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16th Feb 2024

What is ‘Shadow Work’ and what are the benefits?

Jody Coffey


Anything to do with bettering my mental health, I’ll try my hand at it in the hopes of self-improvement.

But when a black book called The Shadow Work Journal: A Guide to Integrate and Transcend your Shadows landed on my desk, it didn’t exactly fit the aesthetic and wholesome personal empowerment tools I’ve come to associate wellness with.

Nonetheless, I got started on the exercises, techniques, and reading within the workbook by Keila Shaheen.  

What is ‘Shadow Work’?

The idea of shadow work is to get to know to part of yourself that can be unknown; the parts we’re not proud of; that our ego does not identify with.

The unconscious mind, Shaheen explains, contains repressed emotions from painful events, causing impulsive behaviours and unwanted patterns that all accumulate as our ‘dark side’.

It’s likely we only come face-to-face with our ‘shadow’ when we’re triggered or anxious; when we’re feeling sad or angry.

This is because our shadow is formed up by parts of ourselves that we have forgotten, abandoned, and repressed over time as a means to meet societal expectations and appear ‘normal’.

While it’s more comforting to restrict the meetings with our shadow self, our anguishes and triggers can be the ‘guide’ in discovering our life purpose.

Shadow work helps to uncover and identify toxic patterns in our lives.

As the saying goes, ‘knowledge is power’; once we acquire the knowledge from shadow work and face our darker side, we can begin the work to rewire those parts of ourselves.

Credit: Getty

Why is Shadow Work important?

I won’t sugarcoat it: Shadow work can be difficult and uncomfortable.

I’m still working my way through the exercises and gaining an understanding about the less-than-desirable parts of myself

However, I’m also learning why these shadow elements exist in the first place and how they show up in my life as an adult.

Through a series of reflection questions and prompts, you begin to trace aspects of your personality back to where they began, which isn’t always easy.

By doing shadow work, you learn to notice your triggers, recognise patterns, understand projections, pay closer attention to dreams, and explore past experiences.

Getting to the root

Where I might have given in to a feeling and reacted without thought before (AKA when my shadow takes the wheel), I now turn to the ‘Get to the root’ pages of the book to understand the emotion.

This section asks the reader to return if they are feeling angry, irritated, or anxious without a clear reason, when they find themselves blaming external factors for problems or playing the victim, having ongoing negative thoughts, and so on.

It essentially covers any area where the shadow may be controlling your reaction or feeling toward a situation, person, or event.

The first time that I used this section while having an emotional reaction, it was a turning point as I had yet to find a well-being practice that offered such rationale for it and forced me to question it.

The Shadow Work Journal has a range of positive exercises

You might assume that shadow work focuses purely on the darker elements of who we are given what you’ve read about it so far.

However, that is untrue.

As you make your way through the workbook, sections explore powerful therapeutic practices such as EFT tapping, mirror gazing, gratitude, releasing stagnant energy, and connecting with past versions of yourself.

Ones that make you feel amazing.

These shadow work exercises can help to unlock greater self-awareness about your responses and lead you to your authentic self, warts and all.