Ever heard about shadow work? When you are hearing it for the first time, it may conjure up a scene straight out of spy movies or mystery novels in which the protagonist is tailing the suspect. This shadow work is no less important.
Just like a detective shadows the suspect to gather information, you are shadowing your own subconscious mind to dig up information that is lying hidden or dormant in the deep corners of your mind. Shadow work in the context of psychology and personal development is a tool used to weed out unwanted thoughts and feelings from your own mind.
Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded the branch of analytical psychology. In Jungian psychology, “shadow self” refers to “the unconscious parts of the personality that our conscious ego doesn’t want to identify in itself”.
Shadow work involves revealing these hidden aspects of personality and taking action to eliminate undesirable ones. The best thing about shadow work is that you can do it on your own.
Interested? Excited? Read on to learn more about shadow work and how you can rediscover your true self. The process doesn’t end there. You can continue to work with what you discover and become the person you always wanted to be. This article lists 75 shadow work journal prompts to help you get there.
A short intro to the shadow self
The “shadow self” is a term coined by the famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung to describe the part of the mind that we hide or repress unknowingly because it houses all the traits and qualities that we are ashamed of and not comfortable with.
Though the “shadow self” remains hidden or repressed, it is not harmless by any stretch of the imagination. These traits may not come out in the open like our other behavior patterns, but they will continue to influence our thoughts, decisions, and actions, without even us realizing it.
All of us have a “shadow self”, some of it negative and some even positive. It mostly consists of suppressed desires and emotions, ignored and underdeveloped qualities, and unrecognized aspects of ourselves.
The “shadow self” is often considered dark as that is usually the predominant character of the traits we want to repress. Such as greed, hatred, anger, and jealousy. But it can also be positive in nature like intuition, creativity, and sexuality.
These traits turn into shadows because we feel the need to suppress them or deny their presence for some reason or the other. As long as they remain in shadows, they gain a negative or dark hue. On the other hand, when they are out in the open and you are ready to face them head-on, the same characteristics can become positive or beneficial.
The “shadow self” is not altogether a bad thing or something that you should fear or detest. If used in the right way, it can become the best tool to gain valuable insight into our own subconscious minds and to help ourselves heal and progress in life.
What is shadow work?
Shadow work is all about digging deep into the mind and finding the shadow self. It also involves facing or confronting the shadow, trying to understand its existence, and integrating the traits into your conscious mind. The success of shadow work depends on your ability to figure out why these traits turned into shadows in the first place.
Typically, delving deep into the mind, discovering hidden aspects, and resolving issues is the forte of a psychologist or psychoanalyst. However, shadow work is a process that all of us can handle on our own if we have the right tools available. That is the beauty and advantage of shadow work.
Shadow work involves diving deep into the subconscious mind, discovering repressed thoughts, feelings, and memories, and dealing with them the right way so that they no longer remain in the shadows and become part of the conscious mind.
Often these aspects about ourselves turn into shadows because of some undesirable incident in the past. We are hurt emotionally by it and instead of dealing with emotions, the whole incident and the accompanying emotional baggage are swept under the carpet. It will remain hidden from view but create troubles at every available opportunity.
Discovering the shadow self is the best opportunity to heal the emotional trauma associated with the incident. Once the past wound is healed, the same shadow trait can be turned into something beneficial and can become part of our character and stored in the conscious mind. And, this is the goal of shadow work.
A guide to shadow work
“The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and represents a tight passage, a narrow door, whose painful constriction no one is spared who goes down to the deep well.” – Carl Jung
Irrespective of the kind of person we are, we all have shadows. It is the part of who we are that we would like to ignore and pretend doesn’t exist. The thoughts, feelings, and memories that make up the shadow can be positive or negative but as long as they remain in the shadow, they are dark and undesirable. They are things we are ashamed of or afraid of.
The first step in shadow work is to meet the shadow.
How easy or hard shadow work is for a person depends on how embedded the shadow traits are in the subconscious mind. The deeper and further away it is from our reach, the more difficult it is to identify them and the harder it is for us to dig them up.
The trouble with shadows is that they deny us a clear view of the world by forming a veil over our eyes. Our view gets distorted by the dark attributes of the shadow. This makes it all the more difficult for us to differentiate between right and wrong, positive and negative, and dark and bright. This may also hamper our efforts to remain neutral and in identifying our shadow.
One of the most reliable tools to do shadow work is journaling. When our thoughts and feelings are corrupted and muddled up, the best way out is to put them on paper. Writing down the feelings and thoughts can help us gain clarity, no matter how muddled up they are and how confused we feel.
