Most of us have a part of ourselves that we keep secret. It was depth psychologist Carl Jung who coined “the shadow self,” giving a name to what most of us might call our “dark side.” Our shadow often develops in childhood as a response to our environment. We keep certain parts of ourselves hidden in fear of not being accepted, but in the process, we end up exiling these parts.

What Is Shadow Work?

Though we refer to our shadow as our dark side, there’s nothing inherently bad about it. In many cases, our shadow self is holding onto the desires of our inner child and just wants to be seen in the same way as our other parts. Shadow work helps us uncover these repressed feelings, thoughts and memories so we can accept and heal our shadow, bringing it into the light. Integrating these parts back into our conscious life helps us to live more fully.

How to Approach Shadow Work

There are many different methods for shadow work, but journaling is a great way to begin. We’ve developed a list of 30 prompts to get you started. We recommend setting aside a specific time each day to go through these prompts, allowing space for revelation. You’ll want to use a pen and paper—rather than typing on a phone or laptop—for these prompts so you can really let your thoughts flow and connect from your body to the page. You might even want to get a special notebook just for this practice. You can tackle these prompts in order or skim through and begin with one that grabs your attention.

As with any deep, reflective experience, some of these prompts might bring up some very heavy feelings so know that you can always walk away from the work and come back to it later. The key to shadow work is to have compassion for yourself and to sit with your feelings without judgment. Doing this work alone is also not a substitute for therapy, which is a wonderful way to begin shadow work if that’s available to you.

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30 Shadow Work Prompts for Healing & Growth

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1. What do I want to get out of shadow work?

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2. What was I brought up to value in my family? How are my own values different?

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3. In what ways am I like my parents? In what ways do I hope I’m not like my parents?

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4. What family patterns do I fear I’m repeating?

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5. How would I describe my life to my child self? What parts of my life would I emphasize and what would I leave out?

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6. When was the last time I felt truly at peace? Where was I? Who and what surrounded me?

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7. What is the biggest obstacle to finding the happiness that I crave?

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8. In what situations do I feel less than others, equal to others or better than others? Why do I feel this way?

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9. How do I define failure?

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10. What has been my biggest personal failure and why?

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11. When have I opened up to someone and felt rejected? What did I share?

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12. When have I opened up to someone and felt accepted? What did I share?

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13. When was the last time I felt jealous of someone else? What do they have that I want?

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14. When was the last time I felt defensive and who or what caused that feeling?

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15. What behaviors in other people upset me the most and why?

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16. How would I feel if a friend behaved in a way that upset me? Would I be able to forgive them?

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17. Do I display any of these upsetting behaviors myself? How do I treat myself when I behave this way?

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18. What emotions do I tend to avoid? How do I avoid them?

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19. What would happen if I let myself feel these emotions?

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20. Which dreams of mine feel possible and which feel impossible?

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21. What’s the ugliest part of myself? What would happen if someone caught a glimpse?

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22. In what ways do I self-sabotage?

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23. In what ways do I self-soothe?

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24. When was the last time I forgave myself? What do I still need to forgive myself for now?

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25. What past version of myself do I hope no one ever sees?

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26. What events in my life have hurt me the most? What reminds me of these times? What parts of me remain there?

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27. How can I show more compassion to myself?

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28. What relationship pattern has followed me throughout my life? What would happen if I broke this pattern?

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29. What does success look like to me? If I achieved that success, would I still feel the way I do about my life now?

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30. What would a life of self-acceptance feel and look like for me?

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