Shadow work journal prompts are an amazing way for beginners to improve self-awareness and work through past traumas, events, and emotions, as well to get to know themselves as human beings much better.
Discovering and exploring your shadow self so that you can learn self-acceptance, boundaries, and healthy coping mechanisms is a form of self-care in itself and, to be completely honest, it’s been completely life-changing for me.
Shadow work has totally changed my mindset and improved my mental health.
Knowing where to start can be tricky though – I totally get that, which is why using journal prompts to get started can be really helpful.
What is shadow work?
The term ‘shadow work’ refers to the practice of working through and learning to forgive your shadow self.
Your shadow self is the side of you that you tend to hide from others and keep out of sight, hence the name.
The Shadow is one of main archetypes that Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, focused on the most, along with the Self, the Persona, and the Anima/Animus. These archetypes are defined as universal, primal symbols and images that derive from the collective unconscious.
Jung’s Shadow archetype is often likened to Sigmund Freud’s theory on the Id. In 1923, Freud theorised that the human psyche is comprised of three parts: the Id, the Ego, and the Superego.
The Id according to Freud, was the primitive part of the psyche responsible for sexual and aggressive drives, as well as hidden memories.
The Superego is the moral conscious, while the Ego acts as the go-between.
Freud’s Id and Jung’s Shadow contrast in certain aspects because Jung believed that not all Shadow traits were inherently negative and could even result in creativity, while Freud believed that the Id was primitive and purely driven by instinct.
According to Jung, our Shadow is the side of us that the ego doesn’t identify with; the ‘darker’ side of our personality. While the traits that make up our Shadow as usually perceived to be negative – as our ego has hidden them for a reason – they can also be positive, as having low self-esteem or anxiety can cause us to unnecessarily reject certain aspects of ourselves that we’ve been taught are bad.
For example being extroverted, impulsive, and fantasising can also be part of the Shadow, but aren’t necessarily negative traits. Some of us as children are just taught that we should be quiet, timid, and rational, and therefore view these as traits that we should bury.
‘Modern’ shadow work refers to discovering these shadow traits, forgiving ourselves for them, healing from past trauma that may have caused them, and processing them in order to grow.
We tend to see shadow traits in other people pretty easily, but when it comes to our own shadow self, it takes a little introspection.
Shadow traits that your shadow side might possess include:
- Anger/Outbursts of rage
- Obsessed with appearance/how other people see them/dependent on praise
- Overly competitive
Shadow work is basically a deep-dive – usually through meditation and journaling – into what makes us tick and why.
Our shadow self usually begins to develop in childhood when we’re especially susceptible to soaking up the attitudes and energies of our environment, as well as experience trauma that we’re not yet equipped to deal with.
With this in mind, shadow work can be really, really uncomfortable – TRUST me. You have to be vulnerable and super-honest with yourself, and that doesn’t always feel good. After all, this is why we’ve suppressed and hidden this shadow self for so long.
(This is why I put together a Shadow Work for Beginners workbook to make the process a little less overwhelming.)
Thinking about our upbringing, environment growing up, trauma, and parents’ impact on our entire being because of their own toxic traits is also an immensely humbling experience. You finally realise that the people who raised you are also human and also have their own shadow selves.
This was a tough pill for me to swallow, but that’s for me to unpack during my own shadow work.
Saying all this: Learning about who you are as a person – warts and all – as well as how you’ve acquired your toxic traits and how to work through them is SO rewarding and useful.
Eventually, the goal is for you to learn to forgive yourself for your shadow traits, come to realise why you have these less desirable attributes, accept the sides of yourself that you might have kept hidden in the past, and move into a much happier, more accepting mindset.
Humans aren’t perfect and we should never stop learning, especially about ourselves.
Shadow work is ultimately deep-diving into your own toxic traits and why they came about. It helps us learn about who we REALLY are as people, grow, and reach true self-acceptance.
Figuring out how to recognise, process, and work on my shadow traits going forward is now one of my most crucial parts of self-care.
I have some shadow work worksheets for you totally free via the signup form below to get you started.
60 days of shadow work prompts for beginners
Here I’ve provided 60 days of shadow work prompts so that you can work through one at a time during your journal practise.