Again, the hidden dark attributes may cast a shadow over this effort as well. Just as it influences everything we think or do, the shadow self may end up distorting our writings or at the worst, block them completely. Writer’s block is the usual curse of journaling. When you sit down to write, you will find your mind empty and blank.
Prompts are the simple answer to this dilemma. Writing prompts can channel your thoughts and feelings in a particular direction, helping them to move forward without getting lost. Good prompts can lead us to exactly where we want to go.
Besides guiding you in the right direction, shadow work prompts can also help you deal with the things you discover during the process. They may be ugly, nasty, and scary, making it hard for you to face them. The prompts, usually in the form of insightful questions, help you get to the core of the issue without fuss and offer the support to handle them the right way.
Shadow work is, no doubt, hard work. Some may even find them exciting and satisfying. It is the net result of shadow work that is the most enjoyable and rewarding. When you manage to shake off the negativity, you finally get to emerge from the shadows into the bright new world full of possibilities and opportunities.
How to journal with prompts?
Shadow work journal allows you the space and opportunity to explore the hidden depths of your mind and bring out all the dirty and undesirable things you have been running away from all the time. This is not an easy or enjoyable task.
Even when in the middle of it, you may want to turn back and go back to your old ways. Willpower, patience, and persistence are the keys to success with shadow work.
Before you begin the process, you may feel overly enthusiastic, thinking only about the end result. It is important to remember that this is a process that you need to ease yourself into and not dive in headlong. For instance, if you begin with daily journaling or even two times a day, it will inevitably lead to burnout. Sooner or later, you will feel overwhelmed by it and quit it altogether.
Experts recommend beginning shadow work journaling with one session a week. As you get used to the process, you may increase the frequency of journaling to a couple of times a week and later on as a daily activity. The old adage holds true for shadow work journals – Slow and steady wins the race.
Another point to remember is that there is no right or wrong way in journaling. How you use your journal depends on your needs, emotional balance, and your comfort level.
How to choose prompts for shadow work?
The Internet is a veritable source of prompts for journaling. There are many more books available in the market offering you even more. All these prompts may be overwhelming for you in the beginning. To avoid this, you can follow these simple guidelines.
Choose a prompt that strikes a chord with you. It should deal with something that you are trying to avoid. This means that this topic is relevant as well as makes you feel uncomfortable. Understandably, you want to avoid thinking or writing about awkward subjects. However, you need to accept that this is the essence of shadow journaling. If you continue to ignore the difficult questions, you are not going to discover your shadow self or make peace with it.
Also, remember that the shadow work journal is for your eyes only. It is entirely up to you to share it with others. If you feel uncomfortable going back and reading what you have written, you can put this off until you are ready for it. Think of the journal as a safe, private space to bring out your dirty secrets into the open, come to terms with them, analyze them, and find a way to deal with them.
Some people find it more productive to do shadow work journaling in conjunction with conventional therapy. Some others use it to explore specific depths of their mind such as spirituality. Others use the journal as a record of their mental health and to track their progress while they are working through incomprehensible emotions and challenging issues in their lives.
No matter what your goal is and how you want to utilize it, a shadow work journal offers you an excellent sneak peek into your own mind that you have been ignoring or running away from. Only after you bring the issues out in the open, can you deal with them and use the opportunity to heal your wounds.
If you are still feeling unsure about the efficacy of shadow work, worry not. Millions before you have benefitted from it. Remember the old saying? It works if you work with it. It will work for you if you want it to. And this means hard work and commitment on your part.
In case, you find the process overwhelming, you may take help from someone you can trust or even get help from a therapist or a psychologist. If you can’t make any sense of what you are uncovering, an impartial observer may be able to help you there.
75 shadow work journal prompts for beginners
Shadow work involves various stages in uncovering and dealing with the hidden secrets within your mind. This means you need specific prompts for each stage as you make progress with your shadow work.
The prompts are grouped together to help you travel this path effortlessly. Also, find here shadow work prompts for relationships.
Discovering your shadow self
- How would you rate yourself? What kind of person do you consider yourself to be?
- If you come face to face with yourself, what is the first thing you would notice? Why?
- Do you like what you see? Did you make a good first impression on yourself?
- Do you think people close to you get you accurately? How well do you think they can describe you?
- Did you discover any negative traits hidden in the dark corners of your mind? Do you think these traits affect people around you? How did they impact your own life?
- Make a list of all the positive and negative things you found. How do you plan to heal the negative attributes? Do you think you can amplify the positive ones?
- Attribute a human form to your shadow self. What are the main characteristics of this avatar you created? What would you like to tell this avatar if you come face to face with it?
- Among all the new traits you discovered, which one do you detest the most? Can you identify the source of this trait? Was it inborn? Or did you acquire it over time from someone or somewhere? Or was it part of your self-preservation strategy?
