Have you ever reacted to a situation or a seemingly innocuous comment and wondered why you got so worked up? You’re not the only one. According to research by Carl Jung1https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=imQHEAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PR5&dq=shadow+work+research+carl+jung&ots=68Tl1H-tTS&sig=irY2q1_am-lh94Bq0iASUwrPkgo#v=onepage&q=shadow%20self&f=false, what’s happening here is likely a response from your repressed shadow self.
To begin understanding the deep inner workings of how you show up in the world, many people go through the healing process of shadow work and find it transformational!
In this article, we’ll look at what shadow work is, its benefits, and 100+ shadow work question prompts you can use to get started.
Note: We are so honored to help you find authentic connections! For a good resource for therapists, you can check out Mental Health America’s helpful list.
What is Shadow Work?
Shadow work consists of reflecting on your subconscious’s repressed beliefs and perceptions and pushing through the resistance to work through the issues holding you back from better mental health and integrated life.
According to research by Carl Jung1https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=imQHEAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PR5&dq=shadow+work+research+carl+jung&ots=68Tl1H-tTS&sig=irY2q1_am-lh94Bq0iASUwrPkgo#v=onepage&q=shadow%20self&f=false, your shadow, otherwise known as your subconscious self, influences how you operate in the world and, in some cases, leaves you unaware of the deeper motives behind your actions or how you project yourself. Therefore, by facing your shadows, you gain power over them.
“It is often tragic to see how blatantly a man bungles his own life and the lives of others yet remains totally incapable of seeing how much the whole tragedy originates in himself and how he continually feeds it and keeps it going.”—Carl Jung, Psyche, and Symbol: A Selection from the Writings of C.G. Jung
Why Do Shadow Work?
As you begin to understand your subconscious ego through shadow work, you can better overcome addictions and understand the root cause of your relational issues, among other things.
The common purpose for shadow work are:
- Exploring and understanding your past traumas
- Identifying and overcoming your limiting beliefs
- Examining patterns of behavior in your relationships
For example, let’s say you notice that you’re triggered when someone says something seemingly harmless, like, “Wow. What a bold outfit.” Maybe you start to feel your blood pressure go up and your body temperature rise, but you may not even understand the root of why this is happening.
By going through the process of deep shadow work, you may discover that your reaction could stem from growing up and being shamed for being bold, loud, and talkative. As a result, you have since felt inferior when others point out the part of you that you have tried to subconsciously hide or reject about yourself due to shame.
Once you’re able to identify how your shadow self is projecting itself into the world, you can surface the shame you feel about parts of your subconscious identity and go through the process of healing.
What Are The Benefits of Shadow Work?
The benefits of going through the process of shadow work in psychotherapy influence your brain in such a way that it can function at a healthier level. Some of the benefits include2https://mhanational.org/science-behind-therapy#_edn2:
- Increased self-awareness and authenticity
- Improved emotional intelligence
- Self-acceptance and compassion
- Healthier relationships
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Increased confidence
- Greater creativity
- Clarity around goals
Shadow work has great benefits, especially when you know how to set goals with your shadow work. Learn how to set better goals with this helpful resource!
How To Set Better Goals Using Science
Do you set the same goals over and over again? If you’re not achieving your goals – it’s not your fault!
Let me show you the science-based goal-setting framework that will help you achieve your biggest goals.
What Are Shadow Work Prompts?
Shadow work prompts are questions that help you tap into the emotions, beliefs, perceptions and sometimes dark thoughts that are repressed within your subconscious. The purpose of these questions is to help you start the process of healing and living a fully integrated life.
Use shadow work question prompts like the ones below in journaling, creative expression (art, music, dance, etc.), the context of a safe relationship, or with a professional therapist. For example, you might try a process like this:
- Choose two or three shadow work question prompts to think through.
- Spend five to ten minutes reflecting on the memories each prompt brings up.
- Note the feelings in your body, and explore the emotions you’re experiencing.
- Get out your journal or art supplies, and start writing down (or painting, playing, dancing) what comes to mind and let it all out.
- Take five to ten minutes afterward to read back or look back on your work.
- Pay attention to any common themes or new learnings and write them down.
- At this point, a great way to close your process might be to sit in meditation.
Shadow work is a powerful tool for personal growth and transformation, but it’s not necessarily easy. However, the benefits far outweigh the difficulty and include a greater sense of well-being and life satisfaction. Before you get started, please remember to be patient and gentle with yourself!
100+ Shadow Work Prompts
Below is a list of 100+ shadow work question prompts to help you process the feelings of your subconscious in various areas of your life, including your workplace, childhood, past traumas, spirituality, and relationships.
Shadow work prompts for beginners
Beginner shadow work prompts are great for when you first start out because they help you slowly get into self-reflection if it’s not something you’re used to yet.
- What are the values you were brought up with?
- What things do you notice trigger your body to tense up?
- How do your friends and family describe you?
- What do you wish your friends and family knew about you?
- What’s something you’re often embarrassed to admit to others?
- What are the things you wish you were better at?
- If you were to write a memoir about your life, what would the chapter titles be?
- What are the three most important relationships in your life, and how have they influenced your beliefs about who you are?
- What kind of people do you attract around you?
- If you could share a secret about yourself with the world and remain anonymous, what would you share?
- Where were you, and what were you doing the last time you felt truly at peace?
- What kind of things about yourself make you feel “less than” others?
Shadow work prompts around your career or the workplace
Career and workplace prompts help you think through some of the things that might be triggering you or keeping you from having greater satisfaction in your work.
- How do people describe you at work?
- What is something people often get wrong about you at work?
- What do you wish people knew about you at work?
- What would you do differently if you could start your career over again?
- What kind of responsibilities drain you at work?
- What kind of work requests trigger you negatively? Why do you think that is?
- What do you wish you could change about your workplace or career?
- Do you wish people treated you differently at work? How so?
- What expectations feel hard to live up to at work?
- What kind of advice do people come to you for? Why do you think that is?
- What expectations feel easy to live up to but don’t feel authentic to who you are?
- What skill do you think you might have a knack for but don’t try or talk about because you’re afraid of failing?
To keep exploring your work style and intrinsic motivations, check out our article: The 6 Work Styles and How to Find Yours (Using Science!).
Shadow work prompts for spirituality
Spirituality prompts help you reflect on the beliefs, values, and ideas you may be consciously or subconsciously aware of, helping you uncover what is holding you back or causing you pain.
- When you think about what God’s voice or a higher power might sound like, what do you imagine? What does this voice say about you?
- What does it mean to be good? Where do your beliefs about goodness come from?
- What does it mean to be evil? Where do your beliefs about evilness come from?
- What about your belief system feels hard to trust? Why do you think that is?
- What do your spiritual beliefs say about who you are?
- If you were to question your beliefs, what do you fear others might think about you?
- If you have an inner voice, what does it sound like? Is it kind? Critical? Loving? What does it say about you?
- When bad things happen, what does it say about you? What about when good things happen?
- What or who has the most influence on your life? Are you OK with this influence?
- What gives you the most purpose in life? How can you do more of that?
- What makes you feel valued?
Shadow work prompts for trauma
Prompts for trauma are especially helpful for those seeking healing from their past.
- What does it feel like when someone oversteps your boundaries? What do you do?
- How do you wish others would show up for you?
- What makes you feel alone?
- What makes you stay in relationships that aren’t good for you?
- When was the last time you felt less than? What happened?
- What triggers bring out the worst in you? Why?
- When you put on a mask to show others a specific version of yourself, what part of you are you trying to hide?
- Have you ever broken a promise to yourself? What happened? How did it feel?
- What’s one thing you wish you could change about your past?
- Are there certain emotions you feel more comfortable with? Why do you think that is?
- What’s an idea or story that you cling to when you feel like giving up? What does it say about who you are?
Shadow work prompts for inner-child healing
Prompts for inner-child healing help you deep dive into your past and how your childhood self may be projecting into your present-day reality.
- What core memory from your childhood makes you angry?
- What core memory from your childhood makes you feel shame?
- How did your parent or guardian encourage or discourage you growing up?
- What words did others use to describe you growing up?
- What did you wish people understood about you growing up?
- If you could go back to your elementary-school-aged self, what advice would you give?
- What do you wish you could change about how you grew up?
- What were you most insecure about growing up?
- What was your biggest fear growing up?
- What’s something you rarely talk about that happened to you as a child?
- What did your parents or guardians ask of you growing up?
Shadow work prompts for relationships
Prompts for relationships help you discover the nuances in how you show up with others and how experiences from your past may be triggered in your present-day relationships.
- Name a time when you felt rejected. What happened?
- What does being vulnerable in a relationship look like to you?
- When you’re vulnerable with someone, how does it feel? Is it safe? Is it hard? Why?
- When was the last time you felt jealous? What did you fear might happen? Why?
- When was the last time you felt resentful for something someone else had? What does your resentment reveal about what you need or want?
- What makes you feel defensive? What are you trying to protect?
- What do you hate most that others do in a relationship? Why?
- What is one thing you hope your partner never finds out about you? What might happen if they knew?
- When was the last time you forgave someone? Was it hard? Why or why not?
- What does my partner get annoyed with me about? What does or doesn’t it say about me?
- What do you want our partner to believe and know about you?
Shadow work prompts for self-love
Prompts for self-love offer you an opportunity for healing and discovery of who you are and who you want to become.
- What’s something you always wished you could do but haven’t done because you’re afraid?
- How do you self-sabotage the things you want in life?
- What do you wish you could forgive yourself for? What makes it hard?
- If you were to talk to yourself as if you were a child, what would change about the words you would use? Are they kind? Why or why not?
- What has hurt you the most from your past? What do you wish you had now to heal from that pain?
- When was the last time you received compassion? What did that feel like? What does it say about you?
- If you fully accepted yourself for who you are, what kinds of things could you stop doing today?
- What kind of things do you notice you do to conform to others around you? If you stopped conforming, what would this say about you?
- If you said no to something you normally feel obligated to do, what does that free you up to do instead?
- What do you believe is true about you? What is not true? What do your beliefs say about who you are?
- How do you respond when someone expresses support? Do you reject or accept it? What does your response say about who you are?
Shadow work prompts for deep work
Deep work prompts go more profound than most other prompts and are best reflected in a safe space. Be patient and graceful with yourself as you process potential feelings of shame or regret, and know that the process is part of your healing journey.
- What have you done that makes you feel most like a failure?
- What do you think others would think if the one thing you feel most shameful about were shared in every ad on YouTube?
- What destructive patterns do you notice you repeat? Why do you think you repeat them?
- What is the meaning of success to you? Where do you think that comes from?
- What does your family mean to you? How have they impacted your life?
- What do you have a hard time saying no to that you wish you could let go?
- Who in your life takes up the most emotional energy? Why do you think that is?
- What habits do you feel guilty or shameful about? Why?
- What kind of behaviors in others make you the angriest? Why? What does it say about you?
- When was the last time you felt betrayed by someone? What happened? What do you wish they knew about you?
- If you found out you would die today, what would you regret not doing in your life?
Shadow work prompts for healing
Prompts for healing help you explore the areas of your life you need to forgive or learn to love yourself again.
- How do you self-sabotage the things you want in life? What do you wish you’d do instead?
- How do you respond when someone is angry with you? What does their anger say about you?
- What makes you feel unworthy of love and belonging? Where does this come from?
- If you could write a letter to the person(s) who hurt you the most, what would you say?
- What do you feel you must do to be worthy of love? Why?
- What part of your personality or personhood do you find most challenging to accept? Why?
- When was the last time you realized you were wrong about something? How did it make you feel? What did you do about it?
- Do you trust yourself? Why or why not?
- When was the last time you stood up for yourself? What were you defending and why?
- What kind of things do you do to numb your feelings? What are you trying to avoid?
- When you’re alone, what does your self-talk most commonly sound like? What kinds of things do you say to yourself, and why?
4 Tips to Integrate Shadow Work Into Your Life
Identify and work with resistance
Shadow work is not easy. Because it involves facing some dark parts of your past and inner psyche, it’s important to remember that resistance is normal and being kind to yourself is critical. Here are a couple of things to pay attention to in your shadow work process:
- Pay attention to your triggers. As you process memories, you may be triggered by feelings of shame. Note the things that trigger you and bring up feelings in your body.
- Pay attention to the feelings in your body. Are you tense? Is your heart rate high? These are sensations that tell you something about your emotions.
- Take deep breaths as you process painful memories. Some of the feelings that surface may be difficult. Be sure to breathe and speak to yourself with compassion.
- Take note of thought patterns and habits that repeat themselves. As you journal through the shadow work prompts, you may notice common themes.
Create a safe and supportive space for shadow work
Since the process of doing shadow work can be very difficult, especially for those who have experienced trauma, it’s essential to do this work in a safe and supportive space.
Many people find safety in doing this work by themselves with a journal. However, if you struggle with negative self-talk, this may not actually be “safe” at all. Instead, the best thing you can do is to go through this process with a safe friend, professional counselor, or therapist.
Express yourself creatively
Shadow work prompts do not need to be confined to a journal. In fact, many people find these prompts helpful to express themselves creatively in other ways. Are you an artist? Musician? Dancer? Poet? Use these prompts to paint, write a song, choreograph, or write creatively to express the feelings of your inner psyche. You may find the process therapeutic as you seek to express your repressed shadow self.
Pro Tip: Some therapists are certified in art therapy, and they can also be helpful in this area!
Track progress and growth
Tracking your progress as you heal can help you recognize your growth over time. To do this, consider tracking your moods, emotions, and reactions to different situations throughout the week with a daily mood tracker. There are several templates available for free and for sale online.
The progress trackers that may be most beneficial will help you identify:
- General mood or emotion on a given day
- Emotions felt throughout the day
- Physical factors that may have contributed to your mood like sleep, food, etc.
- What happened
- What worked and didn’t work today
- Thoughts and reflections
As you go through the shadow work healing process, notice how your moods and general outlook changes over time and celebrate your progress!
Shadow Work Key Takeaways
In summary, take note of these tips to integrate shadow work into your daily practice:
- Work with resistance. Take it slow, breathe, and notice your triggers.
- Create a safe space. Shadow work can be painful. Consider seeking a therapist.
- Express yourself creatively. You’re not confined to a journal. Try art, music, or dancing!
- Track progress. Use a daily mood tracker and celebrate your progress over time.
For more ideas on becoming your best self at work, check out our article How to Do What You Love: Use Science to Be Happy at Work.