Shadow Work Journaling: Definition, Benefits, and How To Start
We all have parts of ourselves that we’d rather not show to the world: the negative traits that we’d rather tuck away in our subconscious mind. Through shadow work journaling, you can learn to accept all the parts of yourself — positive and negative — and move towards a happier, more authentic self.
Shadow work is the process of accepting our “shadow parts” and integrating them into our lives. We may have hidden these parts of ourselves because our parents, teachers, community, religion, or society teaches us to feel ashamed of those parts of ourselves.
We might be in denial about those shadow aspects, but that doesn’t make them go away. Instead, they bubble under the surface, causing us to struggle with feelings, urges, and thought patterns we often don’t quite understand.
Through shadow work, we can work towards accepting all parts of ourselves — without judgment and self-hate — so that we can become more authentically and wholly ourselves.
Shadow work journaling is an excellent tool for improving self-acceptance and supporting mental health.
What is Shadow Work?
In recent years, shadow work has become something of a buzzword among mental health influencers. But the concept isn’t new at all.
The concept of the shadow was popularized by Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, who created the term “shadow self” to refer to the aspects of ourselves that we repress or don’t acknowledge.
We all repress certain aspects of ourselves. Maybe you believe jealousy is a negative emotion, so you choose not to acknowledge your envy when your coworker gets a promotion. Or maybe you were told to stop being bossy when you were a child, and now you have difficulties being assertive and voicing your opinions.
As a result, you might feel extra self-critical when your coworker does a great job on an important project. Or you might resent your partner for not taking your opinion into account, even when you didn’t actually share that opinion to begin with.
And because you’re suppressing those feelings instead of acknowledging them, you can’t quite identify where this rage and discomfort comes from. That’s because your shadow aspects are still a part of you — they’re just operating unconsciously instead of consciously.
This is where shadow work steps in. Shadow work asks us to process those “negative” traits instead of pushing them down.
Broadly speaking, shadow work has three phases:
- Acknowledgement. This is where you become aware of the aspects of yourself that have been suppressed.
- Exploration. At this point, you learn more about your shadow aspects and how they influence your thoughts and behaviors.
- Integration. Finally, you accept these aspects as a part of you and learn to integrate them into your conscious personality.
Integration doesn’t mean that you let your jealousy, rage, or criticism ruin your relationships or hurt other people, but that you handle these traits and feelings in a healthy way instead of pushing them away.
For this reason, shadow work may improve your mental health and overall quality of life. Research shows that shadow work can support personal development and help you cope with existential questions.
What is Shadow Work Journaling?
As you can imagine, coming to terms with your shadow self can be a long and difficult process. Journaling is one incredibly helpful tool for doing shadow work.
When we journal, we allow ourselves to explore thoughts, feelings, and patterns that we don’t always want to acknowledge out loud. By putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, if you prefer digital journaling), we give ourselves the opportunity to voice thoughts we don’t otherwise voice.
There are many things you might experience or think that you might want to reflect on, but don’t feel comfortable talking to others about. You might feel too ashamed or embarrassed to discuss it with your best friend, your partner, or maybe even your therapist.
This is where shadow work journaling comes in.
Shadow work journaling allows us to:
- Notice and acknowledge our shadow aspects. By writing it out, we’re recognizing our shadow parts and bringing them into the light.
- Explore our shadow aspects in a safe space. Journaling can help you uncover your triggers, the roots of those feelings, and how it’s influenced your thoughts and behavior.
- Find ways to integrate that shadow part into your conscious personality. This might be acknowledging those uncomfortable feelings when they come up, or accepting your so-called negative traits and using them for good — for example, channeling your “bossy” energy into being an assertive and confident leader.
Shadow work journaling can be done independently, and if you want, you can get started today. However, it can bring up some challenging feelings and memories, so it might be helpful to do it in conjunction with therapy.
Benefits of Shadow Work Journaling
Shadow work journaling offers several potential benefits, particularly in the realm of personal development and emotional well-being.
Benefits of Shadow Work Journaling for Mental Health
Repressed feelings, traits, and thoughts can have a negative effect on your mental health. Because you’re in denial about your shadow aspects, you might take it out on yourself (or others) instead of confronting it directly.
As a result, you might:
- feel depressed or anxious
- have a negative self-image
- self-medicate with alcohol or drugs
- engage in self-destructive behavior
- create conflict with others
Shadow work journaling can help you deal with repressed feelings, bringing them into the light so that you can deal with your issues face-to-face.
- provide a catharsis or emotional release
- help you process trauma
- understand triggers for anxiety, depression, and other painful feelings
- get to the root of self-destructive behavior
- improve your self-esteem and sense of self-worth
Ultimately, shadow journaling can help you directly confront the issues and triggers at the root of your mental health challenges.
While there are many benefits of journaling for mental health, journaling is no replacement for professional mental health care. If you’d like support through your shadow work journey, it’s a good idea to speak with a therapist.
A therapist with a Jungian approach, or a psychodynamic therapist, is likely to have a good understanding of shadow work and its applications.
Benefits of Shadow Work Journaling for Relationships
Understanding your shadow can help you recognize how your unconscious patterns affect your relationships. This awareness can lead to healthier interactions with others, as you're less likely to project your unresolved issues onto them.
Shadow work can also help you address self-destructive behaviors, which can directly or indirectly affect your relationships. For example, you might engage in substance use or reckless spending, which can impact those around you. Sometimes, conflict in relationships also stem from directly self-sabotaging your relationships with others — for example, through picking fights or cheating on a partner.
Benefits of Shadow Work Journaling for Your Career
Shadow work journaling doesn’t just benefit your mental health and relationships — it can also make a positive impact on your career.
A shadow work journaling practice can:
- Turn “negative” traits into strengths. Shadow work journaling helps you integrate your repressed traits into your conscious self. By embracing those shadow aspects — say, aggressiveness or anger — you can channel them into positive qualities, like persistence and passion.
- Improve your emotional self-regulation. Because you’re confronting your shadow aspects instead of repressing them, you’re dealing with your emotions in a healthier way. This can be especially important in a high-stress work environment.
- Enhance mental clarity. By helping you work through upsetting feelings, shadow work journaling can help you focus your energy on work.
- Reduce self-sabotage. Certain self-sabotaging behaviors (like procrastination or talking yourself out of taking promising opportunities) can directly affect your career.
Experts suggest that shadow work can strengthen leadership skills.
While the benefits of shadow work are often discussed in terms of mental wellness, it can have a knock-on effect on your career.
How to Start Shadow Work Journaling
You don’t need to buy a specific journal to start shadow work journaling — you can start it now, for free.
Firstly, you can either use pen and paper or a digital journaling tool. It’s up to you to decide what feels better for you, and you can always switch between methods. Because you’ll be sharing your innermost feelings through shadow journaling, it’s important to ensure that you use a secure app or keep your journal away from prying eyes.
When it comes down to the actual journaling, here are some tips:
- You could start by discussing an emotion, behavior, or thought pattern that makes you uncomfortable when it comes up.
- Writing prompts can help you get deeper. Useful journaling prompts for shadow work could include, "What emotions do I feel most uncomfortable expressing and why?" or "What parts of yourself do you tend to keep hidden, even from your closest friends?"
- Try free writing. When you’re sitting with an uncomfortable emotion or need to vent, write freely, allowing your thoughts and feelings to flow without pausing at all. This means you get to express yourself without censoring or judging yourself.
- Let yourself reflect on your writing. Read your writing with an open mind, even if you want to judge yourself. Try to identify recurring themes, contradictions, triggers, or strong emotional responses.
How often do you need to do shadow work journaling? Although there are benefits of journaling daily, you don’t need to engage in shadow work every day to reap the benefits. You could set aside some time once or twice a week to do a little shadow work journaling, allowing yourself to journal in between if some “shadow” thoughts or feelings come up.
Need a little help? You may benefit from trying Rosebud for free. Through AI-powered journaling prompts, Rosebud can help you dive deeper into your shadow self. This journaling tool also makes it easier to reflect on patterns by providing useful insights and a weekly summary based on your entries.
FAQs about Shadow Work Journaling