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Shadow work, initially created by the psychoanalyst Carl Jung, is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on parts of the psyche that individuals often keep hidden, such as trauma and resentment. Known as the “shadow self,” Jung describes this as aspects people repress or do not like to acknowledge.

The shadow self is the counterpart to the persona, the version of the self that people present to others. Although the shadow self has adverse connotations associated with negative impulses such as anger and jealousy, it also holds the potential for positive impulses like creativity.

According to Jung, the shadow self is integral to a person’s world experience and relationships. Through shadow work, people are believed to gain a more nuanced understanding of themselves and become more balanced individuals.

A Deeper Look at Shadow Work

The shadow self represents the parts we no longer claim to be our own, including inherent positive qualities. Everything we deny in ourselves–any traits perceived as inferior or unacceptable–becomes part of the shadow.

Anything incompatible with our conscious attitude about who we are gets relegated to this self. Shadow work involves exploring and integrating the unconscious aspects of oneself, such as repressed emotions, fears, and desires, to achieve personal growth and wholeness. 

Repressing your inner shadow can have dangerous consequences. In many cases, the shadow self manifests as triggers–emotional reactions that haven’t been fully dealt with but manifest to the surface under certain circumstances.

During shadow work, the aspects of our personality that were repressed in early development–the attributes, attitudes, and qualities incompatible with our self-identity–are brought back to the forefront.

Shadow work helps individuals integrate and accept each part of themselves to live more clearly and authentically. Your shadow self can harm your well-being when you ignore or reject it because this part of yourself desires to be understood and explored. 

When you reject your shadow self, you may also start projecting onto others. This occurs because you see traits in others that you subconsciously recognize and dislike within yourself. Participating in shadow work allows you to develop self-awareness and acceptance of your entire being, even the parts that make you uncomfortable.

By accepting your shadow self, you can see how your thoughts and emotions influence your behavior. Once you have become aware of this, you can take control and allow yourself to live life more deliberately and authentically.

The Benefits

Many benefits can occur through practicing shadow work. By implementing shadow work methods into your daily life, you can gain more confidence and self-esteem, improve your creativity, and build better relationships.

Shadow work can also help you discover hidden talents, improve your overall wellness, confront trauma, grief, and other challenging emotions, and better clarify how your thoughts, emotions, and feelings cause you to act as you do. 

Another benefit of shadow work is that you may find more compassion towards peers and positively handle interactions with these traits by unpacking why certain behaviors trigger you.

Deciding if Shadow Work is Right for You

Shadow work can help you develop personally and become a more integrated version of yourself. However, as shadow work can unearth potentially uncomfortable and complex emotions related to your repressed aspects, practicing this technique alone is only sometimes advised.

Many people benefit from collaborating on their shadow work techniques with a therapist who can help them address and navigate these complicated feelings as they arise. There are many approaches to practicing shadow work, and not all may be right for you.

For those who have experienced trauma, shadow work can be particularly challenging and unsettling. In these cases, having a therapist to guide you through the process is vital to your mental wellness.

In addition, having underlying mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression can complicate the effects of shadow work. You may want to prioritize seeking treatment for these conditions before beginning to practice shadow work.

Experts also say that shadow work is not recommended for individuals with psychosis or other issues causing mental instability, such as active eating disorders or substance abuse. Addressing your repressed self may exacerbate these issues, which is why it’s essential to ensure that you are in the right mindset to begin this process.

Shadow work

How to Practice Shadow Work

If you’ve decided to begin shadow work, the first step is determining if you’ll do this on your own or with the help of a therapist who can guide you through the process. The next step is identifying your inner shadow or the thoughts and patterns holding you back.

Specific techniques for practicing shadow work include dream analysis, journaling, psychoanalysis, and sand tray therapy. These treatment modalities help people explore their unconscious thoughts and desires to find the true motives behind their actions.

The most common strategies for shadow work involve expressing your inner self through writing and other creative outlets. This allows you to let out your thoughts and emotions instead of bottling them up, and artistic expression can help you connect with aspects of yourself that may feel too uncomfortable to verbalize otherwise.

These shadow work prompts can help you begin your journey and take the first step toward addressing the repressed aspects of your personality:

  1. How do you believe people see you? How would they describe you to someone else? How does that make you feel?
  2. What are the worst traits someone can have, according to you? When did you demonstrate these traits?
  3. What tends to make you judgmental toward others?
  4. What memories are you ashamed of?
  5. What frightens you the most?
  6. What emotions typically bring out the worst in you, and why do you think this happens?
  7. When was the last time you self-sabotaged? How were you feeling at the time? What do you think triggered this behavior?
  8. What’s something you wish other people understood about you?
  9. What makes you feel self-conscious?
  10. At what moments in your life have you been the hardest on yourself? Why?

Why Shadow Work is so Popular

Shadow work has become a trending topic on TikTok, with videos on the subject amassing more than 2 billion views. Though the practice has only recently started trending, the idea has existed since the 1930s.

So, what caused shadow work’s new explosion in popularity? The increase in this trend can be seen due to a growing interest in holistic well-being, self-awareness, and personal growth. Shadow work offers a powerful avenue for self-discovery and healing, two concepts individuals seek to integrate into their lives.

Another reason shadow work has garnered so much attention is because the technique is both accessible and affordable. Though many people choose to practice shadow work with a therapist’s guidance, the process can be done alone.

For those who cannot afford mental health care or find it difficult to access professional help, shadow work provides an alluring alternative to start the journey of personal development. Shadow work offers a new way to heal your inner child, understand yourself on a deeper level, and process your emotions in healthier ways.

Start Your Healing Journey

If you are interested in beginning shadow work, it’s essential to be in a mindset healthy enough to address your repressed aspects. Seeking treatment for underlying conditions is critical before practicing shadow work. In addition, you may also prefer to have the assistance of a mental health professional rather than doing the work on your own.

If you need additional support to begin this journey, TRUE Addiction & Behavioral Health is here to help you. Find caring and innovative treatment that promotes overall healing. For more information, call our 24/7 helpline at (615) 802-6460 or contact