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'Shadow work' on TikTok: Mental health benefits, how it works, and more

'Shadow work' on TikTok: Mental health benefits, how it works, and more

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Text: Brandon Alexius Chia


Image: Unsplash

Say what you will but TikTok has been the world's saving grace in the past year — most of us have spent those boring hours of quarantine either scrolling through video after video, or creating video after video on the platform. We've been entertained by the funny, the yummy, the stylish, and now the self-soothing. Yes, TikTok is now a place where self-care and coping tips are abound. Including this recent viral method called 'shadow work'. Which might sound pretty dark for mental health therapy, but hear us out.

'Shadow work' on TikTok: Mental health benefits, how it works, and more (фото 1)

What is 'shadow work'?

According to Jungian practice, the personal shadow is the disowned self, a self that consists mainly of primitive and negative human emotions and impulses. That could be classified as sinful feelings like rage and jealously. Simply put, the shadow represents the dark side of ourselves – traits and characteristics that we choose to disown because they are considered as "bad". For example, we were taught by our parents not to throw a tantrum when we are mad. So in turn, we grew up thinking that we shouldn't have tantrums. But a tantrum is just another form of expression, nothing inherently bad about it. There are tons of other examples too – trauma being one of them.

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'Shadow work' is the claiming of these negative traits that we possess and coming to terms with them — in order to connect with our most authentic selves.

Why should I do 'shadow work'?

By connecting with who we truly are, it allows us to free our minds of the ugly and self-deprecating thoughts that potentially hold us back. This could lead to a clearer perception of situations and events that occur around us and encouraging greater creativity.

'Shadow work' can also help to improve our relationships by helping us understand why we do certain things and react in certain ways with one another. Furthermore, it helps to filter out negative emotions and allows us to channel some serious brainpower to get things done such as exercising.

Sounds great, but I think I am perfectly well-adjusted.

Perhaps, and that's lovely! But why don't we test it out? Let's look around us and notice what irritates us. Is it that baby crying on the train? Is it that kid who is running frantically and bumping into people? Is it that delivery man who is running a few hours late?

Okay, cool! You've found something that irritates you. But why does it irritate you? Is it because we were made to believe that we shouldn't be boisterous? Is it because we find it rude to just bump into someone?

The truth is that we all have shadows we repress or project unto others. Some of them are external and some of them are internal. For example, we have all been there: staring at ourselves in the mirror and picking things we hate about ourselves. These are patterns that can occur more often after scrolling for hours and seeing social media's portrayal of unrealistic beauty standards. This is painfully common — even the most self-assured people experience this on a daily basis.

'Shadow work' on TikTok: Mental health benefits, how it works, and more (фото 2)

How can we do 'shadow work'?

There's no one "right" way to do it but here is a good starters guide.

  1. Observe yourself and your emotions
    What riles you up? What causes you to get jealous of other people? What causes you to cry? Jot it down somewhere so you don't forget.

  2. Talk to yourself
    We know this sounds weird but hang in there. Having an open conversation with yourself will allow you to process all the different emotions you feel and sound them out logically. Keep a notebook or use your note app to type out your responses if that makes you more comfortable.

  1. Challenge what is "good"
    After making your list and figuring out what bothers you and why, go and challenge it. This will allow you to understand why some traits are actually good to have and why some are just false perceptions inculcated in us.

  1. Imagine yourself as being "bad"
    Not sure why things bother you? Take what is you think is a bad action or characteristic and play out a scenario with it. This will help you develop empathy for others and allows you to understand them or yourself better.

  2. Address your shadow and be one with it
    So now you have a better understanding of what is good and bad. Great, now it's time to face it head-on. Write a letter or talk directly to that person who is annoying you, confront that thing that makes you self-conscious, or write a letter to your past self that you despise. By doing this, you might be able to come to terms and accept everything better from now on by co-existing with your shadow and find that inner peace.

'Shadow work' on TikTok: Mental health benefits, how it works, and more (фото 3)

Sounds tedious and scary...

Yes, it definitely is. It is easy for us to fall victim to our vices and be in our feelings. But healing takes time and effort, if you want to feel more positive about your life — you gotta put in the work. And with those extra hours cooped at home, it is probably time to try something new — especially if it involves renewing yourself.