Shadow work journaling is a hugely valuable form of journaling, and in particular for anybody who demonstrates self-sabotaging behaviours, to help you find peace and contentment. 

What is Shadow Work Journaling?

Shadow work journaling | Image shows a pink journal with a pad and pen on top of it. There's a coffee cup in shot and some flowers, on a white background.

Shadow work journaling is the act of journaling with the specific goal of working on the shadow self in order to resolve internal conflict. It involves actively working through the triggers which bring you pain on a subconscious level and negatively influence your life.

Those negative influences may manifest as:

  • Self-sabotaging behaviours
  • Lack of confidence
  • Bitterness
  • Resentment
  • Jealousy
  • Anger and aggression
  • Shame and guilt
  • Addiction
  • Judgement of yourself and/or others

Shadow work journaling means committing to regularly journaling in order to unearth the unconscious reasons behind these debilitating and harmful emotions. If bringing up all of this negativity sounds scary, I’m not surprised – it’s not an easy activity to engage in and shouldn’t be undertaken lightly.

This is essentially a form of self-therapy. It is literally designed to expose the most vulnerable and painful parts of yourself which have long been buried.

You might be wondering why anybody would be motivated to dredge up such potentially brutal wounds? 

That’s a good question – with a good answer…

The Purpose of Shadow Work

For as long as the trauma concealed within your unconscious mind remains hidden, it will continue to drive the destructive feelings and actions you exhibit.

When you self-sabotage, you are not doing so from a place of informed intent – you don’t choose the decisions that result in poor outcomes for you. They somehow just seem to occur, and then with hindsight you’re able to recognise that it was your own pattern of behaviour which once again created the perfect storm to destroy whatever you were working towards.

And, if you’re reading this post, then no doubt you want to make a positive change.

That is the purpose of shadow work: to heal the inner turmoil that’s holding you back from reaching your full potential, and ultimately to allow you to find peace.

Shadow work journaling pin

The Value of Shadow Work

The value of shadow work cannot be underestimated. Simply, if you want to break the destructive pattern of downward spiralling, something has to change.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.

Rita Mae Brown

Shadow work journaling is one of the most soul-searching forms of self-improvement and perhaps one of the most powerful; it’s not easy – but it’s worth it. 

How to Do Shadow Work Journaling

Getting started with shadow work journaling is a daunting prospect. Where do you start? What do you write?

With such a profound task before you, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.

This is where journal prompts can be enormously helpful. They give you a starting point and a focus. I highly recommend working through my shadow work journal prompts as a guide for the process.

How Do I Start a Shadow Work Journal?

You don’t require any fancy products for journaling, though of course it’s an option if you prefer.

The most important aspect when it comes to journaling is that you begin, and ideally make it into an ongoing habit, which becomes a healthy new routine.

For this reason, it’s sometimes beneficial to choose pretty stationery that compels you to write. But if you’re disciplined and committed to the task regardless, a simple notebook and pen are perfectly adequate.

Read more tips for getting started with journaling.

Tips For Shadow Work Journaling

While using prompts will help you with specific areas to turn your attention to, these are some general tips for shadow work journaling.

1. Explore Your Childhood

We’re all a product of our childhoods. 

If you have a happy and stable childhood, with all else being equal, it’s likely you will develop into a well-adjusted adult.

If, on the other hand, there was trauma, abuse, or neglect present – whether physical or emotional – then it’s highly likely you will have adopted certain self-preserving behaviours as a direct result. Unfortunately, while they may have served a purpose when you were a child, as they can become damaging in adulthood.

Looking at your childhood carefully and tuning into any situations that caused you pain is a good way to begin learning more about your triggers so that you can begin to heal them.

A pink journal on a white background, with flowers.

2. Recognise Your Triggers

While your childhood offers clues to the origin of your pain, your triggers are the next piece of the puzzle, providing clear information about what it is that still affects you today – or what events from adulthood may have contributed to your shadow.

Initially, the two may appear to be unconnected, but it’s likely that there’s a connection if you look for it.

3. Identify Patterns

Start to seek out the patterns between what events of feelings in your childhood caused (and continue to cause) you distress, and the triggers that can still evoke anger or hurt today.

As you become aware of your triggers and start to notice patterns, you’ll be a step closer to bringing the negativity buried within you to the surface, into your consciousness.

4. Become Aware of Your Shadow

Your shadow is not simply a frightened child – this is not inner child work (though there’s definitely an overlap, and this is something else you’ll likely benefit from).

Your shadow includes the adult parts of yourself that have evolved thanks to that frightened child, that you know to be ugly and unwelcome. They’re the parts of your personality you may not understand, and may have been unaware of before beginning this process. But they’re undeniably a part of you, which you will find unpalatable and will want to repress or deny.

This is part of shadow work – nobody wants to admit to their worst character traits; it’s much more comfortable to pretend they don’t exist.

But bringing your shadow self into the light is what takes away its power over you.

5. Observe Without Judgement

Besides which, a vital part of the process of shadow work is acknowledging those unattractive qualities, but without judgement. 

Image shows a woman writing in a diary.

It’s important to accept them as a part of yourself, but to do so with compassion. They do not define you, they are not who you want to choose to be, they simply are.

6. Let Go of Shame Towards Your Shadow

Looking within yourself, directly at the elements of your shadow that you’re not proud of allows you to begin the next phase of shadow work, which is to remove its control over you. 

This is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of shadow work, because good people cannot easily feel acceptance of character traits which – socially and logically – are unpleasant.

So how do you accomplish this? By allowing it to exist within you, knowing it’s there but feeling compassion towards it rather than revulsion.

This is easier to achieve when you consider the circumstances around what led to the manifestation of your shadow in the first place. Remember, it usually comes from trauma, abuse, or neglect. Those who’ve have an idyllic childhood will not harbour shadows in the same way – although nobody is perfect and everybody has a shadow to some degree.

7. Accept and Make Peace With Your Shadow

Finally, you must make peace with your shadow.

This is also a great exercise in being less judgemental of others, because it opens us up to understanding and appreciating where unattractive traits often stem from:

They are usually not an outright, conscious intention to cause hurt or harm to others.

And when we acknowledge the truth of this, it’s far easier to embrace forgiveness of ourselves and others – another hugely valuable tool in the pursuit for inner peace.

An award-nominated blogger and author, Kate is a huge advocate of personal growth, focusing on journaling to increase positivity and facilitate mindful motherhood. With a wealth of experience in breastfeeding and CMPA, Kate is also an expert baby sleep chaser. Her writing has appeared on Mothercare, Huff Post, and BritMums.

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