Shadow Work Journals Are a Huge TikTok Trend, But How Do They Work?

What is an emotion you try to avoid feeling? 

As a child, what were you told not to do? 

How do you define failure? 

When do you feel cared for? 

Your TikTok For You page may be asking you some difficult questions lately (the above are just a few) and calling it shadow work, often through shadow work journals. For those unfamiliar, it’s a mental health practice that focuses on confronting parts of ourselves and our lives we may have unwittingly rejected out of fear, shame, guilt, and discomfort and reintegrating those parts back into our being, according to New York City-based psychiatrist Anna Yusim, MD. “Essentially, loving all parts of ourselves because what we resist persists,” she explains. 

Shadow work is commonly incorporated into therapy sessions with licensed mental health experts, and many will also recommend it as a form of homework to continue your self-work in between appointments. It’s often used to help individuals process grief, shame, and intergenerational trauma, New Jersey-based psychologist Jennifer Mullen, PsyD, tells Allure

TikTok creators have been sharing their experiences with shadow work as a way to help heal their inner child, learn to love themselves on a deeper level, and process their emotions in healthier ways. As Dr. Mullen notes, you can explore shadow work in several different ways, such as meditation and bodywork. However, keeping a shadow work journal has become the most popular method on TikTok: It’s incredibly accessible and affordable to do, much like keeping a gratitude journal or documenting details of your dreams. Plus, it allows you to express yourself and explore your subconscious through writing. Best of all, a blank notebook and a willingness to delve into the darkest, cringiest parts of yourself are everything you need to get started. 

Meet the Experts: 

  • Anna Yusim, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist based in New York City and author of Fulfilled: How the Science of Spirituality Can Help You Live a Happier, More Meaningful Life.
  • Jennifer Mullan, PsyD, a clinical psychologist based in New Jersey and founder of Decolonizing Therapy, a team of mental health professionals shifting the mental health paradigm away from the Eurocentric lens.
  • Notty, a spiritual practitioner and content creator based in Savannah, Georgia, who offers her own shadow work courses and e-books. 

Where did shadow work come from? 

The TikTok cycle has a way of making old things seem like brand-new trends: Though the practice is having a moment on the app, shadow work dates back to the 1930s. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung introduced it for the first time in his 1934 article Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Dr. Yusim says. “He believed that part of our journey in life is to restore our wholeness, and one of the ways we need to do that is through shadow work,” she explains.

From a modern clinical perspective, shadow work is a useful mental health exercise for acknowledging unfavorable parts of ourselves, says Jennifer Mullan, PsyD, a clinical psychologist based in New Jersey. These could be anger, perfectionism, self-sabotage, and any sort of dependency issues — all of which could be characteristics of ourselves that we unconsciously dislike because we believe our families or others won’t accept them, which are often addressed as part of inner child exploration.