Most of us have a part, or a side, of ourselves which we like to keep secret. This part of ourselves which we hide in our daily life – or we may not even be aware of yet - is referred to as our ‘shadow self’, a term coined by depth psychologist Carl Jung. Our shadow often develops in childhood as a response to our environment and, throughout our adult life, we keep certain parts of ourselves hidden in fear of not being accepted, but in the process, we end up exiling these parts. As a result, our shadows tend to show up in our lives as negative self-talk and self-sabotage. Sound familiar?
What Is Shadow Work?
Your shadow self isn’t your ‘dark side’, or a part of you which is ‘bad’. Your shadow side develops primitively and instinctively as a survival mechanism to protect us from the overwhelming negative emotions associated with ongoing past traumas or a specific traumatic event. They’re closely linked to the desires of our inner child.
Ultimately, shadow work helps us uncover these repressed feelings, thoughts and memories so we can accept and heal our shadow, bringing it into the light. Integrating these parts back into our conscious life helps us to live more fully.
Ignoring your shadow can have serious consequences on your personal relationships, professional life, and overall happiness and wellbeing. Without engaging in shadow work, you’ll find yourself in the same self-destructive patterns over and over again, with no clear path out. And you’ll find it harder to achieve your goals and live a life of fulfilment.
How do I start Shadow Work?
There are many different methods for shadow work, however journaling is a powerful practice which you can start immediately and help you recognise the parts of yourself which need healing. We’ve developed 20 shadow work journal prompts below to get you started. These journal prompts are designed to get you to really dig deep - as with any deep, reflective experience, they’re not intended to be comfortable, and may well be quite challenging; they’re meant to be. Set aside a specific time each day to go through these prompts, allowing space for revelation. The key to shadow work is to have compassion for yourself and to sit with your feelings without judgment. You’ll want to use a pen and paper for these prompts so you can really let your thoughts flow and connect from your body to the page.
20 Shadow Work Prompts For Inner Healing
- How do you think other people would describe you? How do you feel about that?
- What are the parts of yourself that you try to hide from others?
- What are your biggest triggers? Why do these things bother you?
- What was your life like as a child?
- What aspects of yourself would you like to improve? Why?
- What values did your parents have, and do you hold those same values?
- In what ways do you feel guilty? Why?
- Who has the most influence over you? Is that healthy?
- What makes you feel empty? How do you tend to fill that void?
- What emotions are you afraid to show others? Do you hide certain feelings?
- Who has hurt you the most in your life? Write them a detailed letter explaining your true thoughts and feelings about how they hurt you.
- When have you been self-sabotaging or destructive in your life? Explore what triggered your behaviour.
- With whom or in which situations do you find yourself slipping on a mask or embodying a different persona?
- Think about your friendships. Which ones make you feel safe, secure, and loved? Do you have any in which you feel isolated, pressured, or otherwise uncomfortable?
- Negative traits tend to develop in childhood as a defence mechanism. They’re useful at the time, but not as adults. List your least desirable traits.
- Which relationships in your life are no longer serving you?
- What was a problem you faced in childhood, and how does it affect you today?
- What have you not forgiven yourself for?
- What does failure mean to you, and how do you face it?
- What truths in your life do you tend to ignore?
Reflecting on these shadow work prompts can definitely be challenging and confronting, but as they say, the best things in life don't come easy. Taking the time to explore this side of yourself, and taking the necessary steps to heal your shadow self, are essential steps to growth and achieving a life of fulfilment.