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Shadow Work is a psychological term for the process of exploring your dark side or the parts of yourself that you hide from others. It can be a powerful tool for self-discovery and transformation.
If you’re new to this process and want a better understanding of what Shadow Work is and what’s involved, check out this beginners guide here.
Want to use Shadow Work for yourself at home?
Well, you can use many different Shadow Work exercises to get in touch with the parts of yourself that you have been hiding. This way, you can start healing the wounds you may have been carrying for years.
With so many Shadow Work exercises to choose from, it’s vital you experiment and find what works best for you, as everyone will have exercises that work better or worse for them.
So to help you get the most out of your journey of self-discovery. I’ve put together a list of the best Shadow Work exercises with some examples you can try yourself.
Here are the exercises we’ll be covering in this article that will help you discover your inner shadow self and begin the process of self-healing:
- Shadow Work journaling
- Emotional tracking
- Working with your inner child
- Shadow Work affirmations
- Mirror Work
- The 3-2-1 Shadow Process
- Letters of forgiveness
- Shadow Secrets
- Shifting your mindset
- Reverse projection
#1 Shadow Work Journaling
Shadow Work journaling is probably one of the most common exercises you’ll encounter. It’s easy to get started and intuitive making it incredibly beginner friendly.
It’s also one of the most comprehensive ways to incorporate Shadow Work into your routine that feels concrete and easily evaluated over time. For some, other exercises can feel almost whimsical or fake, even if they come from psychology-based principles.
However, while it may seem like the most simple exercise since all you need to do is write things down. When it comes to actually sitting down to write, you can quickly feel like you have a daily writing wall that’s difficult to overcome.
You see, one of the most common problems with using journaling as a Shadow Work exercise is knowing what to write about in the first place!
This is why discovering Shadow Work prompts can be a huge game-changer.
These question-like writing prompts get you to focus on answering questions, which you can then elaborate on for deeper work if you wish.
And what’s more interesting is that answering these Shadow Work questions can change depending on where you are with your journey. Meaning you can often revisit and reuse such writing prompts and discover something new about your shadow self.
Shadow Work Journaling Exercises:
Below are 3 examples of writing prompts that you can use as exercises. If you’re looking for more, check out these best Shadow Work questions and prompts for beginners or this list of 60 Shadow Work prompts for tons of inspiration to help you get started.
- What were your parents’ core morals? What did they value the most? How do these make you feel compared to what you know now?
- What was your last negative or judgemental thought? How did you handle it? Why do you think you had this thought, and was it justified?
- Describe how you think other people see you. What do they say? What words do they use? Are they justified? How do they make you feel?
All in all, Shadow Work journaling is a very broad concept when it comes to Shadow Work exercises, so you’ll likely find a lot of overlap with other exercises since writing things down is such a powerful tool.
Journaling is just one way to do Shadow Work, so if it’s not for you, don’t worry! There are plenty of other options.
#2 Emotional Tracking
When first delving into Shadow Work, the process of identifying your shadow self can feel like a bit of a hard leap. How can you possibly bring something from your subconscious into your conscious thoughts?
One particularly useful Shadow Work exercise you can try is tracking your emotions. Not only will it make you more self-aware so that you can notice your shadow aspects more easily over time. It’s also great to start discovering your most common shadow struggles.
You can start to see what triggers which kinds of emotions in you, and you can begin to dissect why these things influence you. Once you start to pinpoint this, you can even start to come up with solutions.
For example, if someone frequently makes you angry because they ask too many questions, perhaps you can change your view to see things from their perspective. Or you can consider focusing on compassion. Maybe that person isn’t very confident, so that’s why they always look to you for advice.
Shadow Work Example Exercise To Track Your Emotions
How can you use this Shadow Work exercise yourself?
Well, the first step in this process is to mindfully notice emotional reactions and inner dialogue as you go through your day.
Make a note of as many of these as you can. Habit tracker printables or mood trackers can be an easy way to track these on a basic level of how you feel and when.
