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Will the ‘shadow work’ TikTok trend dominate 2024?

What you need to know about shadow work

shadowed figure of a man in the forest
Johannes Plenio / Pexels

If we’re being honest, TikTok isn’t always a wealth of reliable health and wellness advice. There have been some recent doozies, including the WaterTok craze of the summer of 2023 (questionable) and the NyQuil chicken head-scratcher of 2022 (hard no). However, might the broken clock of TikTok have been right at least once in 2023?

Perhaps. In 2023, “shadow work” racked up more than 2.4 billion views on TikTok, with users swearing that the trend improved their mental health and served as a form of self-care. What is shadow work? In short, shadow work is a type of therapy that can be done with a professional or on your own that leans into the idea that you have “hidden” parts of yourself. Many TikTokers used the journal The Shadow Work Journal: A Guide to Integrate and Transcend your Shadows” by Keila Shaheen. However, you only need a willingness to explore the darkest parts of yourself to try shadow work. Should you? Below, we’ll dig into tips for shadow work for beginners and whether the trend has a dark side.

a man in a therapy room
Alex Green / https://www.pexels.com/photo/crop-ethnic-client-discussing-problems-with-anonymous-psychologist-5699431/

What is shadow work?

Shadow work hinges on the idea that we have different parts of ourselves, some of which we hide from view (and even attempt to ignore). People practicing shadow work will refer to these parts as the“”shadow self”” When engaging in shadow work, the goal is identifying triggers and why certain situations and behaviors drudge up negative feelings like anger, resentment, and shame.

Though TikTok may have caught onto shadow work in 2023, the mental health modality is nothing new. Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung popularized the idea of a“”shadow sel”” in the Western Hemisphere in the 20th century. Shadow work is essentially the same as“”parts work”” a mental health mechanism used in Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy.

a man journaling on lined paper
Adolfo Félix / Unsplash

What are the benefits and risks of shadow work?

The ultimate goal of shadow work is to improve aperson’ss mental health. Over the last several years,there’ss been a necessary push to reduce the stigma around mental health. Caring for your mental and emotional well-being is as important as keeping physically healthy. How might shadow work be a form of mental health care? While results vary, the mechanism has several potential benefits, including:

  • Increased self-awareness
  • Better emotional intelligence and understanding of triggers
  • Improved relationships
  • Feeling more whole
  • Recognizing emotional, thought, and behavioral patterns that sabotage relationships and goals
  • Healing from past trauma
  • New, healthier coping skills
  • Personal development

Essentially, shadow work helps you realize what holds you back or causes you to lash out. These thoughts and actions can prevent you from forming healthy relationships or reaching goals. By identifying these patterns — and, importantly, what formed them, such as past trauma — you can heal, develop healthier coping skills, and grow deeper personally and in relationships.

That said, shadow workisn’tt for everyone. People experiencing psychosis or issues in need of immediate medical attention, such as drug addiction, should consult a healthcare provider before proceeding.

a man staring at a computer
Christian Velitchkov / Unsplash

How can I start shadow work? Shadow work for beginners

Another perk of shadow work: The mental health mechanism is something a person can do themselves or with a therapist. Plus, a persondoesn’tt need anything physical — just curiosity and an open mind. The accessibility makes shadow work something that nearly anyone can try out. These tips for beginners will help you get started on your journey.

Shadow work on your own

Are you trying shadow work alone but confused about where to start?Here’ss what to know.

  1. Identify triggers. What gets a rise out of you? Did a“let’ss tal”” Slack from a boss send you spiraling, only for you to find out they just wanted to ask how your holiday went? That somewhat cryptic message set you off for some reason.
  2. Make note. Now, make a note of the trigger. A journal might be helpful here, but even a mental note works (if you have a good memory). The notes app on your phone, a Google Doc, or old-fashioned lined paper are suitable substitutes for an official journal.
  3.  Look for patterns. Give shadow work some time. However, you might be able to make notes of patterns after a while. For instance, perhaps you notice that you automatically agree to hang out after work with colleagues only to angst about the not-so-happy hour all night.
  4. Ask why. Why do you react the way you do? Perhaps you were constantly admonished for saying“”n”” as a child, soyou’vee developed people-pleasing behaviors.
  5. Make a plan. Lifedoesn’tt just happen to you. List ways to cope or handle situations. For instance, perhaps you only say“”ye”” to every other invite or limit yourself to a certain number of monthly happy hours. You may be surprised to see that people will respect your boundaries.

Shadow work with a therapist

You can find listings on sites like Psychology Today if you want to try shadow work with a therapist. Look for buzzwords like“”shadow wor”” and“”parts work”” You can also ask a therapist how longthey’vee done shadow work or if they are comfortable using the mechanism with you.

a man staring out at mountains
Anthony Tori / Unsplash

Summary

Shadow work is a TikTok trend worth trying — ifyou’ree interested (and not experiencing severe mental health disorders, such as psychosis, or medical issues, like addiction). The mental health tool centers around the idea that we all have“”hidden part”” or“”dark sides”” referred to as a“”shadow self”” that we repress. Shadow work helps people identify triggers and explore the reasons behind them. From there, people can develop better coping skills that improve their relationships with themselves and others. Always speak with a healthcare provider ifyou’ree unsure if a mental or physical health intervention is right for you.

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BethAnn Mayer
Beth Ann's work has appeared on healthline.com and parents.com. In her spare time, you can find her running (either marathons…
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