Why I Made Working On My Shadow Self Part Of My Self-Care Routine

by Minerva Siegel

Self-care is a major buzzword now, and social media is absolutely filled with posts using #selfcare that feature photos of Lush bubble baths, fresh manicures, and other tangible, high-key Instagrammable acts of pampering. While those things are all great, they’re ultimately superficial. There’s a whole other side to self-care that’s less Instagrammable, but just as important, and that’s the hidden, primitive side to each of us: our shadow selves. Your shadow self meaning can help you tailor your self-care routine to what

The concept of a shadow self was introduced originally by Carl Jung, according to Psychology Today. It’s the subconscious, instinctive part of us that holds onto old traumas, exhibits toxic behaviors, and has negative conditioning to unlearn. The shadow self is what lies beneath the surface, and while bubble baths and days spent being pampered are great, your self-care could also benefit from including shadow work. This means facing instinctive emotions we tend to bury, like sadness and anger, and learning how to process and express them in healthy ways. It means recognizing learned behaviors that aren’t serving us well anymore, consciously unlearning them, and replacing them with healthier ways of expressing ourselves. It means digging deep into the dark, shadowy guts of our inner workings and making changes necessary to becoming better, higher-vibe people.

After reading up on the concept, I decided to incorporate shadow work into my own self-care routine. I won’t lie, working on your shadow self can be uncomfortable, but it’s so worth it because it can help shed emotional and psychological deadweight that isn’t serving us well anymore. Some deep shadow work is best done with proper support in place from therapists, energy healers, psychologists, and other professionals who can help you sort through it all, so make sure to contact an expert if you're looking to follow shadow work on a mental-health scale. But, there are also many ways you can incorporate shadow work into self-care routines on your own to transform into a healthier, higher vibe person. Here are a few ways I incorporate it.


Journaling is such a great way to do shadow work. I find journaling so cathartic, and it helps me notice patterns in my behaviors that I otherwise wouldn’t have. For example, I have a tendency to get angsty and volatile when I’m bored, which is something I noticed while journaling.

I realized that almost every entry in which I noted feelings of boredom, I also recorded that I busted out my record player and blasted punk rock while struggling with angst-driven impulses. I’d write things like, “Maybe I’ll get a wild new haircut and dye job today! Maybe I’ll do it myself! Maybe I should get an impulsive new tattoo to change things up!”

Regular journaling helped me realize I get a little self-destructive when I’m bored, and just that revelation about my shadow self was a huge step in the process of working on it. Now, when I’m faced with boredom-induced impulses, I remember that self-destruction is a tendency I have and that I shouldn’t indulge in these impulses while I’m in that bored headspace, as I may seriously regret them later. It really helps me stay calm and find more productive, healthier ways to combat my boredom. (Mount Laundry isn’t going to wash itself, after all.)

Art As Self-Care

Another way I work with my shadow self is through making art. Specifically, I paint. More specifically, I paint badly. Luckily, I don’t have to be a great artist to work on my shadow self, because making art as self-care is more about the process than the end result. I love getting messy with well-pigmented acrylics and heavy-bodied gloss gel. I put on music that moves me (usually either Neutral Milk Hotel or Tchaikovsky cello pieces), and really get into it, painting instinctively.

Sometimes, I bust out my hot glue gun and adorn my dried paintings with embellishments like pearls and jewels, and other times I glue found objects onto them like nails, screws, broken necklaces, and other hardware. The process honestly feels so good and really helps me express my feelings deeply and in a healthy way. Sometimes, I start painting while in a great mood, thinking it’s going to be a fluff piece filled with pastels and pearls, and I end up going to another place in my shadow self entirely. The piece turns out messy, layered, bold and dark with lots of harsh angles and primal claw marks, and it feels great. Making art helps me access deep places in my subconscious and express them in ways that feel uh-mazing.

I don’t display most of my self-care paintings, and that’s OK. A lot of them make me uncomfortable to look at because they’re so full of shadow self emotions and feelings I’d rather not be reminded of daily. I keep most of them stacked in a spare walk-in closet, but I have a few shadow work paintings hung on a gallery wall in my living room. Still, finding healthy ways to express shadow self emotions is so important to overall emotional health.

Beware Your Inner Monologue

A big part of shadow work is recognizing toxic and unhealthy behaviors we exhibit and old social conditioning we’ve learned that isn’t serving us or our communities well anymore. A basic way we can work on our shadow selves is to listen to feedback from others about our behaviors and conditioning. For example, I’ve always been overweight, and I spent most of my life being bullied for the way I look. My biggest bully, though, was my own inner monologue. I used to bully myself constantly. I’d stand in front of the mirror, poke, prod and pinch at different parts of my body and think things like, You’re so ugly. You’ll never really be loved. Who would be attracted to someone like you? If only I could change this or that, I’d finally be happy.

Obviously, this kind of thinking is super toxic and unhealthy, and learning to shut up the bully in my head was a really difficult (but essential!) sort of shadow work. I knew I had to consciously retrain my brain to think positive thoughts about myself, and it felt super silly at first. Whenever I found myself bullying my body, I forced myself to notice positives about myself. My inner voice went something like this, Ugh, your stretch marks are so intense. But, your booty is nice, and you did a really nice thing for someone who needed help today, and that was cool.

Eventually, facing the shadowy part of myself that spouted fat-phobic inner commentary all day changed my world. Speaking genuine compliments over the negativity trained my brain to look for positives instead of poking at my perceived flaws. This crucial shadow work transformed my life. I love my body now. I love myself, and if I hadn’t taken those steps to recognizing and consciously confronting my toxic thoughts, I’d still be stewing in my own sour self-hate. Now, I’m always working on myself, but every step of the way is taken in love, and that’s some serious progress.

Shadow work is serious business. If you want to really work deeply on your shadow self, I recommend doing so with professional support on your side. Still, there are a lot of ways we can address and work on our shadow selves alone, like by keeping a diary or journal, creating art, and being conscious of the way we talk to (and about!) ourselves. Shadow work may not be as tangibly Instagrammable as other forms of self-care, but it’s still super important. So, run a hot bubble bath. Buy yourself flowers. Indulge in treats and pamper yourself, but don’t forget to dig a little deeper and really cultivate yourself as a person. It’s through shadow work that we can really transform into our best selves. #Goals