Do you feel as though there are deeper layers of yourself that are just waiting to be unearthed?
Do you have a deeper desire to know more about who you are – who you really are – at a core and soul level?
Do you sometimes wonder why you think, act and feel the way you do and have a yearning to understand what it is that triggers those exact choices, decisions, and thoughts?
These are undeniably complex but interesting questions that appear when we have a deep desire to address the unconscious, deeply buried aspect of our personality. Aka the shadow self.
As a Somatic Psychologist and Mind-Body Expert, together, we’ll embark on the journey to meet our shadow self through deep shadow work prompts and questions, and how to use it to create a real-world, positive impact in our lives.
Let’s get started.
What is the Shadow Self, Exactly?
There are a lot of layers to the shadow self, but in simple terms, the shadow self is everything that is not fully integrated with the conscious aspect of our ego or reality.
As Robert Johnson, famous Jungian Psychotherapist said:
“The Shadow is comprised largely of elements of our nature — our repressed fears, frailties, secret desires, and so on — that we have rejected for various reasons, and as such have been effectively split off, forming a type of secondary personality that emerges under certain conditions, like stress, anxiety, strong emotions, and anything involving sudden changes.
— Robert Johnson (1951)
In simple terms, it houses everything you buried and ‘brushed off' during your childhood and early adulthood as a form of psychological protection in order to fit in, be loved, or be accepted. And that last sentence is key. To FIT in, to be LOVED, and to be ACCEPTED.
It’s fairly primitive and animalistic.
The shadow self doesn’t actually form part of our active identity, in the sense that we openly acknowledge it in our day-to-day lives, because we’ve worked so hard to bury it.
Your shadow side works to hold back any behavior, thoughts, or actions that might stop you from experiencing that level of deep acceptance.
Does that Mean The Shadow Self is Bad?
Not necessarily. In a few of my other articles, I’ve written about something known as the Golden Shadow (one of many shadow work types), where we can unearth our buried positive traits and qualities.
Through such work, we might come to discover we carry more of a humanitarian energy, or that we’re inherently sensitive or creatively gifted.
You likely repressed these traits because you were shown or told these were a weakness as a child. Bullying also would have the same effect.
What Is Shadow Work?
Shadow work is the intensely personal, but deeply gratifying process of journeying within to meet this shadow self.
It requires compassion, kindness, patience, and a need to let go of any assumptions or expectations – not to mention letting go of always being in control.
It also doesn’t work if we use it as a tool to criticize or retraumatize ourselves.
To quote Carl Jung, a famous Swiss Psychiatrist: ‘Shadow work is the path of the heart warrior’.
I’ve separated these shadow work questions into different categories.
Namely for healing, growth, trauma recovery, self-discovery, well-being as well as uncovering that golden shadow I talked about earlier.
78 Deep Shadow Work Prompts For Healing, Growth & Self-Discovery
- Which emotion makes me feel the most uneasy or uncomfortable to sit with?
- Which emotion do I try to avoid the most?
- Think back to a scenario or situation where that emotion played out. What happened? How did I react initially? What other emotions played out alongside the one I tried to avoid?
- What negative emotions am I most comfortable with?
- Do I cling to certain emotions on a day-to-day basis because they feel ‘normal’?
- ‘I am easily influenced or swayed by the opinions and beliefs of others. I find it hard to assert my own voice and figure out what is them versus me’. Explore this statement.
- Do I value myself and what I bring to the table?
- How can I be kinder to myself? In what ways do I punish or sabotage myself?
- How important am I to myself?
- Have you ever done something just to make someone else feel proud of you? If so, who was it and why?
- What is your biggest regret to date?
- Imagine you’re coming to the end of your life, what is the biggest regret you fear having the most? How does that make you feel and where does it sit within the body?
- Imagine your worst fear came true, how does that now make you feel about your life ahead?
- Imagine your most wanted dream came true right now, how does that make you feel about your life ahead? Are there similar feelings and emotions tied to both your fears and successes?
- What do you think are your most undesirable traits and characteristics? (This is NOT an opportunity to put yourself down but rather a chance to unearth what you believe to be true about yourself. This doesn’t mean what you write is an accurate reflection of yourself).
