Self-care trends on social media are nothing new. But a recent TikTok trend has garnered over 2 billion views combined. What exactly is shadow work?
Based apparently on 20th-century philosophy by psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, shadow work deals with unresolved trauma and emotions and healing one’s inner child. The idea is to go on a mental and spiritual journey to recognize and explore one’s shadow self, i.e., the repressed parts of us that never see the light of day for various reasons.
What Is Shadow Work?
Once you click on the hashtag #shadowwork on TikTok, it’s like entering a different dimension full of people on their journey of self-discovery. Billions of viewers on the platform are currently using the various prompts and videos to journal their way to become more emotionally stable versions of themselves.
TikTokers post various deep prompts and thought exercises that viewers can use during this process. Many use The Shadow Work Journal: A Guide to Integrate and Transcend your Shadows by Keila Shaheen to journal their thoughts and revelations while they explore their shadows.
Shadow work focuses on the parts of ourselves that we struggle to accept. Our shadow selves or sides often involve unresolved emotions and unconscious parts that we never processed. Shadow work involves bringing these sides of ourselves to light and processing them.
Most people develop their shadow selves when they were children. Parental expectation and rejection, societal norms, and conditioning create situations where one begins to reject certain aspects of oneself. They view these parts as disgusting, embarrassing, or even frightening. We do some of this repressing without even consciously realizing it. It acts as a coping mechanism to deal with often overwhelming or foreign situations. These repressed sides together form what we refer to as our shadow side or self.
Shadow work delves deep into the darkest parts of our psyche and aims to help process the pain and shame that made us repress parts of ourselves in the first place. The idea is to make space for all of us — even the parts we find unmanageable or the worst. Through shadow work and journaling, people probe their deepest fears and secrets, their childhood traumas, and darker aspects of their personalities like jealousy, anger, or greed. It involves healing their inner child’s wounds so one can emerge as a whole person and a healthier, more positive version of themselves.
Is this trend really the game-changer many are treating it as?
Can a TikTok Trend Really Lead You on Your Journey To Be “Whole”?
Accepting all parts of ourselves, even parts we repressed consciously or unconsciously, to become a better, wholesome version of ourselves does sound great. The deep traumas, regrets, and wounds we repress or reject need processing. It is how a lot of professional therapy works. But it is questionable whether exploring our “shadow selves” with the help of TikTok is a good idea.
Doing this exploration without the help of professionals may not be a great idea. Digging up deep traumas yourself without professional help may lead to adverse results. Such wounds are buried deep for a reason, and prodding at them could trigger you and lead to panic attacks or extreme emotional responses.
It is not a bad idea to help people introspect and accept difficult parts of themselves. But confrontation with such complex emotions can open up old wounds. Without proper help, memories of trauma can put people in a more complicated space than they were already in and can be overwhelming. This is why it is crucial to get a professional involved in the matter.
But that may not be easy, either. According to the National Institute for Health Care Management (NIHCM), almost half (49%) of the people in the United States live in areas that have a shortage of mental health workers. Currently, one in every five people in the US has some form of mental illness. Also, one in 25 people have a severe mental disorder, like bipolar depression or schizophrenia.
Therapy is also costly. So, it is understandable why people are taking the help of TikTok trends or self-help books to fix the problem themselves. The problem arises when these trends try to present silver-bullet solutions to everyone’s problems. Videos on the internet can't teach someone how to heal themselves or trick them into having an epiphany. People can share their personal mental health journeys so their stories can help someone. They can offer tools and tips that helped them during the process. These TikToks offer generalized solutions and questions. They don't take into account people's unique problems and situations.
Ananyaa Bhowmik is a neurodivergent and queer pop-culture journalist with the Wealth of Geeks. She has previously worked with brands like Sterling Holidays, Myntra, Bajaj, and the Loud Interactive. She is an independent scholar, cat parent, and performance poet. Her areas of research and interest focus on and around digital marketing, Canadian indigenous history, queerness in media, and pop-culture and fandom studies.