- Do you detect jealousy among the traits? What triggers your jealousy and how does it make you feel? Is it coming out of your needs or lacks? Do you think jealousy is something you should work on and improve or just get rid of?
- Is there a particular trait you find in others that you wish for in yourself? How do you think you can develop the same trait in yourself?
- Is there a specific trait in others that makes you so angry that you find yourself foaming at the mouth? Do you detect the same behavior in yourself?
- What is the trigger for stress? How do you deal with stress?
- Do you like some drama in your life? Why? Do you initiate it? Do you feel comfortable when you are in the middle of it? Do you feel like avoiding it?
- Do you think you have normalized a negative trait and made it part of your daily life? Are you aware of the negativity surrounding it? Why do you think you have accepted it?
Coming to terms with yourself
- Do you think others misunderstand you? List down the misconceptions others have about yourself.
- What is your trigger? What makes you go off the rocker? Is it someone, something, or a situation?
- Make a list of the traits that you would like to improve. Why? Have you ever been told that they need improvement?
- How easy or difficult do you find it to forgive your mistakes? Explain why.
- Can you bring yourself up to forgive people who have done you injustice? Explain why.
- List the set of beliefs and values that make up your core self. Why do you think they define you? How do they influence your daily life?
- Can you identify the values and beliefs of the person who raised you? Are yours the same? Explain why.
- Do you often feel defensive? Does it make you uncomfortable? What prompts you to defend your words or actions? Do you consider this a negative trait?
- Do you try to project a particular image of yourself to the world? What is it and why? Does this image represent your true self?
- What gives you your self-esteem? Where do you derive it from? Is the source ethically right or wrong?
- What makes you feel superior, inferior, or equal to others? Are you comfortable with these feelings? Do you think you need to work on them?
- Do you think you are not giving yourself the same break as others? Do you think you need to be more patient and kinder with yourself?
- Do you lie to yourself? What are they and why? What do you expect to achieve with this?
- What does failure mean to you? How do you deal with it and what do you learn from it? Do you see failure only in a negative light? Or do you consider it as an opportunity to learn and grow?
- Do you experience nightmares or recurring dreams? Give details. Why do you think you see them?
- What scares you the most? Do you have any explanations for your fear? How do you think you can get over this fright?
- Make a list of your negative emotions. Do you try to avoid them? Why? Was this always the case?
- Do you block any of your emotions and not allow yourself to experience them? Why do you do this? What do you think will happen if you feel them? What are you afraid of?
- How comfortable are you asking for help? Explain why.
- Why do you have trouble finding the happiness and peace of mind that you always wished for? What is preventing you from reaching there?
- Do you have trouble sleeping at night? If yes, what is it that is preventing you from enjoying a good night’s sleep? How long have you been troubled by these anxieties?
- How do you express your anger? Is it the same way that your caregivers behaved? If not, what is the rationale behind your angry behavior?
- Are you in the habit of sabotaging yourself? Why do you engage in such behavior?
- How well can you take compliments? Do you feel embarrassed or flustered when given compliments? Why do you think so? Is it because you find it unrealistic and unbelievable?
- Do you think you need to apologize to yourself? Write yourself a letter of apology.
- Are you in the habit of holding grudges? Why do you find it so hard to let go? What can you do to improve the situation?
- Have you ever been in a situation in which you felt unsafe and self-conscious? Why did you feel that way?
- Do you think some of your positive traits remain ignored and unacknowledged? What do you think is the reason for this? How do you deal with it? What can you do about this?
- If you can change one trait in yourself, what would that be? Explain why.
- Do you envy others? What do you envy in others and why? What is the trigger? How do you feel about it?
- What is your take on constructive criticism? Can you take it in the positive way it is intended or are you hurt by it? How do you respond?
- How easily are you swayed by others’ opinions? How assertive are you? Do you find it difficult to make your voice heard? Explain why.
Exploring past life
- What are your thoughts about your failed relationships? What went wrong? Do you think whatever happened was for the good?
- Have you ever been mistreated or wronged in your childhood? How did you feel about it? How did you deal with it? Did you learn anything from the experience? Did this incident in any way influence you as an adult?
- What would you want to tell your young self? Put all the thoughts in a letter.
- Introduce yourself to your younger self. Which attributes would you emphasize? Would you try to leave out any of your present traits?
- Describe a memory from your childhood. Why do you think you still remember this one?
- How would you describe yourself as a child? Happy? Energetic? Lonely? Quiet? What made you who you are in your childhood? Have you changed as an adult? What triggered the transformation?