Later, you can upgrade this idea of emotional tracking to something more detailed. For example, try keeping a small notebook always nearby so you can write everything down in more detail.
To begin with, it might be hard to record all the different and sometimes subtle emotions that you go through.
If you find this to be the case, consider focusing on anything that makes you feel uneasy or uncomfortable at the start. Then as you get more familiar, feel free to switch things up and try focusing on different emotions, both positive and negative.
Finally, as you get more familiar with this Shadow Work exercise, you can also ask yourself questions like:
- Why do you feel negative about it?
- What emotions can you identify?
- Are their additional emotions hidden beneath that aren’t as obvious?
- What behaviors do you display in response?
#3 Working With Your Inner Child
Just like you have a Shadow self, you also have an inner child. Having an inner child isn’t something just for people who act like “big kids”. It’s also how your childhood plays a role in influencing your behaviors today.
Think of it as the parts of yourself that are curious, fun-loving, and innocent.
In fact, as you explore your shadow, you might start to notice some overlap with your inner child.
Your childhood will have greatly influenced who you are today, both positive and negative experiences combined.
By doing some inner child work that also focuses around the concepts of Shadow Work, you can often discover more about your shadow self that’s usually more deeply buried and hard to work with otherwise.
Inner Child Shadow Work Exercise Example:
Let’s look at an example of a Shadow Work exercise that involves your inner child:
Write a list of events you feel were traumatic to you as a child, no matter how small it might seem to you as an adult now.
This can range from anything like abuse, car accidents, bullying, or getting lost, to things you might initially dismiss, like:
- Your favorite toy being thrown away,
- Your best friend leaving you for another school,
- Or a fear of clown-like teddy bears.
For each one, imagine being your child self again and explore the following using journaling, drawing, or simply meditating (more on that next):
- What feelings do these traumas make you feel as a child?
- Are your feelings as an adult different? Why do you think this is?
- What negative or even positive consequences were there?
- How can you comfort or show compassion to your child self for these traumas?
- Are there any things you would like to tell your child self?
Shadow Work is a process of self-discovery that allows us to uncover the parts of ourselves that we have been hiding away. By meditating on our shadow selves, we can begin to understand why we have been keeping these aspects hidden and how they are affecting our lives.
Meditation is the perfect tool for Shadow Work, as it allows us to quiet the mind and connect with our innermost thoughts and feelings.
This Shadow Work exercise is more advanced, and I recommend only trying this after you’ve explored some of the other methods. You need some familiarity and experience in doing Shadow Work for this to be truly effective.
You can use meditation for Shadow Work in a few different ways. Such as simply spending some time each day sitting in silence and allowing whatever thoughts or emotions come up to be present without judgment.
Another approach is to focus on specific aspects of your shadow self that you want to explore and use guided meditations or visualizations to help you do so.
Whichever approach you choose, the key is to be gentle with yourself and go at your own pace.
Shadow Work Exercise Example For Meditation
This meditation exercise is best done while sitting comfortably in a chair or lying on a bed.
Start by taking a moment to relax and become present. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and allow your mind to wander where it will.
If you are working on anger, rage, or other shadow issues, let these emotions come up for identification as they arise.
Once you have identified what emotions are present, take a deep breath and let yourself feel whatever it is that needs healing.
Set an intention to explore your shadows with compassion and curiosity.
If you begin to feel overwhelmed by emotion, simply allow the feeling to pass through you.
You may want to write down your feelings and discoveries as they surface or speak them out loud.
#5 Shadow Work Affirmations
Firstly, you might be wondering – what are Shadow Work affirmations?
An affirmation is a positive statement you repeat to yourself, either out loud or in your head, to program your mindset for more positive things.
The goal of Shadow Work affirmations is to help you become aware of and challenge the negative thoughts and beliefs that are holding you back in life.
