The most impactful shadow work prompts are the ones that help you to easily reflect without reliving negative events or getting lost in the muck. Shadow work done right can release you from the past with a single realization.
In this article, I'm sharing shadow work prompts that are perfect for beginners and avid journalers alike. We're going to be focusing on self-love, letting go, and healing.
What is shadow work healing?
The "shadow" was a term initially coined by Swiss psychiatrist and psychologist Carl Jung to refer to those facets of our personalities that we suppress and reject. Shadow work is essentially a type of psychoanalysis, as this is at the core of Jungian psychology.
These unconscious traits within the psyche, which make up your so-called "dark side", can be seen through our impulsive actions and self-sabotaging beliefs. They are usually the result of past traumatic events, painful experiences, and old memories.
Our shadow selves come out when we're triggered by others, or when our mental health is struggling with depression or anxiety. "Everyone has their demons" is another way to say that everyone has a shadow side. Shadow work shines light on these hidden aspects and asks "what are you here to teach me?"
Journaling is a form of meditation, which is why shadow work prompts can bring such enlightening insights, healing, and release from the subconscious impulses and strong reactions that you're ready to let go of.
What does it mean to do your shadow work?
One aspect of doing your shadow work means acknowledging and transmuting painful parts of your past into a higher awareness or perspective. Most of us have stories about our pasts that don't serve us. In fact, these stories usually hurt and hinder us, which is why we'd rather push them out of our minds rather than face them. But facing what you fear brings a level of self-awareness that will liberate not only yourself, but others as well.
When you get in touch with your shadow self, you pick up these shattered pieces of the past and hold them with love. You release any shame or anger and allow it to be replaced with understanding. For me, doing shadow work is akin to being my very own therapist. Being able to identify self-sabotaging behavior that can be linked all the way back to childhood is so enlightening and healing.
Shadow work does not involve reliving past trauma or re-victimizing yourself all over again. You come to shadow work when you are ready to release and heal, not when you're still arguing for your littleness. Shadow work done at the right time brings out self-compassion rather than judgment, self-acceptance in place of anxiety, and a higher state of consciousness overall.
When you can acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes, that no one is bad, and that there are higher purposes for everything, shadow work will be that much more healing and powerful for you.
How to get started in shadow work
To start off with shadow work, you want to be in the most stable frame of mind possible. You want to feel relaxed, open, and curious to get the most out of your shadow work reflections.
Avoid doing any shadow work when you feel overwhelmed, sad, or frustrated. Speaking from experience here–it doesn't turn out pretty! Just don't do it, kids. Wait until you're in a fairly good, relaxed mood.
As I said, the goal is to NOT re-live trauma or further traumatize yourself. When you're wobbly in your emotions, you risk not thinking clearly and hurting yourself in the process.
So when you feel relaxed, open and curious, get out your journal and make sure you won't be disturbed. Set the intention that you're going to open a dark closet or two and shine the bright light of love into it. That you're interested to see things in a new light and know yourself in deeper ways...that you're ready to understand.
A note on safe shadow work
Shadow work is powerful when you are ready to do it. It can be damaging if the dust has not yet settled or if you are easily triggered by certain memories.
If you find yourself going into a dark place when answering questions, it is perfectly advisable to abort mission. I have backed away from certain memories and returned at a later date when I had more understanding and distance.
There is nothing shameful about not being ready yet. It doesn't mean you are stuck or can't move forward in life in the meantime. You will come around; there is no need to force anything.
Shadow work prompts for self-love
Self-love is a deep acknowledgement and awareness of self. The self is so much more than this surface physical image we see. Self is vast, eternal, and pure loving awareness. It is infinitely more than these stories we've believed about ourselves.
When you begin to develop self-love, you see beyond what has happened to you in this lifetime. You understand that you're more than this one life. As well, you understand that everyone else is also so much more than what you can see on the surface, and that they too come from this spring of pure loving awareness.
Self-love is beyond this lifetime, beyond this surface story you have of yourself and others. Use these prompts to tap into the vastness that is you.
1. Every experience gives you a unique perspective that expands your awareness. Lightly consider an experience you've had that was difficult, shameful, or painful for you. Standing in the place of your eternal viewpoint, how did this experience challenge you? What false truths did you believe? What truths did you finally discover? Repeat this for any other notable experiences you had.
2. Name three loving traits you've always had since you can remember (empathy for others, easily able to forgive, giving, etc). Acknowledge that these traits are a glimpse into who you really are.
