These days, it only takes a few scrolls down your TikTok timeline before you inevitably come across videos about the “shadow self” and people doing “shadow work.” However, if you’re anything like me, you probably have no idea what that means or what it entails.
In essence, shadow work is about getting in touch with the sides of yourself that you either ignore, suppress, or pretend don’t exist. This could be for any number of reasons — you think these aspects of your personality are less attractive, they’re too painful to deal with, etc. — but in locking the door on these other facets of your character, you’re seriously missing out. However, given that shadow selves often develop from trauma or the pressure to adhere to societal norms, it’s not always easy to set them free.
That’s where shadow work comes in. By not only acknowledging but also embracing your shadow selves — and yes, these selves may contain an element of so-called “darkness” to them — you not only gain greater self-awareness, but you become more empowered and whole. Why not give it a try?
How to do shadow work
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- Acknowledge your “shadow.” All shadow work starts here. There’s no way you can begin to uncover and embrace the hidden parts of yourself unless you open up and acknowledge their existence in the first place. Do some honest self-reflection and bring to the surface all the elements of yourself that you’ve previously kept private or tried to push down. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to truly begin.
- Write down the things you notice. To unravel the intricate patterns of your shadow self, it’s a good idea to keep a journal where you note down instances where these shadow selves come out and what emotions they make you feel. As time goes by, you’ll probably start to see patterns that offer more context and help you understand those sides of yourself better. A vital part of shadow work is the continual work of noticing, accepting, and examining.
- Try some shadow work prompts. Admittedly, the process of not only discovering but then exploring your shadow selves can be intimidating and confusing, and that’s okay. If you’re stuck on how to do the work or what questions you should be asking yourself, there are plenty of prompts out there that serve as excellent jumping-off points to help you get started.
- Start a mindfulness or meditation practice. You may already take time to meditate from time to time, but likely not specifically on your shadow selves. It’s important to allow these other elements of your personality to come to light so that you can explore them fully and dig into the nitty gritty of them. Why do you hide these sides of yourself? What would happen if you didn’t? Spending time examining the ins and outs will increase your awareness and may lead to some pretty cool breakthroughs.
- Work with a therapist or counselor with experience in shadow work. Shadow work, or even acknowledging your shadow selves, isn’t always easy. This is especially true if those elements are the result of having gone through something traumatic in the past. In this case, it’s best to seek help from a professional. Not only can they guide you through the process, but they also have tools and tips to make shadow work effective and cause as little emotional distress as possible.
- Express yourself creatively. One of the great ways to begin embracing your shadow selves is to use art to do so. That art can take any form you’d like, from dancing or playing music to painting, writing, or even practicing a sport. These outlets provide safe and fulfilling ways to dig deep and allow the “darker” sides of your personality room to breathe.
- Offer yourself compassion and understanding. One of the reasons shadow work has become such a huge thing on TikTok is that it ties in perfectly to Gen Z’s focus on mental health. Hiding away huge parts of your personality to make other people happy or to seem more socially acceptable is incredibly damaging. It drains your energy, erodes your spirit, and can make you feel ashamed or unlovable. By doing shadow work, you can finally acknowledge that perfectionism is bulls*** and that it’s okay to be a human being with flaws. When that reality finally sinks in, the feeling you experience is incredible.
- Empower your shadow selves. The ultimate goal of shadow work is the integration of all aspects of your self. This means learning to love all sides of yourself, good and bad, and seeing them as part of a whole. Your shadow selves don’t make you a bad person, nor do they detract from the wonderful qualities you have. To find true peace with yourself, it’s vital that you find a way to stop beating these sides down and incorporate them into your daily life in a way that feels comfortable and compassionate.
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