Once you’re aware of these things, you can begin to change them. With time and repetition, your affirmations will help you see yourself in a more positive light and believe in your ability to heal and grow.
For example, if we are trying to overcome negative self-talk. Then we might say an affirmation like “I am worthy and deserving of love and respect.”
Repeating this affirmation regularly can help us to start believing it and changing our thought patterns.
Shadow Work Exercises For Affirmations
You can do Shadow Work affirmations anytime, anywhere. Take a moment to write your personal affirmation and repeat it several times until you feel that you have it firmly imprinted in your psyche. Repeat it whenever something negative happens or you feel a little down.
Here are some examples of Shadow Work affirmations you can use for this exercise:
- I am not my mistakes or my failures.
- I am worthy and deserving of love and respect.
- I love myself for being me.
- I deserve to express my emotions.
- I accept my shadow self as being a part of me.
- I am worthy of healing and growth.
- I am allowed to make mistakes.
- I am capable of change.
- I love and accept myself unconditionally.
#6 Mirror Work
When it comes to working on ourselves, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. We all have different areas that need attention and different ways of going about it. However, there is one type of exercise that can benefit everyone: mirror work.
Mirror work is a powerful tool for Shadow Work (not to be confused with reverse projection exercises). It’s not easy, but it’s an incredibly effective way to get in touch with your innermost thoughts and feelings.
The goal of mirror work is to help you see yourself more clearly and start accepting all parts of yourself.
It also has the benefit that the more we love and accept ourselves, the easier it becomes to see the good in others as well.
If you are not used to looking at yourself in the mirror and saying kind things to yourself, it may feel awkward at first. But with practice, it will become easier and more natural.
Example Mirror Work Exercise For Shadow Work
To do mirror work, start by looking at yourself in the mirror and noticing what you don’t like about yourself.
It could be something physical, such as a scar or blemish, or something internal, such as a personality trait you don’t like.
Once you’ve identified what it is, start to say positive affirmations about it to yourself.
Some things you can say to yourself in the mirror are:
- I love and approve of myself.
- I am grateful for my life.
- I am worthy of love and happiness.
- I am beautiful just the way I am.
#7 The 3-2-1 Shadow Process
Ken Wilber created the 3-2-1 shadow process to help people become aware of and deal with their shadows in the most honest way possible.
3-2-1 stands for the different perspectives you go through as part of this Shadow Work exercise. These are 3rd-person, 2nd-person, and 1st-person views.
The idea is that negative and even positive aspects of ourselves start within the 1st person view, but if it’s rejected or suppressed by your mindset. Then it starts to get pushed to the 2nd-person view.
If things are rejected even further, then it can end up in the 3rd-person view and become even more difficult to reintegrate into your conscious.
For example, you might have an augment with a friend, partner, or family member. The situation makes you feel angry. For the 1st-person view, this is “I am angry.”
But your subconscious or shadow aspects may see this as something you need to suppress as it’s ugly, like “you shouldn’t ever be angry”. So you might subconsciously shift this to the person you’re arguing with by saying things like, “why are you angry?”.
If it gets pushed further beyond this, perhaps because you can’t logically call someone else angry. Then you may default it to something like “It makes me angry.” or by blaming things on external factors that aren’t another person.
Example 3-2-1 Shadow Process
Decide if you would prefer to journal, talk or simply visualize things in your mind.
Next, pick a person or something that makes you feel uncomfortable. It’s recommended to stick to people, to begin with.
First, you need to face it by describing things in as much detail as possible. Focus on using 3rd-person language such as:
Second, you need to talk to it. Do this by speaking or making a conversation with the person or thing. If you’re unsure of what to say, you can consider things like:
- What do you want?
- Who are you?
- What are you trying to tell me?
- Where are you from?
- Why are you here?
Allow yourself space and time for it to respond back to you.
The third step is to imagine yourself being that person or thing. Put yourself in its shoes to speak and describe this perspective. Your focus should be on 1st-person language, so make sure you are using words like:
Finally, consider what things you both have in common and any similarities. Accept that these things are a part of you both, and be compassionate about them.
Overall, this process should help you identify and integrate shadow aspects back into your conscious self. It’s also a powerful way to help you practice forgiveness, which we’ll cover in more detail next.
#8 Letters of Forgiveness
When we’re holding on to something, whether it’s a grudge, a hurt, or even just a sense of self-importance, we give it power over us.
The act of letting go is an act of reclaiming our power. It’s a way of saying that you won’t be defined by it anymore and that you’re more than just what happened to you.
You need to practice letting go to get the most out of Shadow Work. One of the best Shadow Work exercises for this is writing letters of forgiveness.
This is a lot like journaling, but instead, your writing should take on the structure of a letter. It will usually focus on an individual person, someone you can visualize. This way, you’ll naturally find the tone of your writing to be more conversational.
Writing a letter helps you get everything recorded so you can analyze it later. It also provides a great way to see how far you’ve come in your Shadow Work.
Shadow Work Exercise Example of Letters of Forgiveness
What’s an example of this Shadow Work exercise you can try yourself? How do you decide what to write about?
First, you must identify what it is you’re holding on to. This can be difficult because often, we’re not even aware that we’re doing it. Think about:
- Forgiving yourself for past mistakes that you are not proud of
- Letting go of something that makes you angry
- Anyone you find difficult to get along with
- Past events that made you feel betrayed
- Things you hold a grudge over
Try to pick one thing to focus on and then write a letter. The letter’s aim should be to forgive the person or thing eventually. However, your writing needs to go through the natural process of:
- Describe the events or situations that upset you
- Explain why you feel this way, and be detailed in your reasoning
- Write about anything the person has tried to do to make amends
- Consider their side of the story. Did they try to explain their actions?
Once you’ve gone through this, try to end the letter with forgiveness, like “I forgive you for…”
If you feel you still can’t forgive them at this point, write your reasoning for this. It’s okay if you can’t forgive something.
Dreamwork can be a powerful tool for Shadow Work as it’s the closest thing to directly tapping into our subconscious you’ll probably find.
By exploring our dreams, we can understand the parts of ourselves we’ve kept most hidden.
Often, our dreams will show us aspects of ourselves that we need to work on to heal and grow that many of the other exercises on this list will miss.
How To Use Dreamwork As A Shadow Work Exercise
If you’re interested in using dreamwork for Shadow Work, here are a few tips to get you started:
- Keep a dream journal – Ideally, you should be keeping a dream journal anyway. But if you haven’t been doing this, it’s time to start! Keeping a dream journal is one of the best ways to work with your dreams.
- Pay attention to recurring themes – Look for patterns in your dreams. If you’re having the same dream over and over, there’s probably some sort of message that it contains. Try writing down your dreams upon waking and see what patterns emerge.
- Listen to your dreams – This is one of the most important steps. Your dreams will speak to you if you only listen! Pay attention to what your dreams are telling you.
- Go with the flow – The more you fight against your dreams, the harder they’ll fight back. So if you’re having a nightmare, don’t resist it. Just go with the flow and see where it takes you!
- Remember that not all dreams are literal – A lot of times, our dreams aren’t literal, and they can be symbolic as well.
- Trust yourself – Trust your intuition or instincts about what the characters, symbols, and emotions mean to you.
#10 Shadow Secrets
When doing Shadow Work, one of the most important things you can do is to start by telling your secrets. This may seem counterintuitive, but it’s actually a very powerful way to begin the process.
Secrets tend to weigh us down emotionally. They can create a sense of shame and guilt, which only serves to keep us stuck in our old patterns. When we share our secrets, we permit ourselves to let go of them and move on.
Some secrets might be hard to share. So a safe alternative you should consider is writing down your secrets and analyzing them as part of your Shadow Work process.
Using Your Shadow Secrets As A Shadow Work Exercise
For this Shadow Work exercise, write down everything you’re ashamed of or don’t want anyone to know about you.
