In the world of self-reflection and personal growth, the practice of shadow work journaling has grown in popularity. But the idea of shadow work is nothing new. In fact, it was a term popularized originally by Carl Jung in the 1930s.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” - Carl Jung
So, what is shadow work?
Jung’s theory on shadows basically explained that we all share a collective unconscious. And a part of this system of existence is the light and the shadow. The conscious part of our minds that can be seen and understood is represented as the light. But the unconscious is the part of our minds as well as our human experience that we aren’t as aware of - that dwells in the shadows.
This idea of the shadow is not totally negative. Other contemporary psychiatrists to Jung, like Freud, believed that the unconscious or the Id was negative and ought to be eradicated if that’s even possible. But the shadow, according to Jung, can be a positive force. Because the hidden parts of our psyche, memories, and experiences from childhood can contain motivating, creative, and enlightening thoughts.
Understanding modern-day shadow work
The idea of shadow work has entered the therapy scene in recent decades to seek out what lies in the shadows of ourselves. And shadow work is basically an exercise of self-reflection that can be used in all types of therapy. Zweig and Wolf in their book “Romancing the Shadow” from 1997, shared that the shadow is “not a problem to be solved, it is a mystery to be faced.”
Part of why shadow work has grown in popularity is likely because of the positive view of self. Even the dark or shadowed parts of ourselves that we would rather not see or face can have a positive effect when brought into the light. And this can transform the way we live our daily lives.
Tips for how to do shadow work journaling
Bringing the shadow self into conscious awareness is the goal of shadow work. And one of the best ways to do this is through shadow working journaling. Our journals are helpful tools during self-guided work. They mirror our thoughts and create a place for us to process.
Shadow work journaling is a practice you can grow in overtime. Don’t bite off more than you can chew at first. Here are our tips for how to start shadow work journaling:
Tip 1 - Start small and slow
Shadow work is not a lighthearted exercise. It’s hard work. It’s intimate. It’s personal. And it takes a lot of energy. So, don’t be overly ambitious when starting out. Set a timer for 10 minutes when your first sit down to journal. And when the timer’s up, stop. Pick it back up tomorrow or the next time you set out to practice shadow work.
Tip 2 - Try using shadow work journaling prompts
Instead of making yourself the practitioner AND the leader of your own shadow work journaling, use prompts. Don’t put pressure on yourself to think about what you should be processing. Using shadow work journaling prompts is a great way to direct your energy during your practice to actually confronting your shadow self.
Tip 3 - Celebrate your personal growth
An important aspect of any type of personal growth journaling is a celebration. It’s hard work to look internally and to examine the parts of ourselves that have been hidden from us. Whether consciously or unconsciously. But writing and reflecting is progress. It’s part of the shadow work journaling process to help us trust what we find and process it. And that’s something to celebrate!
Tip 4 - Discuss your shadow self with a trusted friend or therapist (Optional!)
This tip is certainly optional and depends on you as an individual. But for many of us, sharing our personal journey can be really helpful. If you’re someone who needs to verbally process what you’re going through, sharing what you’re finding in your shadow work could help you in your practice. Whether it's with a friend or a professional therapist, sometimes letting someone into your life is a part of the healing and the growth.
25 Shadow work journaling prompts to try
Especially during shadow work journaling, we can record old experiences, explore memories, write down stories, and unpack belief systems we’ve had since childhood. Putting these things on paper in a journal can be powerful. Some of these shadow work journaling prompts can help you get started...
- Who has the most influence over me and my decisions?
- What do I think is my worst trait? Why?
- What is one challenge I faced as a child? How does it affect me today?
- What situations make me want to lie or fudge the truth?
- Who is someone that has betrayed or hurt me? How do I feel about them right now?
- What was the most trouble I ever got into as a child?
- What situations are the most triggering? Why?
- What memories bring me the most joy?
- What memories bring me the most shame?
- What do people think about me? Is it accurate or wrong?
- When was the last time I was disappointed? Why?
- When do I feel the most valued?
- What relationships in my life have helped me the most?
- What grudge or hard feeling do I wish I could let go of?
- What do I need to forgive myself for?
- What is my response to someone giving me a compliment?
- What is my biggest regret in life so far?
- What do I believe about myself?
- What is the worst trait a person can have?
- What does it look like to have a healthy boundary with someone or something?
- Which feelings or emotions do I try to hide?
- What do I wish I could change about myself?
- What do I judge others for? Where did that judgment come from?
- Who do I rely on for support or advice? How often?
- How do I define freedom? What makes me feel trapped?