Anxiety is becoming increasingly common. In fact, over 40 million people in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health.
I’m one of them, and since you’re here right now, I imagine you are, too.
While there are many different ways to manage anxiety, one approach that has gained popularity in recent years is shadow work.
At its core, shadow work is about facing your fears and vulnerabilities.
It involves looking at the parts of yourself that you may not want to acknowledge, such as your anger, jealousy, or shame.
By shining a light on these hidden aspects of yourself, you can begin to heal old wounds, release negative patterns, and cultivate a greater sense of wholeness and authenticity. Of course, that can be all easier said than done, but that is the crux of how this works.
As you work with your shadow, you can learn to recognize and transform the limiting beliefs and negative self-talk that contribute to your anxiety.
- Shadow work is a process of exploring and integrating the parts of yourself that you may have repressed or denied, including your fears, insecurities, and negative traits.
- By doing shadow work, you can gain a deeper understanding of yourself and develop greater self-acceptance, compassion, and inner peace.
- Shadow work can be a powerful tool for managing anxiety because it helps you to identify and address the root causes of your fears and worries.
Understanding Shadow Work and Anxiety
If you struggle with anxiety, you may find that shadow work can be a useful tool to help you better understand your emotions and behaviors.
Shadow work is a process of exploring and understanding the parts of ourselves that we have repressed or suppressed. It involves facing our fears, insecurities, and negative traits to heal and grow.
By working through your shadow, you can gain a deeper understanding of yourself, your motivations, and your relationships with others.
Don’t need the extra information? Skip directly to the shadow work prompts for anxiety.
What Is The Shadow? (Quick Overview)
According to Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, the shadow is the part of the human psyche that contains all the aspects of ourselves that we do not want to acknowledge or accept.
These may include “negative” traits such as anger, jealousy, and greed, as well as deeper fears and insecurities. But it can also include traits that we perceive to be negative because of how we were raised. So we learn to suppress them, which creates new problems.
When we repress or deny these aspects of ourselves, they can manifest as anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
For example, if you were raised in a house that viewed showing emotion as weakness, you’ll view that trait negatively and suppress the part of yourself that feels sadness or pain. This can lead to overcompensation or feeling disconnected from your emotions to the extent that you can’t process them in a healthy way.
Are you more of a visual learner? This video also provides a great breakdown of the shadow:
How Shadow Work Can Help With Anxiety
Anxiety often arises from unresolved emotions, fears, or traumas. When we don’t address these underlying issues, they can manifest as chronic anxiety.
By doing shadow work, we can uncover and address the root causes of our anxiety, rather than just focus on managing symptoms.
How does Shadow Work help?
Self-awareness: By recognizing and understanding our shadow aspects, we gain a clearer picture of what’s really bothering us. This awareness can be the first step in addressing the root causes of anxiety.
- Acceptance: Shadow work teaches us to accept all parts of ourselves, even the ones we don’t like. This acceptance can reduce the internal conflict that often fuels anxiety.
- Healing past traumas: Many anxieties stem from past events or traumas. By confronting these past issues, we can process and heal from them, reducing their hold on our present.
- Empowerment: By facing our fears and insecurities head-on, we can feel more in control of our lives. This sense of empowerment can reduce feelings of helplessness that often accompany anxiety.
Imagine your mind as a house. Over time, we might shove unwanted items (negative experiences, traumas, fears) into a closet to avoid dealing with them. But every time we walk past that closet, we feel uneasy, knowing it’s filled with stuff we’re avoiding. This unease is like anxiety.
Shadow work is like opening that closet, sorting through everything, and deciding what to keep, what to throw away, and what to repair. By doing so, we feel more at peace in our house (mind).
Identifying Your Shadow Self
When it comes to shadow work for anxiety, identifying your shadow self is the first step towards healing and growth.
As we just discussed, your shadow self is the part of your personality that you keep hidden from the outside world, often due to shame or fear. It is made up of repressed emotions, desires, and traits that you have deemed unacceptable or unworthy.
So before you dive into shadow work for any issue, including anxiety, you first have to find your shadow self and shadow traits.
Becoming aware of your shadow self can be a difficult and uncomfortable process, but it is essential for personal growth. If you’re not sure where to start, I have an entire guide on finding your shadow self that you can reference.
