Journaling is an excellent way to get started if you’re new to shadow work. The following shadow work prompts for beginners are designed to help you engage with some cringe-worthy questions you’ll wrestle with as you get to know your shadow self.
You’ll start with an in-depth explainer of shadow work, the shadow self, and how it all works. If you prefer to skip that part, no problem! You can dive straight into the shadow work prompts.
- What is shadow work?
- How to Meet Your Shadow
- How Do Shadow Work Prompts Help?
- What can you do with a shadow work journal?
- Does shadow work actually work?
- 65 Shadow Work Prompts for Beginners
What is shadow work?
Put simply, shadow work is a type of personal development that allows you to dig deep into your subconscious mind and find any issues you may have.
It involves getting to know your shadow self and all the baggage that comes with it, such as repressed feelings, thoughts, and memories.
Doing this helps jumpstart the healing process, particularly for people wrestling with past trauma.
What is the “shadow” in shadow work?
Carl Jung coined the term shadow self in his book Psychological Types. He defined it as “the part of ourselves we are ashamed of.” In psychology, the shadow self refers to our personality’s darker, less acceptable aspects.
For example, you might feel guilty about being angry, greedy, jealous, or selfish. You might even deny having those feelings altogether.
The shadow self is often associated with the ego—the part of ourselves that makes decisions, controls impulses, and acts in socially appropriate ways.
We use the ego to act according to social norms. When we fail to meet those expectations, we experience guilt or shame.
Where did we learn our shadow behavior?
As a child grows into adulthood, he or she learns what behaviors are considered acceptable and unacceptable.
These lessons come from parents, teachers, friends, siblings, and society at large. They teach us how to behave and become the person we think we should be.
The shadow self represents everything we’ve learned about how to behave in a particular context.
“Shadow Self” Examples:
If someone tells us we shouldn’t be aggressive, we’ll likely suppress our anger. If someone says we shouldn’t be jealous, we won’t allow jealousy to enter our thoughts. And if someone criticizes our greed, we’ll try to hide our desire for money.
These messages shape our identity over time. Because we’re taught to be good people, we end up suppressing anything that doesn’t fit within certain boundaries. Our shadow selves are the things we’d rather forget about.
Engaging in shadow work can help us understand and better manage the parts of ourselves we tend to hide from.
How to Meet Your Shadow
Interestingly enough, one place Carl Jung believed that we encounter our dark side in our dreams.
We don’t always like what we see there; sometimes, it scares us and makes us want to run away. But we must face it because it contains the part of ourselves that needs healing.
If you’ve ever had a dream where something terrible happens to someone close to you, chances are that person represents your Shadow.
You might think about him or her every day without realizing it.
Your feelings toward this person come up again and again in your life. Sometimes you act on those feelings; sometimes, you deny them.
Either way, you keep running into problems because you haven’t dealt with your Shadow properly.
Why do people hide from their Shadow?
For many people, facing their Shadow isn’t easy. They fear that they’ll end up feeling worse rather than better.
Some people avoid dealing with their Shadows altogether. Others try to ignore them.
Still, others try to suppress them, hoping they’ll go away. All of these approaches are ineffective.
Instead, the best thing to do is to confront your Shadow head-on. Shadow work is an excellent way to do this.
The Case for Starting Shadow Work
According to Jung, this is how we can stop living as fractured beings and become psychologically whole.
It helps us get a complete picture of who we are so that we can be more present and content in our daily lives without wasting time wishing we could be different.
The process of unveiling and accepting our shadow parts is meant to be liberating. It helps us heal and stop projecting these things we don’t like about ourselves onto others.
Jung argues that the more the Shadow archetype is hidden from our consciousness, the denser it gets.
This makes it hard for us to see the world as it is because we constantly see it through the veil of our own darker attributes.
It all goes back to projection and how we often view the world through the lens of our own negativity.
If you’re brand new to shadow work, my shadow work beginners’ guide can help you learn more.
It’s worth checking out before starting your prompts so that you are clear about the terms and definitions within the prompts.
However, if you’re ready to dive in, that’s fine, too!
How Do Shadow Work Prompts Help?
Journaling is one of the primary tools of shadow work. You’d be amazed by how much you can discover about yourself when you pour yourself onto the page.
You must wrestle with some big questions when you engage in shadow work. Most of it involves putting a magnifying glass up to the uglier parts of yourself. That’s really hard to do!
Shadow work prompts can help guide you through this process.
They provide you with insightful questions that are designed to pull things out of you that can help you get at some core issues in your life.
And while the process itself might not be the most fun, the rewards are transformative.
- What is Toxic Shame and How Can You Overcome It?