- What do you need to forgive yourself for?
- What is the thing you feel most guilty about in your life to date?
Shadow Work Prompts for Trauma Recovery
- Is your inner voice kind or critical? What things does it say to you on a typical day?
- Is your inner voice truly yours? Who’s voice could be influencing your inner voice? (Parents, partners, teachers, friends etc).
- Would you say the things that that voice tells you to other people? If no, then those thoughts aren’t your true voice. They’re reflections of other people’s beliefs you’ve internalized.
- How do I show up for others in ways that I don’t show up for myself?
- ‘I regularly downplay how I feel or what I’m really thinking for the sake of others’. Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
- Looking at your past, who has or still does regularly downplay how you feel? Why do you keep them in your life?
- Do you trust yourself? Do you trust others? Do you trust life?
- Do you feel worthy of the deepest, unconditional love?
- What image do you think other people carry about you?
- Did your parents always address and meet your needs as a child?
- Did your teachers and school peers treat you with the respect and love you deserved as a child?
- Thinking back to a time in my childhood when I felt different or outcast, do I notice any similarities in that moment to how I go about my daily life now? Are there childhood fears appearing in my adult life?
Golden Shadow Work Prompts (Gifts, Positive Traits & Qualities)
- Who do I admire most and why? (Our golden shadow traits are found in who we intensely admire, and wish to be like)
- What is my inner truth?
- If I could tell my younger self only one thing, it would be …. Fill in the blank.
- Do you fully celebrate your achievements? Or, is there a disconnect between your achievements and who you are as a person? Which one resonates more?
- ‘If I could be anything in the world, I would be …..’ fill in the blank.
- Why aren’t you already doing the thing you mentioned in the above question? What’s stopping you?
- How would you like others to describe you? How does that make you feel?
- Have I ever sacrificed a part of myself to fit in with others better?
- Where am I playing small in my life?
- Am I scared of my own potential?
- What narrative or stories do I tell myself surrounding ‘wanting more’?
- ‘I am worthy of good things coming my way’. Do you agree or disagree and why?
- Are you authentically yourself around others? Do you wear a persona or even separate masks depending on who you are around?
- Are you happy being alone in your own company?
- How far have I come in life?
- What does happiness mean to me?
- Who am I?
Shadow Work Prompts for Anxiety, Perfectionism & General Wellbeing
- What is my definition of failure?
- When I think back to a time that I failed, I feel …. Fill in the blank.
- What is my definition of perfection? Is it attainable?
- Do I hold myself to a higher standard than others? If so, why?
- In what areas of my life do I feel inferior to others?
- When have you ever felt abandoned by those around you? Describe the situation and what it made you feel.
- Do you feel you’re only as ‘good as your last achievement’? If yes, why? If no, why not?
- ‘I am overly critical and harsh on myself’. Do you agree or disagree with this statement and why?
- ‘I feel the need to keep myself hidden and small for the sake of others’ feelings’. Explore this statement.
- ‘I’ve stayed in relationships (either platonic or romantic) that deep down I knew weren’t good for me. Why did I do that?’ Explore this statement and the feelings it brings up.
- If you were to live the remaining years of your life as an exact repeat of what has gone by, how would you feel and why? Where would you make changes?
- Describe the time when you felt the most alone.
- ‘In the past, I have let people take advantage of me’. Explore this statement.
- Does acknowledging that other people have taken advantage of you bring up any anger, resentment or uncomfortableness? If you could turn back the clocks, what would you do differently?
- Where do you need to set better boundaries in your life?
- What makes you really angry, so angry that you don’t tell anyone or you internalize and bury it?
- If I had to take a negative experience and reframe it positively, how would I do that? How does the process of reframing make me feel?
- What is my deepest source of rage and anger?
- What can’t I accept about myself?
- What do I hate about others?
- What do I need to stop running away from? What do I struggle to tackle head-on?
- What is the greatest lie I keep feeding myself with? Where has that come from?
- If you met yourself for the first time, what impression would you have?
