How to use shadow work to build self-awareness

In these bleak November days, when the going gets tough, the weather does nothing to help. We need to focus more on supporting ourselves in keeping it high vibe.

How to use Shadow Work to Build Self-Awareness

So, on less-than-strong days, when our shadow creeps up – the “dark side” of our personality, as Carl Jung described it – comprised of what we tend to deem shameful, unacceptable, ugly, and want to deny (the parts that make us think: ugh, this again? Am I not over this yet?) we best rise to the occasion of dealing with it. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to get down to that place of feeling powerless to it.

Those who are prone to depression, seasonal or otherwise, understand that feeling of being dragged down to a place that feels nearly impossible to get out of. External factors can contribute to that momentum – triggers in our environments, social circles, etc. To stay out of them, it’s our responsibility to notice it, and take control.

The best way to deal with the dark place we most don’t want to go – is to go there. Often. But do it effectively – that is, so we can “own it.” Blogger Lonerwolf puts it well: “the truth is that to genuinely become a whole and healed person, you must integrate your Shadow into your being. In other words, you must 100% OWN your Shadow, rather than avoiding or repressing it.”

Shadow work (or exploring our shadow) is the uncomfortable, no-shortcut route to whole-hearted, fully-present living. It’ll make you unsure of yourself. It’s supposed to. But it doesn’t last forever, and if you’ve been journalling for a while, the more likely you’ll be able to dive right in – which is the key to being effective with it.

What to Expect With Shadow Work

Confronting harsh realities is difficult, but it isn’t like the difficulty of repeating negative patterns and cycles – shadow work brings about pain with clarity, and it’s worth it. It’s pain with a purpose. Expect to be rocked in your sense of self, and made stronger for it in the long run. That said, there’s a right and a not so great time for doing it. So: starting a brand new job, having to help support a friend or family member who needs it, etc. aren’t ideal times. If you’re stuck in a rut, feel blocked, don’t know which way to turn but aren’t happy where you are – all good times for shadow work. Prepare for a perspective shift.

Shadow Work Journalling Methods to Get Started

For a lot of shadow work enthusiasts, journalling is the go-to tool. Free-writing is an effective avenue for facilitating release free of the inner critic’s banter. To start shadow working with your journal, tackle the issue of what drew you to look at your shadow in the first place.

Write about the pattern that’s come up, the block you feel, the frustration, the blind spot – the answer you wish you had. Starting here, rather than go straight into your archive of memories to hunt for “reasons” you are where you are now is a less overwhelming way to get on the right path. Keep it simple and don’t try to hunt too hard for “answers.” Let what comes up come up and trust yourself.

Try these techniques for guidance: Teal Swan’s What is Shadow Work and How Do I Do Shadow Work? she walks you through 2 practices, “rooting out the core belief” and also “finding the suppressed self.” Or, check out Kelly Ann Maddox’s 25 Heavy-Duty Shadow Work Journalling Prompts for questions you can explore.

The goal of moving through the process is put well as the 5 A’s of Shadow Work as per Raven Rin’s Pagan Nest:

  1. Acknowledge the existence within your psyche of the shadow self
  2. Allow yourself to spend time with your shadow personality
  3. Amends.Think of how these aspects of yourself have hurt you or others and make amends. You could make amends face to face, by writing a letter that you don’t send, etc.
  4. Admit. Take responsibility for that part of yourself. Admit it into your life
  5. Awareness. You now recognize this part of you and you have control over it

It takes time. And it’s not easy. But exposure, over time, is the key. Think of it as practice. Shadow work is more about shadow integration, than anything else. It’s about getting to a place where you can feel compassion for yourself – all parts of yourself, and, also toward others.

If you’re a prolific creatrix, working on your shadow is one of the most important activities you can do for your personal development and your career. It’ll help you gain more control over your creative power and increase your confidence in your “output” in all areas of your life. Take responsibility for your creative being! Making it a regular practice – not denying the stuff that’s easiest to deny, but looking right at it – is an exercise in personal power that will bring big results in your life.   

Additional Shadow Work Resources:

Kelly Ann Maddox’s Shadow Work: What to Expect and How to Begin

Raven Rin’s Pagan Nest’s Shadow Work Exercises  

LonerWolf’s How to Face Your Darkest, Most Disturbing Thoughts

Kait Fowlie

Kait Fowlie is a Toronto-based freelance writer, digital marketer and collector of wellness wisdom for creative types. She blogs at and tweets @KaitFowlie

Sarah Steckler