(If you click on the link, it will open in a new tab so you don’t lose your place here.)
Here is a top-level summary of the main strategies I cover:
- Self-Reflection + Shadow Work Prompts: Spend quiet moments introspecting. Ask yourself why you react a certain way to situations or people. Example: If you’re overly critical of others, it might be a projection of your own insecurities.
- Journaling: Write down your feelings, especially the ones you can’t explain. Over time, patterns may emerge pointing to shadow aspects. I have a big list of beginner shadow work prompts that can help you with this. Example: If you frequently write about feeling overlooked, there might be a shadow belief that you’re not worthy of attention.
- Dream Analysis: Our dreams can offer insights into our unconscious mind. Note recurring themes or emotions in a dream journal. Example: If you often dream of being chased, it might symbolize running from a part of yourself.
- Mindfulness and Meditation: These practices can help you become more aware of your thoughts and reactions, making it easier to identify shadow elements.
- Feedback from Loved Ones: Sometimes, friends and family notice our blind spots before we do. Ask them for honest feedback about your behavior. Example: If multiple people mention your tendency to dominate conversations, it might reflect a shadow need for validation.
- Professional Therapy: A trained therapist can guide you in uncovering and understanding your shadow self.
The Importance of Trust in the Process
If you think shadow work is fluff and woo-woo, you’ll probably want to choose a different path. This process works if you give it an honest go, but if you insist on being skeptical and working against yourself the entire time, it’s unlikely to help you.
That’s true of so many things in life, isn’t it?
Trust is an essential component of the process. Trusting yourself, your therapist, or the process itself can be challenging, especially if you’ve been hurt or betrayed in the past. However, building trust is crucial to making progress and healing from anxiety.
So let’s talk about what that looks like.
Trusting yourself means having faith in your ability to face your fears and insecurities. It means believing that you are capable of handling whatever comes up during the process. If you struggle with self-doubt, it can be helpful to remind yourself of times when you have overcome challenges in the past.
Trusting your therapist is also important.
A good therapist will create a safe and supportive environment where you can explore your shadow without fear of judgment. They will listen to your concerns and help you navigate difficult emotions. If you don’t feel comfortable with your therapist, it’s okay to find someone else who better meets your needs.
Explore Online Talk Therapy with BetterHelp
Get matched with a licensed therapist based on your individual preferences and needs. Therapy sessions are available via messaging, phone, or live video chat. Addiction specialists are available.
You don’t have to do this alone. Learn about my BetterHelp experience here.
Get 10% off your first month with the code Soberish.
Soberish is proudly sponsored by BetterHelp
Shadow Work Journaling Best Practices
Journaling is a powerful tool for self-reflection and self-discovery. It allows you to explore your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in a safe and private space. When it comes to shadow work, journaling can be particularly helpful in bringing your unconscious patterns and beliefs to the surface.
A shadow work journal is a dedicated space for exploring your shadow self. It’s a place where you can be completely honest with yourself, without fear of judgment or criticism. Here are some tips for using journaling as a tool for shadow work:
- Set aside time each day or week to journal. Consistency is key when it comes to developing a journaling practice.
- Write freely and without censorship. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or punctuation. Just let your thoughts flow onto the page. You also don’t want to censor your thoughts. Let it all flow out – even the ugly, cringy parts.
- Be honest with yourself. Shadow work requires a willingness to confront uncomfortable truths about yourself. Journaling can help you do this in a safe and supportive way.
- Don’t judge or criticize yourself. Remember that shadow work is a process, and it’s okay to make mistakes or have setbacks along the way. It’s also okay if you don’t love what your brain produces. That’s partly why we’re here, isn’t it?
How to Use Shadow Work Prompts
Using shadow work prompts can be an effective way to explore and process difficult emotions, including anxiety. Here are some tips to help you make the most out of your shadow work practice:
1. Set an Intention
Before you begin your shadow work practice, it can be helpful to set an intention for what you hope to gain from the experience. This can help you stay focused and motivated as you explore challenging emotions and experiences.
