Everyone has aspects of themselves that they find difficult to accept or keep buried. In psychology, this is referred to as the “shadow self.”
Your shadow self can include unwanted personality traits, painful memories, forbidden impulses, negative thoughts, and past trauma.
But your shadow self can also include things we wouldn’t typically consider “bad.”
That’s because your shadow is neither good nor bad.
Your shadow represents the parts of yourself you learned to suppress in childhood. If you had an angry parent, you might’ve learned to suppress moments of joy or happiness. That can become a shadow trait for you.
You may also learn to suppress the traits society teaches us are “bad,” like ambition or ruthlessness.
And hey, these traits aren’t great when taken to their extreme forms. But that doesn’t mean we should bury them.
Shadow work prompts for trauma can be a helpful tool for unpacking the shadow self born out of past trauma and learning to integrate it more effectively into our lives.
What is Shadow Work?
Shadow work is the process of learning how to uncover the parts of yourself that you have been hiding or suppressing.
The theory is that by bringing our shadow selves to light and integrating them into our conscious selves, we become less fragmented, more complete human beings.
Journaling is a great way to get in touch with your shadow, find unwanted thoughts and feelings, and figure out what sets you off.
If you’re new to shadow work, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed and unsure where to begin. I’ve got a large set of shadow work prompts for beginners to get you started.
If you want to focus on trauma specifically, this guide is also suitable for beginners.
How Can Shadow Work Help You Work Through Trauma?
Trauma is usually thought of as a person’s emotional response to a traumatic event that is too big for them to handle with existing coping skills.
A traumatic event can involve anything from being sexually assaulted and fighting in a war to being in a car accident or experiencing a natural disaster.
Some people may recover from such an event without developing PTSD. However, some people may experience trauma symptoms for a long time after a traumatic event.
Even if you do not develop PTSD, suppressed painful memories and emotions caused by trauma do not always fade away with time.
Instead, they affect our conscious thoughts and actions, which can lead to mental health disorders, problems in relationships, and other issues.
Putting the ugly parts of yourself in the spotlight while working through trauma can be painful. However, that is your path to recovery.
Related Post: Shadow Work Prompts for Self-Love
Shadow Work & Complex PTSD:
Does this found familiar?
You’re walking around, just living your life happy as can be, and something happens, or someone says something that acts as an emotional trigger.
All of the sudden, you flip a switch.
Your anger is over the top relative to what just happened, and you’re not even sure why.
Another version of this does not involve anger at all.
Instead of exploding in rage, maybe you disconnect completely. You check out. You’re no longer present in the moment.
Trauma expert and coach Michelle Lee Nieves talks about this dual nature in a really interesting way.
She says that the version of yourself that takes over after an emotional trigger is your shadow self.
Our job is to figure out how to identify and then integrate our shadow selves so we can manage them in more healthy ways.
How Can You Integrate Your Shadow To Heal Trauma?
In shadow work, we try to unpack the parts of yourself you had to suppress to survive or stop suffering.
Did you have a narcissistic parent who felt threatened by your talent? Did you hide that talent to co-exist?
Or maybe you had a bad relationship with someone who made you feel like you could not speak up without fear for your safety. So you buried your own anger and desire to defend yourself.
Whatever parts you buried in the past to survive can be integrated into the present.
That’s what shadow work is all about.
For a video explainer of these concepts, check out this five-minute clip:
Shadow Work Prompts for Trauma: Get To Know Your Shadow
- Think back to your childhood. Which parts of yourself did you have to hide? Why did you have to hide them? What fear drove you to hide them? What would have happened if you didn’t hide them?
- What did you get in trouble for as a child? What weren’t you allowed to show?
- What were you made to feel bad for as a child?
- Which parts of yourself have you had to hide in adulthood? Why did you (or do you continue) to hide them?
- As an adult, do you show your authentic self or still live as if that toxic parent is hovering over you? Is it a mixture of both? Explain.
- In what ways do the messages from childhood still show up in your life today? Ex. If you learned to suppress your anger because you weren’t allowed to speak up in your house, do you still do that?
- Take a look at your list from questions 1-4. Where do you want to see changes? Where would you like to start?
- What emotional flashbacks pop up for you as you work through your list? How does it make you feel? What happens to your body when you remember these things?
- When was the last time you lost your temper or behaved in a way that felt off? What led you to that reaction? (Take a moment to gently reflect on that experience without judgment).
- What was your strong feeling really about? What was at the core?
- Can you recall an earlier time in your life when you experienced a similar feeling?
- Write about a time in your earlier life when you felt much discomfort or danger over expressing yourself.
- Write a letter to your younger self thanking them for trying to keep you safe. Explain to them why it’s time to let go of that discomfort now.
A Caveat Before Doing Shadow Work for Trauma
Please note that shadow work, especially shadow work for trauma, can be overwhelming. You don’t want to re-traumatize yourself.
Make sure you have support systems in place before starting this work. You might also want to work with a trained professional or therapist on these prompts.
Shadow work is a powerful tool, but you want to navigate these waters safely.
For people with extensive trauma in their history, it’s especially advisable to work with a mental health professional before diving in.
If you want to continue exploring the roots of your trauma, these journal prompts can help you do that. You may also find additional insights to help you with your shadow work.
Again, if you feel at risk for re-traumatization, please consult a therapist or trained specialist.
Access should not be a barrier to help.
Additional Journal Prompts for Trauma
- What triggers your anger, sadness, or fear? Where do these triggers come from?
- Why do these things trigger you? Take a moment to think deeper about this.
- Do you blame yourself for the traumatic experience that occurred? What is it that makes you blame yourself?
- What would you change if you could relive trauma?
- What was the saddest moment of your life? How do you feel when you think about it now?
- Do you lie to yourself? What about? What are you attempting to avoid?
- What color would you use to portray your pain? Why?
- What shade best describes your shadow? Why? Does this color match the one that best represents your pain?
- Where do you feel the effects of negative emotions in your body? Draw them or write about them (which appeals to you).
- Can you link these negative feelings to the past traumatic experience?
- What are you doing when these painful emotions bother you? How do you get rid of them?
- Which painful memories and emotions do you tend to avoid? Who or what caused them?
- How does your trauma affect your adult relationships? What are you doing to help things get better?
- Do you hold grudges against someone? Who do you find it hard to forgive? Write about this person.
- What is it that you need to forgive yourself for? What prevents you from doing so?
- Do you have a habit of numbing your pain with alcohol or drugs? How do you feel about this behavior?
- How do you deal with being hurt, insecure, or sad? Do you become enraged, or do you shut down? How does this affect your relationships?
- Do you always assume that the worse will happen to you? Do you think that this negative belief is connected to your trauma?
- Do you have frightening dreams in which you relive a traumatic event repeatedly? How do they make you feel? Think about this for a while.
- Do you hesitate to ask for help? Why?
- What does it mean to forgive the people who hurt you? What would it take for you to forgive them?