Self-love can feel like a lofty, unattainable goal. After all, what does it even mean?
Despite its overly fluffy connotation, self-love is a lot of hard work. It’s the emotional equivalent of hitting the gym at 5 AM every day.
I want to help you apply shadow work principles to self-love in a way that is both accessible and challenging. We’ll stretch our thinking to learn how to appreciate and love the parts of ourselves we usually hide from others.
Throughout, you’ll find shadow work prompts for self-love to help you organize your thoughts and (hopefully) spark meaningful insight.
They’re all accompanied by examples and explainers in case you feel stuck.
After all, journaling only works if you have clear guidance on what you hope to get out of it.
Feel free to start with the overview or use the table below to jump right into the prompts.
- Does shadow work help with self-love?
- Shadow work helps us reframe our ‘negative’ traits.
- Shadow work teaches us true self-love without external validation.
- Shadow Work Prompts for Self-Love
Does shadow work help with self-love?
Absolutely! Shadow work gives us a framework to see the parts of ourselves we don’t like and then integrate them in healthy ways.
It helps us name the beast, so to speak.
Shadow work teaches us that our behavior, energy, and motivation can be rooted in certain shadow archetypes that play out in everyone’s lives differently. Knowing these archetypes can help us put a name to behavior we don’t like and deal with it accordingly.
There are many roadblocks to self-love that shadow work can help us recognize and work through.
Shadow work helps us reframe our ‘negative’ traits.
Everybody has traits they don’t like about themselves. That’s because everyone has a shadow self.
Shadow work is great because it allows us to stop framing everything in terms of good and bad, which gives us a healthier way to deal with the parts of ourselves we normally try to hide.
Suppressing parts of yourself is fundamentally in opposition to loving yourself. How can you love yourself fully if you’re ashamed of certain parts?
Shadow work is a wonderful tool for unpacking those darker parts we’ve learned to hide, accept them, and bring them into the light so that you can be a fully functioning, whole person.
I’ll give you an example.
Let’s say you grew up in a house where you weren’t allowed to stand up for yourself. Every time you tried to find your voice, you were shut down.
So what did you do?
You learned to be quiet and small, hiding the part of yourself that wants to be bolder and take a risk.
As an adult, you identify as someone safe and practical. You don’t upset the apple cart, and frankly, people who do annoy the shit out of you.
In this example, boldness is your shadow trait.
It’s a part of yourself you’ve buried because you learned early on that boldness is met with humiliation or a lack of acceptance from the people you love the most.
Shadow work helps you identify that hidden part so that you can work with it. The fact that you get irritated by loud, bold people is a hint.
How can you nourish the part of yourself that wants to be bold and have a voice?
Maybe you push yourself at work to offer an alternative solution to a problem. Or maybe you finally stand up for yourself against an overbearing parent.
It’s uncomfortable work, to be sure.
But this is how shadow work can help you truly accept all the parts of yourself and give them proper love and nourishment.
Everyone has tough parts that are hard to love.
Shadow work coach, Caitlin Hosking, has some great insights on how shadow work helps us with self-love.
She says (I’m paraphrasing):
“Sometimes we learn not to love ourselves or see ourselves as worthy. We cut off the parts we think will lead us to be rejected and store them in the shadow. We say, “that’s not me,” and put on a mask to appear more acceptable.
Shadow work pulls those pieces out.
It pulls out the pieces we were taught not to love and integrates them into a more neutral place.
We aren’t good or bad. We all have tougher pieces. We don’t have to force them away or be scared of other people to see them.”
Shadow work teaches us true self-love without external validation.
The great thing about shadow work is that it calls us out on things every human is guilty of doing.
We all have “stuff” we hide.
Why do we hide them? Because we don’t want others to see.
Hosking refers to it as the mask we wear for other people’s benefit. But wouldn’t it be great to drop that and just be who we are, thorns and all?
That is the point of shadow work.
We have to love ourselves, even when others disagree with us. There are several ways to do that, but let’s start with some writing prompts.
Related Post: 65 FREE Shadow Work Prompts for Beginners
Shadow Work Prompts for Self-Love
Before you can do anything, you’ll need to uncover your shadow traits.
You consciously or subconsciously hide these parts of yourself from others to remain acceptable in their eyes.
We all do this.
We learn that parts of ourselves are worth loving, but other parts? Not so much.
So let’s reverse that.
Prompts for Uncovering Your Shadow Traits
Let’s dive into some prompts to uncover your shadow traits.
- What do you consider your negative traits? These can be things you know you try to hide or suppress. They can also be things other people tell you are your “bad” traits. Whatever comes to mind, write them down.
- Which traits do you dislike in other people? Who annoys you? Who makes you angry? What traits drive you nuts in other people? Write these traits down.
Things that annoy you in others reflect parts of yourself you hide and would never want someone to see.
For example, do you hate seeing people act lazy or unmotivated? That’s a shadow trait.
Maybe you don’t like seeing aggressive people who play dirty to get their way. This is another shadow trait.
Let the ideas flow onto the page. The traits you list for this part are your shadow traits.
When you’re ready, move on to the next part.
Prompts for Exploring the Roots of Your Shadow Traits
Once you have a list of shadow traits, you’re ready to work with them.
Who taught you to suppress these traits?
A caveat before starting: sometimes these traits are not great! Bullies suck. So if you suppress the parts of yourself inclined towards bullying, that can be bad, right?
And this is where I’d like to gently remind you that shadow work is not about framing traits as only good or only bad.
It’s about getting a complete picture of who you are and loving yourself fully.
Pick a trait off your list and work through the following prompts to understand it better.
- Do you consciously hide this trait, or is it more unconscious? Were you aware of this trait before starting this activity, or did it reveal itself through brainstorming?
- Who taught you to hide this trait? Did you learn it growing up? Were you punished for exhibiting this trait? Did you observe it in someone else?
- What feelings does this trait elicit in you? Shame? Fear? Unworthiness? Anger? Write about why.
This step can take a while, depending on how many traits you uncovered. It’s okay to work through this process in pieces.
Here’s an example of you feel stuck:
My shadow trait is boldness.
I’m fairly conscious of how I hide it, even when I try to be bold in my life. I think I learned to hide this trait growing up.
My mother didn’t speak up for herself much, and we didn’t discuss feelings in our house. There was always a lingering fear that we might get in trouble for upsetting either parent.
So we didn’t say anything and just quietly seethed. When I encounter bold people, I get a mixed feeling of envy and irritation. Boldness can feel loud and intrusive to me like it’s a lack of humility or even inconsiderate.
I think I get upset by this because I know I can’t wield it the way others do, and I don’t like that about myself. I wish boldness was more effortless for me or that I knew how to do it right.
Prompts for Reframing Your Shadow Traits
Now that you know your shadow traits and where they come from, it’s time to integrate them. This is a fancy way of saying bring these traits into your conscious world instead of keeping them suppressed.
So far, we’ve hidden these traits because we see them as completely bad.
But what if we could learn something from them? What if we could see these traits differently?
Shadow work for self-love will teach you to pull the positive aspects out of your shadow traits and learn from them to improve yourself. Things are rarely all good or all bad.
Use the following prompts to reframe the way you see your shadow traits.
- Pretend your shadow trait is another person and ask them what they’re trying to teach you. This can feel awkward, but it’s a great exercise. Write down a dialogue between you and your shadow trait where your shadow trait tries to teach you something about life and see where your thought process goes!
- What is good about this trait? Stretch your brain and think of positive qualities from this trait. It might be tricky. Positive traits from being a bully? But what if you could reframe the trait? What if your inner bully wants to show you how to be more aggressive and go after what you want in life? You don’t need to do it at other people’s expense, but there is a healthy way to nurture this part of yourself that leads to growth.
- How can you turn this trait into a strength? This prompt is related to the last one. Instead of hiding this trait, what can you pull out of it that will benefit your life somehow? Let’s go back to the laziness example. Your inner lazy friend can teach you how to slow down and step away from the rat race every now and again. It can teach you to relax and be more easygoing.
After repeating these exercises for all your shadow traits, you will see yourself differently. Even our darker aspects have something to teach us that can make us better.
Self-love means accepting and finding the good in our whole selves, even the parts that are tougher to love than others. Shadow work is a great tool for this.
Have you tried it? Drop me a comment or email and tell me how it’s going for you!