2. Choose Your Prompts
There are many different shadow work prompts available, so take some time to choose the ones that resonate with you the most. Consider what emotions or experiences you want to explore and choose prompts that will help you do so.
3. Create a Calm and Quiet Space
Shadow work can be intense and emotional, so it’s important to create a safe space for yourself before you begin. This might mean finding a quiet, private place to work, or setting up a ritual or practice that helps you feel grounded and centered. I’ve seen people design an entire ambiance with music, soft lighting – the whole nine. If that’s your vibe, embrace it!
4. Use Creative Techniques
Shadow work doesn’t have to be limited to writing prompts. You can also use creative techniques like drawing, painting, or collage to explore your emotions and experiences. These techniques can be especially helpful for people who struggle to express themselves through writing. It’s perfectly fine to translate a writing prompt into another medium.
5. Be Gentle with Yourself
Shadow work can be challenging, and it’s important to be gentle with yourself as you explore difficult emotions and experiences. Remember that healing is a process, and it’s okay to take breaks or step back if you need to. In fact, you definitely should if shadow work becomes too triggering.
24 Deep Shadow Work Prompts for Anxiety
Ready to dive in? Here are some deep shadow work prompts for anxiety to get you started:
- What are you afraid of? Take some time to explore your fears and write them down. Are they rational or irrational? Where do they come from?
- What negative self-talk do you engage in? Are there certain phrases or thoughts that you find yourself repeating to yourself? What impact do these thoughts have on your anxiety?
- What triggers your anxiety? Are there certain situations or people that consistently cause you to feel anxious? What is it about these triggers that causes your anxiety?
- What unresolved trauma do you have? Trauma can have a lasting impact on our mental health, and it’s important to address any unresolved trauma in order to move forward. Take some time to explore any past traumas and how they may be contributing to your anxiety.
- What is your inner child telling you? Our inner child is the part of ourselves that holds our deepest emotions and desires. Take some time to connect with your inner child and explore what they may be trying to tell you.
- Think back to your earliest memory of feeling anxious. What was happening? How did you feel? What beliefs did you form about the world and yourself from that experience?
- When you feel anxious, where do you feel it in your body? Describe the sensation in detail. What might this part of your body be trying to communicate to you?
- If your anxiety had a voice, what would it say? Write a dialogue between your anxious self and your calm self.
- In what ways has your anxiety tried to protect you in the past? Can you acknowledge its intention, even if the outcome wasn’t always positive?
- Is there a hidden desire or need that your anxiety might be pointing towards? What might you be truly longing for?
- Reflect on your childhood. Were there situations where you felt unsafe, unheard, or unseen? How might these experiences be influencing your current anxiety?
- Are there qualities in others that trigger your anxiety or that you strongly resist? Could these be unacknowledged parts of yourself?
- What unhealthy coping mechanisms do you resort to when anxious? How can you replace them with healthier alternatives?
- What strengths or skills have you developed as a result of managing your anxiety? How can you honor and utilize these strengths more in your daily life?
- If you were to view your anxiety as a messenger, what important message might it be trying to convey to you?
- What’s one fear that fuels your anxiety? Write about what would happen if that fear came true. Often, confronting the worst-case scenario can diminish its power.
- Create a list of affirmations that counteract the negative beliefs or thoughts associated with your anxiety.
- Have you had any recurring dreams or nightmares? Explore their symbolism and how they might relate to your anxiety. Dream Dictionary is an excellent resource for this.
- Think of someone you admire who seems to handle stress or anxiety well. What qualities do they possess that you might cultivate in yourself?
- Is there someone (including yourself) you need to forgive in relation to your anxiety? Write a forgiveness letter, even if you never send it.
- Write a letter from your future self, five years from now, giving advice on how you overcame or managed your anxiety.
- List out things, people, or experiences you’re grateful for. How can focusing on gratitude shift your perspective when you’re feeling anxious?
- Are there boundaries you need to set to protect your mental and emotional well-being? Detail what they are and how you can implement them.
- Write a commitment to yourself about how you will approach your anxiety moving forward. What practices or mindsets will you adopt?
Remember, the process of shadow work can be intense and bring up deep-seated emotions. It’s essential to approach it with patience, compassion, and, if needed, the support of a therapist or counselor.