Choosing one journal prompt at a time not only makes the process a little more straight forward, it makes it much less overwhelming and easier to process.
#1. What was one time you remember feeling wronged as a child? How did you react? Has this affected you into adulthood? How?
#2. Think about one time where you’ve felt betrayed. What would you say to the person who broke your trust?
#3. Write about a time you felt let down by someone you’d previously looked up to.
#4. What’s one trait you see in other people that you wish you had. Why do you not possess this characteristic yourself?
#5. Do you often find yourself over-thinking what you’ve said or how you’ve acted? What usually triggers this?
#6. What were your parents’/guardians’ core values while you were growing up? Do you hold these today or do they differ? How so?
#7. What are your core values as a human being? What’s the most important to you? What are you morally passionate about?
#8. What tends to trigger envy for you? Why do you think this is?
#9. What are the first signs that your mental health is dipping?
#10. When are you hardest on yourself? Why? Where do you think this stems for? Why do you put yourself under so much pressure? Why are you so reluctant to be kind to yourself?
#11. How do you react when you’re angry? Is this similar to other people who have been in your life since childhood? Why do you think this is?
#12. What triggers you? Can you identify where this came from?
#13. How do you perceive failure? What is your definition of failure? How does it make you feel? Are you afraid of it? Why might this be? How did your parents/guardians react to failure?
#14. What situations make you feel less than or not good enough? Why do you think this is?
#15. What is your relationship with your parents and/or siblings like? How was it as a child compared to now? Why do you think this is?
#16. What parts of your parents/guardians growing up do you see in yourself now? When did these begin to become apparent?
#17. What toxic traits have you recognised in your parents? How did it make you feel when you realised that your parents weren’t perfect? Do you also possess these traits yourself?
#18. What are your toxic traits? How do these present themselves? How do you project these onto others?
#19. What aspects of yourself would you like to improve? Why? Has anyone in your past ever made comments suggesting that you should? If so, how did this make you feel?
#20. How do you feel about who you are as a human? Why?
#21. How often do you forgive yourself? What kind of things do you feel you need to be forgiven for? Why is this?
#22. Write about a time where you messed up and needed forgiveness. Did you ask to be forgiven? Did you apologise? How did it play out?
#23. Do you form obsessive or unhealthy attachments easily? Why do you think this might be; do you have a fear of change/abandonment/rejection? Or, on the other hand, do you find it difficult to form emotional attachments; do you struggle with commitment or get restless staying in one place for a certain amount of time? Where do you think this stems from?
#24. How do you fill your time when bored? What gives you enjoyment? What self-care do you regularly practise?
#25. What negative emotions do you tend to avoid? Why might this be?
#26. What negative emotions do you actually feel quite comfortable sitting with? Why might this be?
#27. Write about one person you’ve never forgiven. What happened and why did you not forgive them? Was it warranted? How has this event affected you going forward? Do you think you could forgive them now? How did you move on from this?
#28. How do you carry the weight of your past trauma? How has it affected you?
#29. How did you process emotions as a child, teenager, and young adult? How do you process negative emotions now? Has this changed over time?
#30. How do you enforce boundaries? How do you feel when people overstep them? How do you react?
#31. What is the biggest lie you consistently tell yourself? Why?
#32. What misconceptions have you noticed your harbour? Can you think about where these started?
#33. What are your preconceptions about femininity? Why do you think this is? Where did they come from?
#34. What are your preconceptions towards masculinity? Where did these come from?
#35. What does the term ‘Shadow Work’ mean to you?
#36. What are three main goals you want to achieve with your shadow work?
#37. Did you have any heroes growing up? Who did you look up to and why?
#38. How were you taught to deal with emotions as a child?
#39. How do you deal with negative emotions now?
#40. What’s the most hurtful thing you’ve ever done to someone else?
#41. What’s the most hurtful thing you’ve done to yourself?
#42. How have you moved forward from hurting someone else?
#43. How do you plan to move forward after hurting yourself?
#44. What’s the biggest promise to you that someone else has broken? How did make you feel? Why?
#45. What’s the biggest promise you’ve broken to yourself? Why? How do you feel about that?
#46. Have you ever broken a promise to someone else? Why?
#47. When you really think about it, is there any area of your life you’re in denial about?
#48. What do you consistently lie to yourself about?
#49. What do you lie to other people about? Why?
#50. What’s the biggest lie you’ve ever told and why?
#51. Have you ever had your heart broken? Write about this time in your life.
#52. Have you ever broken someone else’s heart? Was it unintentional or intentional? Write about this.
#53. Do you ever find yourself manipulating people in an attempt to protect yourself?
#54. What’s a question you had as a child that you never got a real answer to? Do you have that answer now?
#55. What is something that you’ve always wanted to confront someone about? Why haven’t you? Do you plan to? Why?
#56. What is the meaning of life to you?
#57. What was the last argument you had about? Was it resolved?
#58. How do you feel about confrontation? Why do you think this is?
#59. Do you ever have physical reactions to emotional feelings? Write about these. Why do you think this happens?
#60. What’s your favourite way to self-sooth? Describe your perfect self-care day.
Feel free to download a shadow work prompt pdf of the first handful of questions completely sign-up free here or save the jpeg image above.
Why should we use shadow work prompts?
By suppressing our shadow selves, we’re not learning to work through our issues and become better human beings, we’re simply allowing our certain traits to fester and grow.
Jung believed that this would result in the Shadow taking charge and pushing other, inauthentic traits to the surface, as well as projecting these unwanted traits onto other people, which can hamper relationships.
This is not only exhausting, it can cause mental health issues like depression and anxiety, as we wrestle with the parts of ourselves we don’t want others to see, and, as a result, fail to work through them.
- Related – 60+ Journal Prompts for Depression
We learn to resent and hate these parts of ourselves, which impacts our mindset and self-esteem, and can even affect how we treat others, as well as ourselves.
For me, learning how to notice my shadow traits, understand them, work through them and forgive them has been amazing for my mindset and mental health.
Processing emotions in a healthy way as they arise and the concept of ‘feeling to heal’ in general has been difficult for me. I tend to like to gloss over, hide and stuff down anything negative, which results in toxicity rearing its head later on.
Learning where my toxic, shadow traits have come from, how to work through them, and ultimately forgiving myself for being human has been liberating and uplifting.
Therefore, while challenging, recognising, accepting, and unpacking my toxic traits has been nothing short of life-changing.
I found that a lot of the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues that I experienced were the result of me not working through my shit properly.
I now include shadow work in my self-care routine.
Self-care is calling yourself out on your own bullshit and learning how to deal with it, as well as self-awareness, self-love, processing past trauma, identifying and dealing with triggers, and self-acceptance.
What does shadow work mean spiritually?
While I’m a firm believer that you don’t need to be spiritual to practise shadow work since learning self-acceptance and positive coping mechanisms is basically free therapy*, shadow work is closely linked with connecting with your true, higher self.
Shadow work is thought to raise your frequency, which means that you’ll align with and attract better things, and manifest your dreams more easily through the Law of Attraction.
However, as I said, shadow work isn’t just for those looking to reach a high state of consciousness, it can also be an amazing act of self-care and self-awareness.
*While I would never advise against therapy, I’m also very aware that good therapists are not accessible, available, or affordable to most people, which is one of the reasons I started this blog in the first place.
Another practise that’s closely linked with spirituality is repeating positive affirmations. I have a whole post on shadow work affirmations here, if you want to check it out.
How do I find my shadow self?
Carl Jung believed that we encounter the Shadow in our dreams. However, most people find that a combination of daily meditation to help mindfulness and keeping a shadow work journal for introspection and soul-searching is the best way to get in touch with their shadow self.
If you’re new to shadow work – or even if you’re not, to be honest – shadow work prompts can be amazingly useful when it comes to accessing past emotions and memories in order to work through them.
Often, just writing stuff down can feel really cathartic, as if you’re literally pulling the toxic thoughts from your mind and pinning them to paper.
When talking to your shadow self, my top tips in order to get the most out of your shadow work prompts are:
- Be totally authentic and honest – even if this feels uncomfortable.
- Dig deep into your emotions – no one has to ever read what you’re writing, so let it spill onto the page.
- Embrace any unexpected thoughts/emotions that come up and write about them too (if you need to cry, CRY! We embrace emo hours here!).
- Write down everything – even if you don’t think it’s important now, it might be later.
- Use shadow work journal prompts to get you started and help the thoughts flow.
- Recognise your shadow traits from your responses to the shadow work questions.
- Meditate before shadow work to help boost mindfulness and after to calm your mind.
- Practise self-care afterwards.
- Don’t pressure yourself to write lots if it doesn’t feel right.
- Be gentle and forgiving with yourself – you’re only human.
Shadow work is exactly that: work.
You’re treating wounds that still haven’t fully closed from childhood and learning to face the demons that don’t just reside in you but are PART of you after years of suppression. This isn’t easy and it’s certainly not fun, but it is rewarding.
As humans, we’re all works in progress. None of us are perfect.
Learning how to deal with our own shadow self is immensely personal, so I’ve tried to make my top tips as general as possible.
True shadow work takes time, perseverance, bravery, honesty, and self-awareness.
How to do Shadow Work
The best way to do shadow work, in my opinion, is by using shadow work prompts.
One of the main ways to practise shadow work is through introspection: asking yourself deep questions that delve into your past, analysing your way of thinking, and digging for answers that you don’t particularly want to uncover.
This is where true healing and growth occurs.
Most people can’t do this on the fly, which is why using shadow work questions or prompts comes in handy.
All you need to do is grab a blank notebook or journal (this Paperage one on Amazon is great if you’re on a budget), make a note of the journal prompts in this blog post, and choose one to get started.
They get your thinking and, if you keep a shadow work journal, can help you sort through your shadow traits, where they come from, and how to move forward.
Other methods of shadow work include:
- Self-awareness when negative feelings occur (asking yourself what exactly you’re feeling, why this is, and where this feeling comes from is really beneficial)
- Taking responsibility (while also practising forgiveness)
- Practising empathy and seeing yourself from other perspectives
- Being honest with yourself
What is a shadow work journal?
A shadow work journal is a journal you have for shadow work. (Shocking, I know.)
It doesn’t need to be anything special – just a plain notepad that you keep separate and safe will do.
It’s totally up to you whether you share your shadow journal with other people. You might want to discuss it with a therapist or trusted person; you might not even want to tell a single soul.
How do you use shadow work prompts and questions?
While shadow work journal prompts are optional, they’re REALLY helpful when it comes to getting you started, whether you’re a beginner or not.
Shadow work can feel like a bit of a vague term when you’re a beginner and sometimes knowing where to even begin in your journey can feel like an impossible task.
This is where the shadow work prompts come in.
These journal prompts are designed to trigger emotions, memories and experiences – often from childhood – that still unconsciously or consciously affect you to this day.
The prompts will then encourage you to expand on this feeling, thought or story so that you can further understand where it originates, how its manifested in potentially toxic traits today, and therefore how to understand yours thoughts, actions, and boundaries going forward.
Some shadow work prompts will ask you to dive deeper than others and may feel really uncomfortable, which is why I encourage you to practise meditation and self-care afterwards in order to process anything that’s come up and calm your mind.
Shadow work printables are even better because they have the exercises and prompts already down on paper for you. All you have to do is print them out and fill them in.
I have a whole Shadow Work for Beginners workbook available if you want a little extra help getting started with your journey.
When you get the workbook today, you get:
- 17 pages of info, prompts, and exercises on shadow work for beginners
- Worksheets for healing and nurturing your inner child
- Self-soothing and self-care checklist
- Shadow work affirmations
Basically everything I’ve used for my shadow work that I think is crucial for beginners.
As well as using shadow work worksheets and/or my workbook for beginners, be sure to hold yourself accountable and call yourself out on your own bullshit if you catch yourself engaging in toxic behaviours, especially if they affect other people.
Furthermore, don’t just call yourself out in the moment, but explore why you’ve reacted or felt the way you have.
Is this something you need to work on?
Journal about how you can deal with similar situations in the future.
For example, if you’ve lashed out at someone close to you for a seemingly irrational reason (that will probably make total sense to you after journaling), how can you react in a calmer, more rational way if this happens again?
This is how real growth is made.