- What are your toxic traits? How do these traits affect your life? How do they noticeably affect others?
- What makes you jealous? Why? What does this jealousy tell you about your own needs?
- Do you feel misunderstood by others? Do people have misconceptions about you?
- What lies have you told yourself and why? Where do they come from?
- Do you ask for help? If no, why not? Is that learned behavior?
- Describe a time you self-sabotaged. What happened? Why do you think it happened?
- ‘I love and accept myself exactly as I am’. Explore this statement.
- What triggers you?
- Write a letter to your past self. What would you say?
- How much has past trauma defined your personality traits today?
- Is there someone you can’t forgive? What emotions does it bring up when you think about them?
- Do you allow yourself to be vulnerable?
How to Use These Shadow Work Prompts
- Choose a journal: Physical or digital, blank or lined, whatever your preference.
- Set aside 15-30 minutes: Dedicate some time every day, or a few times a week, to journaling. Pick 1-3 questions to start. Anything that makes you feel uneasy or uncomfortable is likely a good place to start.
- Write: Write your instinctual and first thoughts, feelings and experiences. Don’t worry about grammar or handwriting, just write whatever comes to mind.
- Review and reflect: Read over what you wrote and reflect on any patterns or insights you may have gained. Is something coming up again and again?
- Note any actions: As you continue to reflect on your experiences, you’ll start to notice little actions you could make in your daily life to start to challenge those faulty beliefs.
I will note, shadow work doesn’t work when you’re actively trying to hide and deny the feelings and thoughts that bubble up.
This path absolutely demands surrender, compassion, and the desire for true self-expression.
As you’ll see, not everything will have an answer, and some behavioral patterns you’ll never quite get to the bottom of, but these shadow work prompts will aid you in deep transformational growth.
Often, my clients have a series of mini (and then major!) breakthroughs after spending time with them.
Why Are We Using Shadow Work Prompts? What’s the Aim?
The primary goal of these shadow work prompts is to help you become more self-aware.
The simple act of writing down your true, unfiltered thoughts and reactions to these questions means you’re automatically achieving that goal.
But, and here’s the crucial part, we’re also seeking to integrate both the masked persona aka what you portray to the outer world with the shadow side, aka what you truly feel in your inner world so you can start to live as your authentic self.
The authentic self is a bit of a sweet spot that takes into account who you are now and who you have been to create the person you want to be.
These shadow work journal questions dig deep to uncover the triggers and limiting beliefs that are blocking you from doing that.
Fun fact: you can’t heal what you aren’t aware of.
15 Telltale Signs You Have a Repressed Shadow Self
- You harbor suppressed emotions and feelings (and struggle to put them into words)
- You suffer from intense impostor syndrome
- You have low-self esteem
- You have difficulty expressing your needs
- You actively avoid certain thoughts or behaviors just in case it triggers you
- You have repressed anger or rage
- You have sudden emotional outbursts (namely crying)
- You struggle to make decisions
- You have unhealthy coping mechanisms
- Inability to assert yourself
- You’re always taken back to a traumatic situation that happened to you when something goes wrong
- You’re disconnected from your own desires and values
- You put other people first every time
- You hold yourself and other people to an exceptionally high standard
- You think your future will look exactly like your past
Before You Start: A Friendly Reminder From a Therapist
Before you dive deep into these shadow work prompts, I want you to practice and uphold a self-care practice.
Word of warning, shadow work isn’t to be taken lightly. It can trigger unhealed trauma, challenging thoughts as well as existential crises in some people.
If at any point you feel it’s become too much – stop, process what you’ve already uncovered, and then return when you feel emotionally equipped and stable to do so.
You might think you’re fully capable of handling what arises from a ‘few simple questions’, but before you know it, your answer has affected you all day and you can’t stop thinking about it.
These moments will happen – it’s normal.
It’s also normal to feel a sense of detachment from the world and those around you for a little while, at least until you’ve processed what came up for you.
Give yourself some space to breathe.
Shadow work will never be complete, it’s something that follows you (just like your shadow) on the journey that is life. It can wait until you’re ready to pick it up again.
⭐Continue Your Journey of Discovery: