As the year comes to a close, a lot of people are taking this time to take stock and make plans for the future. But how can you set yourself up for success in the new year if you don’t really know yourself or what you desire? The best way to find out what you really want before 2021 is a method called “Shadow Journaling.”
When it comes to journaling, many people have a tendency to write down what they want or hope to be true, or even what they think should be true. The more difficult work in journaling—perhaps even the scary work—is to write about what is actually true for a given situation, for the relationships in our lives, and for the relationship with one’s self.
Without a doubt, it’s much easier to sweep what we don’t want to see or acknowledge into the shadows. But this is not the true purpose of journaling, which is intended to elevate self-awareness by providing a safe passage deeper into the shadows to reveal what you need to see in yourself, in others, and in your life.
So what does shadow journaling look like? Here’s an example:
Let’s say you’re journaling about a relationship that’s not going well with. The psyche’s protective tendency is to write down just the facts: who did and said what, when, and the feelings it conjured up (angry, sad, disappointed). To go deeper, try exploring beyond the situation and superficial reactions: is there something you dislike about the other person? Name and describe that in as much detail as you can. And remember, sometimes we dislike in others something that is part of our own make-up. You may discover that as you explore the issue and your feelings.
Consider the benefits of this type of honest probing through journaling:
- garnering more meaningful self-awareness
- developing/enhancing resilience
- lowering reactivity in stressful situations
- reducing mental and emotional stress
- promotes emotionally healing
- helps you see the “you in me, and the me in you”
- helps you make better choices
- deepens understanding of your thoughts, feelings, and behavior
The format for this type of journaling matters less than the fact that you are honest in your exploration of people, situations, thoughts, and feelings. You might use bullet points, collage of pictures and keywords, free writing, or prompts.
Here are a few tools for journaling out of the shadows and into the light.
Journaling for Self-Awareness. This site provides three tips for seeing yourself more clearly and identifies journaling traps that can hinder the benefits of the process.
Search Pinterest for journaling images and written prompts. Using search phrases like “journaling for self-awareness” or “self-discovery journaling prompts” yields interesting tools to facilitate journaling. Also, google for guided journaling prompts such as these for self-discovery.
Use a guided journaling book. There are many out there. A favorite is a series by author Sarah Ban Breathnac called Simple Abundance, Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self, and Romancing the Ordinary. Other guides you might explore include Layers of Meaning: Elements of Visual Journaling by Rakefet Hadar and Shadow Journal: Find Your Inner-self by Journaling for Self-discovery and Transformation by D.S. Park.
Techie journaling options. While we advocate for the pen and paper journaling method for the most benefit, journaling apps have their place and can be used alone, but to garner the depth that truly brings about self-discovery you’ll want to combine with traditional methods. Check out these in iTunes or Android: Perspective, Jour, Reflect, DiveThru.
If you’ve experienced trauma, PTSD or abuse, please consult with your healthcare provider before initiating a journaling practice such as shadow journaling. Emotional support is vital when shining a light onto the negative or dark corners of our lives.
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