How to Welcome in Your Light and Shadow Selves: A Journaling Activity
Have you heard about the light and shadow selves within you? It’s long been a popular psychological theory, originating with Carl Jung.
At its core is the belief that our personalities carry both light and shadow within them, and that our journey through life requires us, at some point, to integrate these aspects of light and shadow within our psyches.
Much has been written about our light and shadow selves.
Once you dip your toe into the waters of shadow you might soon find yourself knee deep in it. Because it’s a fascinating concept and there’s always some new book or blog or program to teach you more about it. Perhaps that’s because there’s a lot of truth in the theory.
For me, there’s one book in particular that I return to again and again: Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche by Robert Johnson. Johnson was a Jungian Analyst who trained with Carl Jung.
The book is deceptively small and simple.
Yet somehow Johnson manages, in a gentle, endearing way, to capture the deepest essence of the interplay between our light and shadow selves.
As he illuminates the shadow, he describes it as a repository of the unacceptable personal characteristics (like greed and hate) that we obviously want to deny about ourselves.
Of course we push these characteristics down below consciousness, because we learn early on, as children, that our shadow selves are not acceptable or welcome.
But Johnson makes the case for why we need to own these orphaned parts: because the alternative–unconsciously projecting them out into the world–does not make for a whole and happy life.
Consider what Johnson says about the complexity of our shadow selves…
It is possible to project from the shadow the very best of oneself onto another person or situation. Our hero-worshiping capacity is pure shadow; in this case, our finest qualities are refused and laid on another. It is hard to understand, but we often refuse to bear our noble traits and instead find a shadow substitute for them…Our own healing proceeds from that overlap of what we call good and evil, light and dark. It is not that the light element alone does the healing; the place where light and dark begin to touch is where miracles arise.
He goes on to explain that owning your shadow selves is complicated.
One of the reasons it’s challenging to bring them into your day-to-day life is because it requires you to be aware not only of the paradoxes deep within yourself, but also of the paradoxical constructs in which you live.
Johnson says it’s like balancing on a teeter totter, one foot on both sides. If you ever tried that as a kid you know it makes everything a little wobbly. And as an adult, even more so.
Still, he offers us a way through to the shadow self when he writes…
If you can touch your shadow—within form—and do something out of your ordinary pattern, a great deal of energy will flow from it.
By that he means we have to seek out the shadow selves where they live, in the unconscious realm, rather than waiting for them to come to us (which they do sometimes, in dreams).
Another way to do shadow work is through the process of Active Imagination.
Johnson is definitely a proponent of active imagination as a way to develop a relationship with your shadow selves.
As a matter of fact, in another book, Inner Work, he writes about the practice, and explains that you can dance, sing, paint or collage your shadow selves.
You can also journal with your shadow selves.
How convenient! Because I’ve specifically created a journaling practice here to help you access both your light and shadow selves in a safe way. I recently facilitated a group of 25 women through the process and I’m hopeful it will resonate with you as it resonated with them.
However, if at any point you begin to feel overwhelmed or anxious, please take a break and put down your journal. If this happens it doesn’t mean anything’s wrong with you. It just means this activity is not a good fit for you in this moment.
By the way, you don’t have to finish this in one sitting. You may find that completing it over time, with 15 to 20 minute journaling sessions, helps you reach deeper levels of relationship with your light and shadow selves.
Journaling Activity: Welcoming Your Light and Shadow Selves
First, take a moment to settle into your breathing, and take a few deep breaths if that feels good. Then let your breath find its natural, easy rhythm.
As you begin this active imagination process, know that however it turns out is perfect. So give yourself permission to let your pen and your imagination roam. Unloose it, give it free reign as you begin to imagine yourself inside a beautiful welcoming space.
This space is exactly what you need right now, a space that you would enjoy inviting other people into. It may be your home, or some other place entirely.
Journaling prompt: begin writing about the space.
Imagine moving through the space and taking it all in.
- Notice the entirety of the space
- Notice the textures that surround you
- What do you see?
- What do you hear?
