We all have a shadow side, a part of ourselves that we hide away from others out of fear of shame. We might refer to this as our dark side or hidden side, it is unconscious in nature.
This aspect of our being contains all of the negative traits, habits, and tendencies which we suppress in order to seem like ‘good people. It also contains positive attributes which we are hesitant to show or express due to how others might respond.
How this dark hidden side doesn’t simply cease to exist if we ignore it, instead it manifests in more subtle ways. Through projection, deception, passive aggression, unhealthy habits, and a general lack of authenticity.
In this post, I want to explore what shadow work is, provide journal prompts you can get started with today, and share guidance on how you can go deeper with your practice.
What is shadow work?
The shadow self or shadow side is a concept that was coined by psychoanalyst Carl Jung, he describes this as the unconscious parts of the personality that our conscious ego doesn’t want to identify in itself.
Shadow work is the practice of acknowledging these hidden aspects of our psyche so that we can bring them to light. When we work with the shadow rather than pretending it doesn’t exist, we bring increased clarity and peace to all areas of our lives.
So shadow work is any practice that brings these hidden unconscious aspects into awareness. Meditation can be a form of shadow work, so can mindfulness, and traditional therapy. Anytime we confront ourselves honestly, we get to know and integrate the shadow.
Shadow work journaling
Journaling is one of the most powerful shadow work exercises because it unites both our conscious and unconscious minds.
When we get into the flow of journaling we don’t just express things that are obvious to the conscious mind but start to go beyond it. We can uncover our unconscious focuses, themes, and dilemmas.
Journaling is also a great tool because it allows us to see our work in front of us in physical form. Over time we can start to see patterns in our way of thinking, and identify areas we’d like to change.
Shadow work prompts
Who am I (beyond labels)
What aspect of myself do I need to face today
What does my inner child need to hear
I forgive myself for
When I look in the mirror I see
What aspect of myself do I hide from others
When I am triggered I react by
My goals are usually motivated by
I heal my masculinity by forgiving my father for
I heal my feminine by forgiving my mother for
In relationships I avoid
My biggest wound is
How do I deal with the collective shadow
I feel most tense when
I feel most aligned when
I feel most creative when I
I feel most judged when
A hobby/interest I’d like to return to is
If my body could speak it would say
What do I need to let go of today
I’m most excited for
How to do a shadow work prompt
Journal prompt: write the journal prompt at the top of the page.
Initial response: write your initial responses/resistance to this prompt.
Reflection: reflect on your answers.
I recommend doing these shadow work prompts every few days or even every week. Shadow work is quite powerful and we might need extra time to integrate what we have learned and truly reflect.
The key is to be completely honest with yourself, don’t try to censor or structure your answers in a particular way. You want to let go of conscious control and just let the words flow naturally. If privacy is a concern you can follow these prompts in a password-protected document.
Looking back over your prompts over the course of several weeks or a month, check-in and see if you can notice any common themes or patterns.
How to go deeper with shadow work
Alongside journaling, there are other ways you delve deeper into your shadow.
Inner child work
The inner child is the aspect of our psyche that retains the awe, playfulness, and innocence we had as children; it also encompasses the wounds that we have carried over from childhood.
Inner child work is intricately linked with shadow work because a lot of our shadow self develops during the first major phase in childhood where we gain awareness of ourselves and others, we form an ‘ego’.
We internalize certain expectations from our family units, the media, religion, culture, etc. We learn which parts of ourselves it is good (safe) to express and which parts are bad (unsafe) to express.
Confronting the ego
The shadow, inner child, and ego are all connected as well; you’re going to find that they often come as one or are difficult to separate. The ego is the idea we hold of ourselves and carry through the world, it encompasses our personality or identity.
When we hear the term ego there is often a heavily negative connotation. This is because we might use the term egoic to refer to behaviors that are self-serving, selfish, and unaware, behaviors that generally cause harm.
However the ego itself isn’t a negative construction, it’s more so functions like a glue that keeps us operating in the world effectively. Without an idea of who we are or what we stand for, it would be very difficult to do anything practical on a day to day at all.
However the ego can become inflated, and there are negative aspects of ego (aspects that perpetuate harm). This is where we might want to work with our ego and integrate it.
Notice the times when you feel unheard, unsafe, or unseen. How do you react? What part of you feels defensive? What part of you wants to lash out? What aspect of you is operating past programming rather than present awareness?
When we notice the ego arising in us in this way, we can shine consciousness on it. We can sit with it and inquire within, get an idea of why we are feeling this way, and shift our actions in a way that is more helpful and constructive rather than destructive.
When we practice shadow work we gain a clearer view of ourselves and others. We might begin to notice that certain relationships/relationship dynamics are no longer as healthy/helpful as they once were.
This is where setting new boundaries will be helpful. Notice which dynamics are draining you, hindering your growth, and where you might want to tighten things up a bit.
Boundaries aren’t about how other people act per se, but the standard we wish to set for ourselves and how our actions/words/energy align with this. Setting boundaries requires that we grow into the type of person who stands by certain principles.
Ask yourself what boundaries you have set in the past. Chances are it will be difficult to pinpoint times where you have set clear and strong boundaries. Identify the times you have set flimsy or half-hearted boundaries and work from there.
Ask yourself what boundaries you’d like to set moving forward. What are your values? How would you like to better stick to these?
Be sure to balance shadow work with other types of exploration, don’t get too bogged down in constantly searching out the shadow. One of the best ways to create balance in our lives is to make space for all sides of ourselves, to do the work but also just be.