These can be anything from embarrassing memories to dark secrets you’ve never told anyone.
Once you have a list compiled, go through each item and try to understand more about why it makes you feel ashamed.
- What is it about these memories or secrets that make them so uncomfortable for you?
- Is there something you need to forgive yourself for?
- Is there anything you can learn from it?
#11 Shifting Your Mindset
In order to do Shadow Work, you have to be willing to shift your mindset and confront the aspects of yourself that you’ve been avoiding. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary to grow and become the best version of yourself.
Here are some tips on how to shift your mindset for Shadow Work:
1. Be honest with yourself: the first step is admitting that you have shadows that need to be addressed. Denial will only keep you stuck in the same patterns.
2. Be patient: this type of work takes time, and there is no quick fix. Be patient with yourself and trust the process.
3. Be gentle: remember that your shadows are a part of you and deserve compassion too. Beating yourself up will only make the process harder.
One of the biggest mindset blocks you’ll likely come across is self-sacrifice.
Far too often are we encouraged to overdo things. Like the concept that if you want to see success with money or a career, you’ll need to work harder than anyone else. Whereas if you fail, we often tell ourselves that we didn’t work hard enough.
While this might be true in some cases, it shouldn’t be the default reasoning our mindset uses to beat ourselves up.
Instead, we should be kinder to ourselves through self-love.
When you use self-love along with Shadow Work, you are truly accepting all parts of yourself – the good and the bad. You are allowing yourself to feel your emotions fully and permitting yourself to be who you are.
Self-sacrifice, on the other hand, is when you try to push away your darker aspects. This can keep you stuck in the cycle of your shadow struggles and unable to move forward.
Shadow Work Exercise for Shifting Your Mindset
So what can you do to avoid this self-sacrificing mindset that will keep your shadow aspects stuck and embrace more self-love in your life?
Well, I’ve got a quick exercise to help you work on that.
Make a list of times you overdo things or go beyond what others around you usually do.
Ask yourself what you do “more” of than others. Like do you work, shout, or sleep more?
Don’t just include only the negative ones. Positive ones can still help you establish the full picture of your shadow.
For example, if you exercise more than most, this is undoubtedly healthy. But are you pushing so hard because of negative self-perceptions of your body or using it as a way to punish yourself for other things?
Once you have a list, evaluate each item:
- Decide whether you are self-sacrificing, punishing, or not taking care of yourself.
- What drives you to overdo these things?
- How would you perceive these behaviors if someone you strongly care about did them instead?
- What alternatives could you do instead if you tried to practice more self-love with yourself?
Other ways you can help shift your mindset that we’ve already covered in this post are mirror work, affirmations, and the 3-2-1 shadow process. So don’t be afraid to incorporate them into this exercise too.
#12 Reverse Projection
Carl Jung’s work on the shadow mentions how it can be prone to psychological projection. In that, aspects of your shadow self that you try to suppress subconsciously might manifest as negative traits you perceive in others.
Therefore it’s worth doing what I like to call a reverse projection by focusing on the negative traits you perceive in others, especially those that trigger strong emotions in you.
Doing this makes it possible to retrace some traits back to your own shadow aspects.
A simpler way to think of it is to ask yourself what things do you say or do that seem hypocritical when reflecting on them.
For example, if you quickly get mad when someone else seems to be angry with you, even when you know you’re at fault. Then it could be your projecting your anger onto that person, so you might want to spend some time working on this emotion through Shadow Work.
Shadow Work Reverse Projection Exercise:
So what’s a practical way to put this into practice?
Well, one simple Shadow Work exercise you can try is to list people or personality traits you dislike. For each item on your list, you can then break down:
- Why do you dislike this trait or person?
- How do you react to them?
- What emotions and behaviors do you display?
- How might they relate to you?
- Do you sometimes have similar aspects within yourself?
- Are there other experiences or patterns that could be related to items on your list?