- What do you smell?
- What’s the temperature?
- Anything else you want to say about it in your journal?
Continuing on, notice that there’s a closed door.
The door leads into the space, from the outside to the inside. When you see the door you know that you’ll soon be welcoming some dear ones in, to give them hospitality and shelter from the cold.
In fact, in your imagination’s eye, you’re beginning to see these dear ones gathering on the other side of the door. And as you begin to slowly move toward the door, you start to remember the particular qualities of those who are gathering outside.
Journaling prompt: write about who is waiting on the other side of the door.
Or, read the short descriptions below of some basic archetypal personalities that we commonly come in contact with in others as well as in ourselves.
For instance, there’s the dear one who…
- Often arrives early; she’s very responsible, always willing to help out and lend a hand.
- Tends to be a bit distracted. At some point you’ll probably discover she’s wandered off into another room altogether, maybe looking at your books or having a chat with your cat or dog.
- Gives the very best hugs, warm and enveloping. She’s fascinated by you, fascinated by life, exuding love.
- Feels lonely and sad; she’s been through some tough times and needs support right now.
- Embraces joy: fun-loving, brings excitement into the room and life to the gathering.
- Knows how to solve problems. If anything goes wrong during this gathering, you know for sure you can rely on her to help you fix it.
- Bursts in with new ideas as soon as she walks through the door, full of creative energy and excitement.
- Loves to stay late, helping you clean up and nesting in for those deep, meaningful conversations that happen when there’s only a handful of people left.
Describe these people in your journal in as much (or little) detail as you’d like:
- What do they look like?
- What are they wearing?
- What do you know about them?
Now, look for the shadow selves.
As you come closer to the door, remember that each of these dear ones carries both light and shadow selves within them.
At times they might complain too much or be controlling and overbearing. Sometimes you notice one of them is kind of wishy-washy or obsessive, maybe angry or dramatic.
Or perhaps they’re bossy or manipulative, maybe even judgmental or irresponsible.
And sometimes you’re frustrated by this, by their humanness, and that’s okay. Because you know that we are all human, and there is often gold in the shadowy parts of us.
Journaling prompt: write about their shadow qualities.
- What do you love about them?
- What gets on your nerves?
- How long have you known about these qualities within them?
- How do you think they hold themselves back?
Next, imagine that you’re arriving at the door.
You reach for the handle to open the door.
You look out at these dear ones, with all their amazing qualities and imperfections.
And suddenly you see that they are all parts of you.
Now, imagine opening your arms in welcome as they cross the threshold, knowing there are a few that most need your hospitality this year.
Journaling prompt: Take a pause with the Right Now prompt.
Any time you need to, give yourself a moment to come back into your breath.
Check in with yourself by writing these words on the page: Right Now.
Start with the prompt and come back to it as often as you wish.
Let it take you where you need to go.
Journal for 5 minutes.
Finally, see the dear ones who are leaving the crowd.
A few are moving away and moving toward you, carrying with them all of their light and shadow selves. Know that they’re calling for your attention.
Any of them might come to you right now in need of your hospitality and welcome. There might even be another part that has appeared that you didn’t see until now.
So trust that the ones who need you most will come forward, just let them come, and when they are close enough, join hands with them. Feel their energy and spirit flowing toward you, feel your energy and spirt flowing toward them.
Journaling prompts: deepening into the shadow selves.
This is really just the beginning. Who knows where you might go in your journal with your light and shadow selves, and these prompts?
- Enter into a dialogue with one or more of your light/shadow selves
- Take an imaginary adventure with your light and shadow selves. Write a story about where you go together and what you discover.
- I am the one who…Let them speak by giving them the floor with this prompt. Don’t interrupt them, give them space to tell their story in the way they need to tell it, as if they are speaking a monologue about themselves.
To wrap up, I want to leave you with one thing I do know: entering into this practice is tremendously healing for most women.
And wouldn’t it be amazing to finally embrace all of you, knowing you are capable of holding your light and shadow selves without shaming yourself or abandoning them?