Journaling the Sensuous Shadow
Journaling is a fun and productive way to get in touch with the shadow.
Posted April 29, 2018 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
Many of us know that Carl Jung formulated the idea of the “shadow,” the part of us hidden from immediate awareness. Most often, the shadow focuses on the dark side of our personality, but it can also be a part of ourselves that society views as unacceptable. As a result, we are programmed to “not go there.” Thus, the shadow is often a part of ourselves that lies unexposed, as we try to protect our image in the world.
At a global level, it seems as if shadow consciousness is being more exposed with every passing day, as the news continues revealing the shadow sides of a number of individuals. Acknowledging and being aware of our shadow side is important, but being overwhelmed by that side of us can be exhausting and unhealthy for our overall well-being. In other words, knowing the shadow aspects of our thoughts and behaviors can cause disharmony, and sometimes, but not always, this disharmony can be the seed or trigger for transformation.
In some cases, it might be a good idea to face or access our shadow as we make our way down the path of self-discovery. In fact, exploring and exposing our shadow side can be rewarding, as it can lead to greater authenticity, energy, creativity, and personal awakening. Whether our shadow has to do with hatred, aggression, jealousy, or sexual fantasies, by being aware of it, we can become transformed.
Many people might not even know what their shadow side is, but journal writing or poetry can help them figure this out. Poet Robert Bly, for example, was extremely fascinated by the shadow. Here is one of his poems, which addresses his feelings about his dark side.
After writing poems all day.
I went off to see the moon on the piney hill.
Far in the woods I sit against a pine.
The moon has her porches turned to face the light
but the deep part of her house is in the darkness.
Jung, like Bly, considered the shadow to be pure gold because getting in touch with it releases pent-up energy that can then be used in healthier ways — leading to a greater sense of well-being.
Before deciding to do any shadow work, it’s a good idea to prepare yourself. You might want to begin by offering yourself some compassion, by placing your hand on your heart and saying, "Thank you."
Then try to center yourself. This means bringing yourself to a calm state so that you can tap into your psyche and feel more alert and aware. This can be accomplished with any ritual of your choice. Some options include breathing exercises, going for a walk, doing yoga, meditating, having a cup of tea, or lighting a candle.
After you’ve done a centering ritual, you will be ready to write. Here are some journaling prompts to help you access or work with your shadow:
- What qualities irritate you about others?
- Do you see any of these characteristics in yourself?
- Write about a situation or experience that emotionally charged you, and think about whether it might have triggered your shadow self.
- Write about something about which you’re in denial.
- Write about a situation where someone labeled you in a negative way. Maybe you were called stupid, bossy, controlling, shortsighted, judgmental, or narcissistic. How has this label affected the person you’ve become?
It might be overwhelming to address all these writing prompts at the same time, so I suggest that you just do a little at a time.
Bly, R. (1988). A Little Book on the Human Shadow. San Francisco, CA: Harper San
Lengelle, R. (2006). Writing the Shadow: An exercise in exorcising the demons within. In G. Bolton, Field, V., & Thompson, K. (Eds). Writing Works: A resource handbook for therapeutic writing workshops and activities (pp. 167–171). London, England: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Raab, D. (2017). Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life. Ann Arbor, MI: Loving Healing Press.
Zweig, C., and J. Abrams (1991). Meeting the Shadow: The hidden power of the dark side of human nature. New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher.