What Is Shadow Work?
For such a dark name, shadow work is not as bad as it seems. Shadow work is about reflecting upon and honoring the things we do not like about ourselves, and then taking action to accept or change these aspects. In strictly Law of Attraction terms, shadow work is essentially synonymous with facing your "limiting beliefs" or "negative beliefs."
The premise of shadow work is that if you experience something in the world that deeply upsets or angers you, it is a "mirror" of what you have within yourself. For example, if someone being rude really bothers you, that maybe you are rude without realizing it.
I do not agree personally that there is always such a direct correlation of "if you experience this, then you are acting that way." I do believe, however, that if you experience something and it generates a negative reaction within you, that it is a manifestation of a fear that you have about yourself. Like witnessing someone being rude to a waiter does not necessarily mean that you are rude to waiters, but you have a limiting belief that you are secretly an a-hole and this fear was demonstrated to you through this manifestation. It mirrors your vibration about a subject back to you.
How Do You Practice Shadow Work?
Practicing shadow work can feel difficult at first (like releasing all limiting beliefs) but gets easier with practice.
The first (maybe obvious) thing to do is to determine what you need to do shadow work on. A pretty good rule of thumb is that if you have ever had a reaction to something that seems disproportionate to what just happened, then that is an opportunity of an aspect to do shadow work with. For example, if a coworker's offhand comment really hit a nerve or you found yourself snapping at your husband for seemingly no reason, those are good incidents to reexamine and do this emotional work with.
Once you determine what aspect you wish to work on, find a quiet area away from others so that you have the space and freedom to express yourself emotionally. When we are around other people we tend to temper or suppress our emotions out of fear of making others uncomfortable, so it is best to do this work alone because you need to have the ability to let it all emotionally out. A tip from my years in college - if getting privacy is an issue for you, you can do this work in the bathroom.
There are several ways to practice shadow work. You can read the prompts outloud to yourself, or you can journal them in a notebook or even type them on a computer. I find that writing is usually the most effective way to do shadow work personally, but you can choose whatever way you feel most inspired to do.
No matter which way you choose to do it, the most important thing is to give yourself time to reflect and answer the questions honestly, even if it feels uncomfortable in the moment. Allowing yourself to feel a negative emotion for even just two minutes, or the time it takes to microwave a burrito, as Melody Fletcher says, will help you burst through and let the limiting belief go.
An important thing to remember as well is that shadow work is about first and foremost embracing yourself. By honor the parts we are ashamed of, and treating them with compassion, we actually give them a chance to feel heard and can heal from them. It's about coming from a place of love, and not from a place of self-hatred or shame.
Think about a cute 5-year-old child. What would you do if a 5-year-old came up to you and was crying and upset? Chances are, you would listen to them and help soothe them - not push them away. When doing shadow work, we are working with aspects of ourselves like our 5-year-old selves that have usually felt unheard for a long time. Honor those parts of you and listen to them as you would a small child (or an upset puppy if kids are not your thing).
My Favorite Shadow Work Journal Prompt
The easiest prompt you can answer for yourself is very simple. You ask yourself "why" at least 5 times in a row.
You can start with any situation that is bothering you or something you feel negatively about yourself, and gently ask yourself "why" over and over. It is an effective technique because it helps you stick with the discomfort and reach new levels of understanding within yourself.
This is best demonstrated with an example. Say our hypothetical friend Emily want to eat less sugar, but finds herself going for king-sized Snickers every night. She may say to herself:
"I keep eating too much sugar even though I don't want to."
"Because I'm undisciplined."
"Because I am not finding a lot of joy out of life, and the chocolate is giving me relief."
"Because it gives me good memories of eating chocolate with my mom."
"Because it's one of the few good memories I have with her, and I miss her a lot."
"Because she passed away last year and I still don't know how to handle it."
The answers you may get while asking yourself "why" can be pretty abstract, but as you can see in this example, when you ask yourself "why" enough times you will find that the answer rarely is about what you think it is. In this example, Emily uses eating too much chocolate as a substitute for processing the grief of missing her mom.
Instead of getting stuck on trying to use willpower to stop eating chocolate and believing that it is a lack of discipline that is causing the sweets overconsumption, she now have more data. Emily now understand that eating too much chocolate is a symptom of needing to process her sadness around her mom.
And when she focuses on doing healing work around the underlying grief around her mother, she will find herself eating less sweets because she addressed the root energy that is causing her unwanted behavior. She will have healed the limiting belief so it no longer manifests in her physical reality as eating too many sweets.
This is true of almost any behavior that you cannot find the "willpower" to overcome. Self-sabotaging behaviors run deeper than laziness or lack of discipline - they are manifestations of fear or sadness that come up in seemingly strange ways like a sugar addiction or being afraid to tell the waiter he got your order wrong. When you address and heal the deeper limiting beliefs, then the unwanted behavior melts away.
10 Best Shadow Work Prompts
Listed below are my 10 favorite shadow work prompts. Just remember to be kind to yourself when going through them, and to approach the work from a place of acceptance and healing, not judgement.
1) How is what is happening externally a mirror to my internal beliefs?
This is Law of Attraction at its core. What is this negative manifestation showing me about my limiting beliefs? How is this an opportunity to shift it?
2) How is believing this or acting this way keeping me safe?
Sometimes our sabotaging behaviors are attempts to keep ourselves safe. Many women who want to lose weight, for instance, have a fear that if they become skinny they will be sexually harassed, which prevents them from losing those unwanted pounds. How is acting this way keeping me from getting hurt?
3) What am I afraid of being true?
What is the limiting belief about myself that I am trying to avoid? Am I afraid of being lazy, or mean, or a "bad" person?
4) What do I need to stop running away from?
Sometimes we keep ourselves "busy" so we do not have to face our fears. What fear would I have to face if I slowed down?
5) Why am I not living to my highest potential?
What is causing me to self-sabotage myself? Am I afraid that my husband or wife will leave me if I'm too successful? That I can't be a good mom or father AND run a business?
6) What can't I accept about myself?
What fact have I decided about myself makes me feel not good enough? Do I believe that I am too loud, too modest, too weird to be accepted? Do I have to believe that?
7) What do I need to forgive myself for?
We all make mistakes. What guilt do I need to let go of that is no longer serving me and holding me back from healing and being better?
8) What mask am I wearing?
Why am I afraid of showing my true self? Am I afraid of getting hurt? Am I afraid of being "unprofessional?" Why?
9) How am I hurting others or myself?
How is this limiting belief causing me to hurt myself or others? Am I pushing a potential partner away? Am I yelling at my kids? Am I causing drama? How can I heal this?
10) Why does this manifestation keep repeating for me?
What lesson do I need to learn here in order to permanently release this cycle of manifestation? What is this incident showing me?
I hope you enjoyed these shadow work prompts. Please let me know what you think in the comment section below!