3. Pretend that life is a stage play, and your soul is eternal and comes to play different roles for the expansion it will bring you. Consider your "role" in this lifetime and one of the big challenges your character was scripted to experience. From this viewpoint, what do you think your character was meant to learn about who they really are from this experience? In what ways did your character evolve and grow? In what ways was your character made more beautiful and soft?
4. Think of a few people close to you and for each one, write down 1-2 traits of theirs that you really admire. Acknowledge that just by your noticing of these traits, they are also within you, otherwise you could not even notice them.
Shadow work prompts for letting go
Letting go of things in our lives means releasing them from a place of love and forgiveness. Holding onto anything is the number one cause of dis-ease and illnesses. When we resent, we restrict our own life force energy from flowing freely in our bodies.
A powerful place to be is when you can forgive for your own benefit. An even more powerful place to be is when you can see beyond the surface appearance of another person or yourself. When you can truly hold all in love and release the stories you torment yourself with.
Use these prompts for assisting you in letting go with love and understanding.
1. "Hurt people hurt people." Think of a person you hold resentment towards or who triggers you in some way. Name 1-3 hardships you know of that they've had to endure in their life and how that could've impacted the way they view themselves and life in general. Now name 1-3 instances in which they showed love or kindness towards you. Sometimes we focus only on our negative stories of someone, which in turn hurts our life force. There is always a more positive story we can find. How many can you see? Notice how much more natural it feels for you to see someone with love and understanding.
2. Lightly think about a period or instance in your life where you regret your actions. Understanding that there are no accidents, and that each experience has helped to bring you closer to everything that you are now, in what ways did that time in your life eventually expand you? What have you walked away knowing from that experience that you didn't know beforehand? Acknowledge the way you've been positively changed for the better because of that time in your life.
3. Lightly think of a situation which "burned" you and has been hard for you to move past. What were the main emotions that were brought up for you? Where else in your life have these emotions come up frequently? Were there any truths (fears) in this situation that you didn't want to admit at the time? It's safe to admit them now in order to let them be released. If this situation was destined to happen for higher purposes, what could've been the healing reasons for you? In what ways did this situation expand you and help you to learn?
Shadow work prompts for healing
Healing is the dissolution of false narratives, stories, and confusion. It is clarity that comes from a completely surrendered state of knowing that all is well. Healing is remembering that you were never broken to begin with.
We "heal" every time we release a belief or story that doesn't align with truth. Love is foundation of truth, so anything you believe that contradicts love is a way that you are keeping yourself in the dark and separated.
To heal, we must question the ego's beliefs and stories, and be curious about alternative possibilities and insights that could be closer to the truth.
1. Physical symptoms are nothing more than messengers and invitations to look deeper. Think of a physical symptom you have that is calling for your attention. What emotion comes up when you think of it? Where else in your life do you feel this emotion? If this symptom tied to this emotion could talk, what would it request from you? In what ways could you begin soothing this emotion?
2. There are no experiences that happen in vain. Pretend once more that life is like a stage play, and you and everyone you know are souls playing these characters you see currently. Imagine that you wrote the script for your life, including the traumatic moments, and asked a loving soul close to you to play this hard role of hurting you for your ultimate expansion. What could've been the ultimate reason behind this painful "scene"? What was it to show you? How was it going to expand you? Really contemplate the answer.
3. Lightly consider a feeling or experience you feel stuck in. Imagine that this feeling/experience was going to last the rest of your life. What qualities would you need to bring forth within yourself in order to thrive despite this experience going on in your background? Consider that you bringing forth these qualities are the very reason behind this experience happening in your life.
Shadow work is an exploration process of stepping back and taking a bird's eye perspective of our lives, ourselves, and others. We move away from the nit-picking and into a greater space of understanding, discovery and acceptance.
When you see that nothing happens in vain, then it must happen for your benefit. Therefore, you must find what that benefit is. This is shadow work. Our shadow side rounds us out and brings meaning to every experience we've ever had.
Freeing yourself from your own painful stories and transmuting your shadows will be the most satisfying work you ever do. The personal growth you'll experience over and over again, every time you question the triggers, will release and transmute these shadow parts of yourself that are ready to be understood and loved back out into the light.
Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed these shadow work prompts and found something to take away with you.
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Jessica Dimas is the creator of Manifesting Magic with the Moon, a holistic self-care ritual bundle.
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