Accepting the Shadow: A Guide to Expressing Your Dark Emotions

Accepting the Shadow: A Guide to Expressing Your Dark Emotions

Our tendency is to avoid experiencing our dark emotions. We hide our fears. We medicate our despair. We suppress our grief. The consequences of these actions are negative. We develop chronic health problems. We start abusing drugs. We become obsessed with shopping. But there is a different way. Miriam Greenspan has developed the seven steps of emotional alchemy. This process helps us allow our dark emotions to be expressed. Here are her steps along with examples of how to accept and transform your grief.

  • Intention Greenspan defines intention as a type of will “…by which the mind, heart and spirit are engaged and focused” . Intention means you are committed to processing your dark emotions. It means you aren’t looking for a quick fix. If you’re grieving over a lost relationship, your intention may be to feel all your feelings even if you’d rather medicate yourself.
  • Affirmation This step is about changing your response to dark emotions. It’s about embracing them. Instead of feeling that you don’t like your fear, believe that it has something to teach you. Greenspan states that, “In re-visioning and reframing the power of grief, fear, and despair we come to think of them not as obstacles or enemies but as guides to spiritual transformation”
  • The Body The body speaks the pain of the heart. You must listen to what your emotional body is saying. Greenspan argues that, “Talking about feelings is not the same as experiencing them” . First learn to name your emotions. Are you sad? Frustrated? Worried? To heal your emotions you must first know them. Then listen to what your body is saying. If your back hurts, are you feeling unsupported? If you have migraines, are you feeling overwhelmed? The body gives clues about what you are feeling. Let the feelings talk.
  • Contextualization Greenspan writes that, “…you have to be acquainted with the story you are currently telling about your emotional suffering and recontextualize it in a broader social, cultural, global or cosmic context” . Is the pain you feel in relationships attributed to your parent’s divorce? Is your fear of financial failure related to your Grandparent’s experience of the depression? Is your fear of physical assault related to the civil war you left when you immigrated to Canada? We are shaped by the events around us. A piece of our own mystery is found in the context that surrounds us.
  • Nonaction It is vital to experience your emotions without reacting to them. Greenspan states that, “When you can tolerate the feelings of grief, fear or despair in the body without acting prematurely to suppress it, you are practicing the way of nonaction” . Impulsively acting out our emotions is destructive. If we have anger, we might yell. If we have fear, we might hide from it. If we have despair, we might medicate it. These actions may cause us to act carelessly and regret it. Sitting with emotions requires patience and tolerance.
  • Social Action and Spiritual Service This action is motivated for the greater good. Greenspan writes that, “In the way of action, we find an action that uses the energy of the emotion with the intention of transformation” . We work in service to ourselves or others. If we feel grief, we find ways to support others in grief. If we are afraid, we find ways to act in courage. Our actions are for a higher purpose.
  • Surrender This final step is about emotional flow. Greenspan states that, “Emotional energy in a state of flow moves automatically in the direction of healing, renewal, harmony and transformation”. Surrender can happen in multiple ways. For example, if you are afraid, you can write about it. You can also pray for courage. You might also want to do yoga with the intention of releasing tension from the body. Another way is using humor to lighten the burden.

We need not be afraid of our dark emotions. They are not enemies but rather guides to point us in the direction to our healing.


  • Greenspan, M. Healing Through the Dark Emotions. Shambhala: Boston or London.
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