3-2-1 Shadow Process

“Dissociation proceeds from 1st-person to 2nd-person to 3rd-person: 1-2-3. The reversal of dissociation thus goes from 3 to 2 to 1. Hence, the 3-2-1 process. We summarize this process as Face it (3), Talk to it (2), and finally, Be it (1).”

– Diane Musho Hamilton

Kumi Yamashita: Origami Shadow Art

What follows is an excerpt (with some sections re-worked) from the 2008 book, Integral Life Practice. Shadow processing is a method of therapy that uses meditation and/or journaling to eliminate real or perceived pathologies. It is the most basic and valuable form of this therapy that we have found to date. Enjoy.

3-2-1 Shadow Process

Choose what you want to work with. It’s often easier to begin with a person with whom you have some difficulty (e.g., lover, friend, boss, family member). This person may irritate, disturb, annoy, or upset you. Or maybe you feel attracted to, obsessed with, infatuated with, or possessive about this person. In any case, choose someone with whom you have a strong emotional charge, whether positive or negative. Alternately, pick a dream image or a body sensation that distracts you or otherwise causes you to fixate on it. This can also be positive or negative.

You can recognize shadow in two ways. Shadow material either:

  1. Makes you negatively hypersensitive, easily triggered, reactive, irritated, angry, hurt, upset. It may keep coming up as a negative emotional tone or bad mood that pervades your life.
  2. Makes you positively hypersensitive, easily infatuated, possessive, obsessed, overly attracted, or perhaps it becomes an ongoing idealization that structures your motivations or mood.

3: Face It

Now, imagine this person or observe the disturbance very closely, and then, using a journal to write in or an empty chair to talk to, describe the person, situation, image or sensation in vivid detail using 3rd-person pronouns such as “he,” “him,” “she,” “her,” “they,” “their,” “it,” or “its.” This is your opportunity to fully explore your experience of the disturbance, particularly what it is that bothers you about it. Take this opportunity to “let it out.” The person you are describing will never see this. Don’t try to use skillful language or say the right thing. Don’t “sugar coat” or minimize anything – describe it as fully and in as much detail as possible.

2: Talk to It

Begin an imaginary dialogue with this object or person. Speak in 2nd-person pronouns like “you” and “yours”. Here is your opportunity to enter into a relationship with the disturbance, so talk directly to this person or image as if he or she were actually there in the room with you. Tell them what bothers you about them. Ask them questions such as “Why are you doing this to me?” “What do you want from me?” “What are you trying to show me?” “What do you have to teach me?” Then, allow them to respond. Imagine what their response to these questions would be and either speak the imaginary responses out loud write them down in your journal. Allow yourself to be surprised by what emerges.

1: Be It

Now, writing or speaking in 1st-person, using pronouns like “I,” “me,” and “mine,” be this person, image or sensation. See the world, including yourself, from the perspective of the disturbance. Allow yourself to discover not only your similarities, but how you really are one and the same. Take on the qualities that either annoy or fascinate you. Embody the traits you described while “Facing It” in step 2. Make a statement of identification with this disturbance, ““I am__________,”  “I am angry,” “I am jealous,” “I am radiant.” This may feel wrong or awkward, and it should. The traits you are taking on are the traits that you have been denying in yourself. They’re the traits that your psyche has been working so hard to keep in shadow.

To complete the process, gently become aware of the disowned qualities in yourself. Don’t just see the world from this perspective, but feel this previously excluded feeling until it resonates as your own. Experience the part of you that is this very trait. Avoid staying in your head and making the process abstract or conceptual: just be it. Become aware of the previously disowned shadow reintegrating into your body, your memory, your emotions, your subtle energies. This frees up the attention that was spent on keeping this shadow behind you or in denial.


You’ll know that the process has worked because you may feel lighter, more peaceful, more open or relaxed. It may make you feel high or giddy. Allow yourself to be gentle with your newly-reintegrated self over the next week or so. You may experience a newfound joy in the degree to which you are participating in life. Always be present, do the work, and move on.

1-Minute Module: 3-2-1 Shadow Process

You can do the 3-2-1 process anytime you need it. Two particularly useful times are right when you wake up in the morning and just before going to bed at night. Once you know 3-2-1 it only takes a minute to do the process for anything that might be disturbing you.

Morning: First thing in the morning (before getting out of bed) review your last dream and identify any person or object with an emotional charge. Face that person or object by holding it in mind. Then talk to that person or object (or resonate with it, just feeling what it would be like to be face to face). Finally, be that person or object by taking its perspective. For the sake of this exercise, there is no need to write anything out — you can go through the whole process right in your own mind.

Evening: Last thing before going to bed, choose a person who either disturbed or attracted you during the day. In your mind, face him or her, and then be him or her (as described above).

Again, you can do the 3-2-1 process quietly by yourself, any time you need it, day or night.

– from Integral Life Practice – (Wilber, Patten, Leonard, Morelli, 2008)


About Joran Slane Oppelt

Author, Musician, Interfaith Minister, Chaplain, Public Speaker, Event Producer, Marketing Professional, Husband, Father - Not necessarily in that order. Follow me on Twitter @joranslane. View all posts by Joran Slane Oppelt

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