What is Shadow Work, the new mental health trend popular on TikTok?

With 1.9 billion views on TikTok, there’s a new mental health trend on the block: Shadow Work.

Whether we like it or not, we all have a so-called ‘Shadow Self’: a shadow-like aura that might seem hidden, often the result of years’ worth of suppression, but can unravel as time goes on. And not always in a healthy way.

What is the ‘Shadow Self’?

The term ‘Shadow Self’ was coined by psychiatrist Carl Jung, and denotes elements about ourselves that we repress or refuse to acknowledge.

In his view, this ‘self’ is like an alter-ego or an alternative personality to present to other people that often doesn’t represent who we truly are inside.

What is Shadow Work?

‘Shadow Work is when we intentionally uncover and reclaim suppressed parts of ourselves that we have suppressed as a result of either trauma and or because we were taught that these parts were undesirable and we would not be able to receive love, connection, safety and security if we were to actually show these parts of ourselves,’ Dana Dozzyy, a coach who specialises in the nervous system, explains.

As a child, Dozzyy had been shamed for preferring to read in certain social situations, detailing an experience in which she was shamed for choosing her book over playing with the other children at the beach.

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‘What my nervous system learned was that I should feel shameful, embarrassed and weird about the fact that going to the beach, I wanted to read my book and not do the same things as the other kids. This was something undesirable and weird about me’, she adds.

‘I would start to suppress those parts of myself. In social situations where previously maybe I brought my book, I would force myself to either not bring my book or try and force myself to participate in things that I didn’t want to do.’

How can Shadow Work benefit mental health and wellbeing?

‘When we’re talking about deeply traumatic experiences or chronic exposure to people shaming you, this Shadow Self, this suppressed part of you gets bigger and gets embedded deeper into your nervous system and your psyche’, Dozzyy explains.

‘Often when we express anger, rage, grief or sadness about these parts being suppressed, we are told that those emotions are not positive and we should not feel them, and that being angry is a sign of emotional immaturity or an undisciplined mind.

‘Shadow Work allows us to reclaim these parts of ourselves and to actually experience safety while having emotions like anger, grief and rage which are really important for healing.’

How do you practise Shadow Work?

On implementing Shadow Work, spiritual practitioner Notty recommends affirmations like ‘I am the only one responsible for my happiness’, ‘I deserve to feel peace, love, happiness and gratitude’ and ‘I am not a villain for setting boundaries that protect me.’

There’s power in writing things down too, and journal prompts are another practice she recommends. ‘You don’t have to journal. You can just say whatever is on your mind when it comes to you by doing a voice memo’, she adds, advising questions including:

  • How would it feel to be in a constant state of peace?
  • If I have trouble expressing gratitude, why do I have trouble expressing it?
  • Am I currently afraid of expressing love or my true self? Why or why not?

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Above all, the key to practising Shadow Work is self-love. But there’s something you need to understand before beginning your journey.

‘Shadow Work is not about healing yourself’, self-projection coach Tanya Beauty explains. ‘So many people believe that they have a dark side that they need to heal, but Shadow Work is integration, which means the dark parts of you – you don’t need to heal them, you need to love them.

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‘When you love something, you put light on that, it loses its power. It doesn’t mean it goes away, but it doesn’t have power over you anymore.’

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