- Beginners Guide to Cognitive Distortions: What They Are and How To Fix Them
How To Use Shadow Work Prompts
I wouldn’t recommend doing more than one prompt per day to give this process the time and thought it deserves. You can even scale it back to a couple of prompts per week.
Consider your current needs, availability, and vulnerability. Then start where you’re at. Shadow work is a complicated process that takes time to work.
You also don’t need to go in any particular order.
What can you do with a shadow work journal?
A shadow work journal can help you explore your thoughts and feelings in a safe, private space and act as a record of your progress over time.
It’s really meant to be a tool in your self-discovery process.
Some people use their shadow work journal to jump-start deeper spiritual or personal exploration. Others might use it as an activity in conjunction with traditional talk therapy.
And still, others may use it as a way to track their progress and record insights as they work through challenging issues or emotions in their lives.
No matter your goals, having a shadow work journal can be invaluable for helping you get in touch with the deeper parts of yourself and start the healing process.
The best way to use shadow work prompts is to honestly identify which prompts get at your core growth areas and then be willing to dedicate time to dive into them.
It’s an intense process that reveals a lot but also serves as a form of catharsis.
Does shadow work actually work?
So use an old recovery adage; it works if you work it. Shadow work has some incredible benefits!
But let’s be real. It takes commitment and work.
To reap the full benefits of shadow work, you’ll explore some difficult and possibly painful aspects of your inner world.
It’s not for the faint of heart!
However, you can start and go at your own pace.
Plus, if you find it’s too much, you can work with a coach or therapist familiar with shadow work to guide you and help you make sense of what you’re uncovering.
65 Shadow Work Prompts for Beginners
Okay, so without further ado, here are 65 shadow work prompts to help you with your journey of self-discovery and healing. I’ve grouped them topically for ease of navigation.
Learning Your Traits
1. If you met yourself for the first time, what would be your first impressions?
2. How would your loved ones describe you? Are they accurate? Why or why not?
3. What are your toxic traits? How do these traits affect others? How do they impact your daily life?
4. Make a list of your positive traits and negative traits. What are some things you can do to strengthen your positive traits? How can you start healing your negative traits?
5. Create an avatar for your shadow self. What are their traits and qualities? What do you want to say to your shadow self?
6. Think of one or two traits that you dislike about yourself. Where do these traits come from? Were they learned? Are they defense mechanisms? Explore as many ideas as you can.
7. What makes you jealous? Why? What does it tell you about your own needs? Are these things you can work towards or something you should let go of?
8. What’s a trait you see in other people that you wish you had? What are some ways you can cultivate this trait in yourself?
9. Which personality traits in other people drive you nuts? Why? Do you see yourself in any of these behaviors?
10. How do you handle stress?
11. What is your relationship to drama? Do you like it? Involve yourself in it? Cause it? Avoid it? Explore this.
12. Are there any negative emotions or traits that feel normal to you that you express every day? What are they? When did you adopt them?
Getting to Know Yourself
13. Do you feel misunderstood? What misconceptions do people have about you?
14. What triggers you? Why? Where does it come from?
15. What are the primary aspects of yourself you’d like to approve? Explain your choice. Has anyone told you to work on these things before?
16. Do you find it easy to forgive yourself? Why or why not?
17. Do you forgive other people easily? Why or why not?
18. What are your core values? Why have you chosen them? How do you live your values daily?
19. What are/were your caregivers’ core values? Do yours align or differ? Why do you think that is?
20. What version of yourself do you try to project to the world? Are you being authentic?
21. Where do you derive your sense of self-worth from? Is this a healthy or unhealthy source?
22. What are some ways you could be more patient with yourself?
23. What lies have you or do you tell yourself? Talk about why.
24. Do you have recurring dreams or nightmares? What happens in them? What do you think your subconscious mind is trying to communicate to you?
25. What’s something you’re afraid of doing? What’s scary about it? How can you overcome that fear?
26. Which negative emotions do you try to avoid? Why is that? Have you always been this way?
27. Do you ask for help? Why or why not?
28. What keeps you up at night? Where does this worry come from? How long have these issues been troubling you?
29. How do you act when you’re angry? Is this similar or different to how the people in your childhood act when angry?
30. Describe a time you self-sabotaged. What happened? Why do you think you did it?
31. Do you accept compliments well? Why or why not? Are there any compliments you receive that you struggle to believe about yourself?
32. Write an apology letter to yourself.
33. Do you hold grudges? What’s hard for you to let go? Why?
34. Describe a time you felt self-conscious or unsafe. What triggered these feelings for you?
35. What areas of your life do you feel ignored or disregarded?
36. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?
