I’ve been doing shadow work for a long time. I’m sure there’s a set way “professionals” do it- and by professionals, I mean Jungian Psychologists, but I have always sort of did it my way, which is a two fold journaling and meditation/journey.
Fun fact, I actually started really getting into shadow work when my love of psychology and video games collided. The ideas and concepts in the Persona game series made me so delighted. Sure it wasn’t perfect, but it made a lot of sense in a way. And yes, I am a huge dork, and I am proud of that fact.
I’ve been doing some journal prompts for shadow work with one of my clients, and I thought I’d share. Our society is not gentle. I don’t think there’s a single person out there that is not wounded in some way. It seems to be in our nature, growing up, learning from our parents and our communities to hide certain parts of ourselves, and to make sure we create masks to hide our true self. Sometimes it’s in certain situations, or with different people and groups. When we’re at school in our formative years, we learned the “importance” of our social image, so the child we might be at home is different from the super cool teenage bad ass persona we wear in front of our friends. Even the face we show our teachers when no one else is looking might be different- a teacher might see that intelligent, thoughtful person, brimming with curiosity that doesn’t come out when we’re with our friends.
Over time, the parts of us that are “bad”, or not acceptable to society get repressed. Perhaps a love of an art or skill that was deemed “unnecessary”, and left unfulfilled. The part of society that says we as women can’t be angry and loud gets repressed. The child of is so pushed to be perfect and never “cause a scene” stops asking questions that could lead to angering an insecure adult. There are so many aspects of ourself that are deemed “unacceptable” but sometimes these aspects don’t just go away.
Many times, these aspects lie deep within us, festering. The young man who wanted to create art begins to feel bitter and resentful. The person who was told they were never good enough begin to feel otherwise, but with fear in their hearts. The child-now-adult forced to conform to certain standards of love and gender now rage because their authentic self is locked in chains in their own heart, and any surfacing of that authentic self is met with guilt and fear.
Some of these are small things, and some much deeper. Some shadows, when confronted are terrifying, some painful and some a great sigh of relief, even if the process was uncomfortable.
Shadow work is meeting these shadows, understanding them and healing them. It’s about accepting that these shadows are a part of you, and while many shadows, like addiction and violence, cannot be in control of you, they are still there and can serve a purpose. Addiction shadows can teach us our limits and our weaknesses. Some violence shadows teach us how to survive and righteous rage that leads to revolution. (Personal or cultural!)
The prompts I’m going to share today are all about childhood shadows and fears. The ones we gained as children that can affect us now. An example I’ll use is one of my own- I have a deep fear of losing opportunities. Growing up, my family was incredibly poor, and sometimes my mother would have to buy my clothes and school items on “lay-away”. (For those not in the know, this was when you’d pick items to buy, the store would hold them as you made payments until it was paid off, and only when paid off would you get the items.) We would do this every June, in hopes that we could pay it off by the beginning of the school year.
It never happened. Not once in my memory can I recall us getting any of the cool clothes and school items like notebooks and binders and bookbag before school started. Or ever. I’d return to school in hand-me-downs, sometimes very poor quality hand-me-downs. For a young girl, already bullied for being poor, fat and darker skinned, this was devastating, each and every time.
And to this day, if I have to “wait” to buy something I want, I freeze. This fear comes over me, and sadness and pain, and if I don’t control this shadow, I would put myself in debt because I have to get it now or else it’s gone forever. Even things I logically know won’t be gone forever. It’s taken years to work on this, and even now, there are times when this shadow can rage. Because shadow work is a good, powerful tool, but it is ongoing. Our shadows are still scars, and scars are wounds that have healed- and they can hurt or itch even after healing.
For this work, grab:
A journal, and something to write with.
A warm non-alcoholic drink (or a cool one, if that is your preference)
A box of tissues
A comforting treat, ready for after.
1. Start by thinking about a negative feeling you have at the moment. List the triggers.
2. Why is it negative to you?
3. Describe this feeling, and any effects it has on you. Include physical, social, psychological and emotional effects.
4. Think about how long you’ve harbored this feeling, and the reaction it produces.
5. Describe the first time you can think of that created this feeling, or the first time you felt it.
6. Now think deeply about what you need in order to forgive yourself of this feeling. If forgiveness is not a part of the feeling, what can you do to accept the feeling?
This is the work part of shadow work. This is the hard part. Accepting your shadow and not fighting it is an important part of the process. It does not mean that the shadow is in control, it just means you know it’s there and you will no longer feel guilt or shame for carrying it!
7. Write a letter to your child self. Tell that child why it’s ok to feel as you did, and how things will get better (or did get better!).
8. Now think about this negative feeling and begin to list positive things about this feeling. We’re going to transform it.
9. What can this feeling teach you?
10. Now write why it is ok for you to accept this feeling as a part of you, and as a part of your humanity/human experience.
You can take this all at once, or work on it bit by bit, whatever feels best. I hope to get a meditation done to share as well that will go along with this. If you click here, you can get a printable version of these prompts. You also don’t have to do this alone- this is something I do with my clients if they want shadow work. I don’t read the journal entries (though I will listen if someone wants to read them to me!) but will talk you through each step. Because talking is also helpful, and can offer clarity.
Things to remember when doing shadow work: You are in control. But if things get too dark, too painful, please seek help. There is nothing wrong with seeking help, in fact many people train to do just that! Shadow work is ongoing. Going through this process will help you- but sometimes it comes back. Just keep working at it, and eventually you’ll be in control. You’ll recognize your feelings and know when to step back and honor them, rather than feeling frustrated and angry, or even afraid. So face your fears, and heal your wounded self.
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