- Describe your most traumatic memory from your childhood. What was the response of your caregivers? Did you feel safe, cared for, and protected? Do you think they could have done more for you?
- Describe an incident that you considered undesirable at the time but turned out to be beneficial later on. What did you learn from this episode?
- Do you wish you had a different childhood? Why do you think so? What would you want different?
- Describe an incident that you are the most embarrassed about. How did you deal with it then? How do you feel about it now? Would you have done anything differently if this had happened now?
- Describe a traumatic event from your past. How did it affect you? Do you continue to carry its scars today? How do you deal with it?
- Recount the last time you felt free as a bird and peaceful at heart. When was this? What was your situation? Who were the people in your life then?
The complex world of relationships
- Do you enjoy an amicable relationship with family members? Such as parents and siblings. Did the relationship change as you grew up? Explain why.
- What are the values you were taught as a child? How much of that do you still possess? Why did you discard the rest?
- Are you afraid that you may have inherited the same behavioral pattern as your family? Or are you proud of it? Explain why.
- Have you ever experienced an unhealthy obsession with someone? Can you identify what triggered it?
- Do you have commitment issues? Why do you think you behave this way? What other challenges do you experience in your love life that you feel should be worked on?
- Do you find it hard to forgive someone? Try to put all that you want to tell them into a letter.
- Have you ever tried to open up to someone and their response was disappointing? How badly did this episode affect you? Write down your side of the story.
- Do you reveal your vulnerable side in relationships? Do you think this improves or worsens the bonding?
- List down the traits you share with each of your parents. Also, list the differences in attitude and behavior.
- Does anyone in your close circle criticize, depreciate, or ridicule you? Does anyone trivialize your emotions and mock your opinions? How does it make you feel? How do you deal with it?
- Who is the most influential figure in your life? Are they aware of their power over you? Is their influence healthy and within bounds?
- Have you or anyone close to you been in a codependent relationship? How did it make you feel? Write down your experience in detail.
- Who has hurt you the most in your life? Have you ever had the opportunity to tell them how you felt or still feel about it? If not, put all those thoughts and feelings down on paper. Write them a letter.
- Are you part of any relationship that you feel is no longer serving you? Would you like to get out of this bondage? What are your reasons for continuing the relationship?
- Did you disagree with someone recently? Did it escalate to a verbal duel? Rewind and playback the conversation in your mind. Do you think you should have done or said something differently? Do you blame yourself? Did you own up to your mistake?
- Have you ever disappointed or let down someone? What happened? Was it done on purpose or unintentional? Did you make up for your actions? How is your relationship with this person now?
- Are you aware of your love language? What is yours? From where did you learn it and how did you develop it?
FAQs on shadow work
Are journaling and shadow work the same?
Journaling is just a part of the shadow work. It helps discover the shadow self. Journals also serve as a record of the progress made in shadow work. Once the shadow self is revealed, you need to make efforts to face it and make peace with it. Shadow work journaling can be done on your own or as part of therapy.
What is the spiritual significance of shadow work?
Shadow work doesn’t have any spiritual connection nor is it in conflict with any religious beliefs. However, identifying the shadow self can be a liberating experience that will impact various aspects of your life including your spiritual and religious beliefs. If you want to, you can involve spirituality and religious practice in shadow work. That is entirely up to you.
How does shadow work make one feel?
It can take you on an emotional roller coaster ride. Even though it will make you feel better in the end, the process itself can be taxing depending on how dark your shadow self is and how challenging and overwhelming it is for you when you come face to face with it. It may be an especially difficult experience for someone who has suffered mental trauma in the past.
Is there any timeframe to continue shadow work?
No. it is entirely dependent on you. You can continue with it until you feel there is nothing more to reveal from your past. Once you are satisfied that the purpose of the shadow work is served and you have come to terms with your shadow self, you may stop it. However, it is hard to estimate how long it will take to reach this stage. It depends on your dedication and response to the process.
How to get started with shadow work?
Read up on shadow work. You should get acquainted with its meaning, goal, and the experience you may have during the process. In case you are getting the help of a therapist, they would guide you through the process. Or else, you can also do shadow work by yourself with the help of shadow work questions.
Shadow work is considered one of the best tools in psychology and psychoanalysis to get rid of deeply entrenched traumas and emotional baggage. It can be immensely helpful in healing past wounds and aid in personal growth.
When you are working on your own, shadow work can be a daunting experience. Prompts can make it easier and simpler and help you to stay on the right track. With its pin-pointed questions, prompts can guide you through the maze of emotions to discover your shadow self. Again, prompts can point you in the right direction to find the path of healing and come to terms with your dark side.
Prompts can make a huge difference between whether you are sticking on with the shadow work or abandoning it midway.