37. What triggers envy in you? Where does that come from?
38. Are you overly sensitive to constructive criticism? Or do you respond well? Why is that?
39. Are you easily influenced by other people’s opinions? Do you find it easy or difficult to assert your voice? Talk about why.
Examining the Past
40. Think about a relationship you had to leave. Why did you do it? Why was it the right choice for you?
41. Describe a time you felt wronged as a child. What happened? How did you react? What did you learn from this experience? Has it affected your life as an adult?
42. What did your caregivers value growing up? Do you share the same values? Why or why not?
43. Write a letter to your past self.
44. What’s an early childhood memory that has stuck with you into adulthood? Why do you think that is?
45. What were you like as a child? How have you changed?
46. What’s your worst childhood memory? How did your parents or guardians respond? Were you cared for? Were your needs met?
47. Write about a time you experienced something that seemed negative but turned out to be a positive thing in the long run.
48. What do you wish you could change about your childhood? Talk about why.
49. Which memories bring you the most shame? What feelings do they provoke? What do you do when you start feeling these things?
50. How has your past trauma affected you? How do you carry it in your everyday life?
51. What kind of relationships do you have with your parents/caregivers, siblings, or other close family members? Is it better, worse, or the same as when you were growing up? Why?
52. Have you ever developed an obsessive or unhealthy relationship? Why do you think this happened?
53. Do you struggle with commitment? What challenges have you faced in your dating life that you want to work on?
54. Is there a person you can’t seem to forgive in your life? Write them a letter. What do you want to say to them?
55. Was there a time you opened yourself up to someone and felt rejected? What happened? How has that affected you?
56. Do you allow yourself to be vulnerable in relationships? Why or why not?
57. In what ways are you similar to your parents/guardians? How are you different?
58. Is there anyone in your life who belittles you or downplays your emotions? How does that affect you?
59. Who has the most influence over you? Do they know? Is it healthy?
60. Have you ever been in a codependent relationship? What about your family members? Talk about your experience with codependency as well as thoughts or feelings that come up about it.
61. Write a letter to someone who has really hurt you. Let it all out. (Feel free to creatively destroy the letter when you’re done.)
62. Which relationships in your life no longer serve you. List them out. How would it feel to be free of these relationships? Why aren’t you?
63. Think about a conflict you had with someone. How did it play out? Is there anything you wish you had done differently? What was your role in the conflict? Did you take responsibility?
64. Who have you let down in the past? Why did you do it? Where do you stand with this person currently?
65. What is your love language? How did you learn it?
FAQs about Shadow Work Prompts
Is shadow work the same as journaling?
Shadow work can involve journaling, but it is not an exclusively journaling exercise.
Shadow work can be done independently through journaling activities, with a trained therapist, or other therapy modalities. Shadow work journal prompts help guide your journaling.
What does shadow work mean spiritually?
Shadow work is not an inherently spiritual practice, nor is it in opposition to any faith practice.
However, some people find that uncovering one’s darker side can be spiritually fulfilling.
The degree to which shadow work becomes a spiritual practice depends entirely on the practitioner.
What does shadow work feel like?
Shadow work can be an emotionally taxing experience. Some people describe it as a “gut punch.”
Dealing with difficult, deeply repressed aspects of yourself is challenging. This is especially true for people dealing with past trauma.
The process can feel overwhelming initially, but once you start to experience breakthroughs, it’ll feel like a weight has lifted.
How long should I do shadow work?
How long you should do shadow work is entirely dependent on the individual.
There are many factors to consider, such as the amount of time dedicated to shadow work, the extent of past trauma to unpack, whether you are doing therapy-assisted shadow work, and your receptivity to the process.
It could take years or months. It all depends on the individual.
How do I get started with shadow work?
The first step is to familiarize yourself with shadow work – what it is, what it’s intended to do, and what to expect along the way.
Connecting with a therapist or counselor with shadow work experience is also good. They can help you navigate the process.
You can also get started on your own by working on independent shadow work activities like journaling with the help of guided shadow work prompts.
Who invented shadow work?
The term “shadow work” was first popularized by psychologist Carl Jung, who believed that our unconscious mind comprises light and dark elements.
Engaging in shadow work can help us bring the hidden, dark parts of ourselves into the light so that we may understand and heal them.
Access should not be a barrier to help.
Final Thoughts on Shadow Work Prompts
Shadow work is a wonderful tool for personal growth and healing.
These prompts are intended to help you ask the right questions to discover your shadow self and learn how to find peace with them.
It truly is a transformative process that I hope you get many benefits from doing.