parts that we hide and repress from others and even ourselves.”
“The shadow self represents the part of our personal psyche that often remains just outside of our consciousness, especially without intentional work.” —Jor-El Caraballo, LMHC, therapist
In astrology, the shadow concept is no different. Each zodiac archetype is accompanied by both strengths (light qualities) and weaknesses (dark or shadow qualities)—and typically, the former can actually become the latter when they’re taken too far or misconstrued. For example, Leo’s self-assuredness, while great in scenarios demanding of confidence, can easily turn into a war over their ego when expressed in excess. And Aquarius, though a humanitarian and community-builder at heart, tends to struggle with emotional awareness in close relationships.
What is shadow work?
Because we’re all naturally complex and contain a multitude of traits that often mask our shadows, mental-health experts like Caraballo suggest unearthing your dark side via shadow work, which is basically bringing your shadow self into the light. “Jung believed that working to accept the shadow parts [of ourselves] allows us the ability to integrate them and live alongside the shadow, reducing psychological tension and conflict,” says Caraballo.
Typically, shadow work can look like journaling, mirror work, or even dream journaling to identify and confront your shadow self and learn about the less-desirable tendencies that accompany it. But working with your energy centers, or chakras, can also help establish a sense of equilibrium between your light and dark traits.
“Within our chakras, experiences we [have] in our life and lifetimes before accumulate,” says medium and past-lives progression therapist Gaia Chinniah. And over time, these formative experiences layer onto each other, trapping beneath them our shadow selves, she says: “These oppositional forces cause us to act, behave, emote, react, respond, and even recreate past experiences.”
Unpacking the layers of previous experience that create and inform your shadow sides is the only way to fully understand the reason behind your behaviors in the present. Even so, the goal of shadow work isn’t to completely strip away these lesser-loved traits, as much as it is to become aware of them. “Doing shadow work can help us learn to accept ourselves more fully and make choices that help us self-actualize and live with more self-compassion,” says Caraballo.
Understanding the shadows that are typical for your zodiac sign can help you confront the dark sides that may be especially inherent to your personality. Below, astrologers break down the shadow side of each zodiac sign and how to practice shadow work accordingly.
How every zodiac sign can practice shadow work, according to astrologers
Fast-paced Aries is known for taking leaps without necessarily thinking things through ahead of time. They could benefit from acknowledging their shadow tendency toward haste through mindfulness meditation. “Setting the intention to examine the shadow part of the self without judgment and ego can be a powerful counter to their naturally impulsive side,” says astrologer Angel Dawn.
The stubbornness of a Taurus isn’t to be underestimated—they’re unwavering in their beliefs and won’t back down on something that truly matters to them. Addressing and combating these bullish ways may require them to practice active-listening and empathy exercises. “By opening themselves up to different perspectives, they can learn to be more adaptable and understanding,” says astrologer Pix Wilder.
Let’s be honest: Chatty Gemini always has something to say—and that’s just one of their strong suits. But these curious air signs tend to rank logic over emotions (sometimes to a fault), which is why Wilder and Dawn suggest journaling as a route to shadow work for this zodiac sign. “Gemini can benefit from journaling to more deeply explore their thoughts and feelings, helping them to understand and integrate their various aspects,” says Wilder.
Sure, Cancer has a reputation for being compassionate and loving, but being everyone’s caretaker can take a toll on their mental health and self-image. “Your dependable nature requires occasionally turning some attention toward yourself,” says Chinniah, of Cancer.
The best way to integrate your people-pleasing tendency, according to Dawn? Primal screaming. “Becoming more aware of repressed feelings and releasing them can be profoundly helpful,” she says.
Leo holds their head high and thrives in any performance with an audience. But sometimes, Dawn says, their pride can stand in the way of the success they might achieve by yielding to others every now and then. Wilder says that volunteering or doing acts of service for others are great humility exercises to keep Leo’s ego in check. “By focusing on the needs of others, they can gain a more balanced perspective on their ego and self-worth,” she says.
Virgo can use shadow work to unpack their tendency to lament about what could have been or should be, says Chinniah. There’s no perfect life path or outcome, and it’s important for Virgo to remember that harping on perfection is only bound to leave them feeling worse. “Through mindfulness and self-compassion exercises, they can learn to let go of their self-critical tendencies,” says Wilder.
Libra strives for balance, but their agreeable nature can sometimes prompt them to over-compromise or sacrifice in the name of someone else. Wilder says it’ll do the air sign good to explore their own desires. “By journaling or engaging in deep self-reflection, they can gain a better understanding of their motivations and develop a stronger sense of self,” she says. Libra sometimes needs the reminder that being diplomatic includes addressing their needs, too.
There are few things spicier than a Scorpio’s passion, which can easily turn volatile when jealousy or over-competitiveness comes into play. That’s why Chinniah says shadow work for a Scorpio will involve the recognition that their own success doesn’t rely on the failure of others.
In turn, practicing vulnerability and openness with others will be essential for Scorpio, says Wilder, who adds that honest communication will help them deepen connections with others.
Sagittarius doesn’t like to be held back, and their hyper-independence, according to Dawn, might just be the shadow self that they need to uncover. Spending time outdoors with other like-minded individuals or joining talk circles can be rejuvenating and liberating for this sign, says Dawn. Learning how to empathize and collaborate with others is a great way for them to foster a better sense of community while tamping down on their typical desire to go it alone.
External validation (like status and prestige) can often hold Capricorn back from nourishing their inner world. “Cultivate your ability to recognize yourself for who you are and what you want,” says Chiannah of the zodiac’s goats. Re-upping a self-care ritual is one way for Capricorn to do just that. Wilder suggests they focus on practicing self-compassion and making it a habit to rest and recharge.
Aquarius is a natural at psychoanalyzing everything—including their feelings. So, it’s no surprise that their shadow work should center around healing their emotional aloofness.
“Group therapeutic circles or retreats, both in-person or online, can be a way for Aquarius to find support with other like-minded individuals,” says Dawn. These programs typically encourage participants to tune into their emotions, which is a route for Aquarius to cultivate emotional awareness and better serve those around them.
Pisces has an untamed sense of wonder and imagination, which can occasionally lead them astray from their goals. In order to get back in touch with their intuition and purpose, it may be helpful for them to practice dream work. “Writing down dreams and their symbolism after waking up and intuitively working with the potential meanings can be a way to explore the darker subconscious while strengthening the intuition,” says Dawn.