Shedding the Light on Shadow Work

Shedding the Light on Shadow Work

In the realm of personal development, shadow work emerges as a fascinating yet complex concept. It beckons us to venture into the uncharted territories of our psyche, promising a journey of profound self-discovery and healing. However, this voyage is not without its intricacies and potential pitfalls. This article delves into a critical examination of shadow work exercises providing a comprehensive understanding of its potential, limitations, and focus from a Functional Patterns' perspective.

Understanding Shadow Work

Shadow work is a term in psychotherapy that may seem hard to understand at first because subjective experiences are attempting to be quantified. This refers to the process of exploring the deeper and often unacknowledged parts of our personality called the 'shadow' self that may involve past trauma or resentment. It's about confronting these uncomfortable aspects to achieve a more balanced and authentic self. The idea of shadow work exercises is tailored to recognize and harness these often-ignored traumas into emotional resilience.

Shadow work at its core is about introspection and acceptance. It involves identifying traits or past experiences that we might have pushed aside or ignored. This process requires honesty and courage, as it often entails facing uncomfortable decisions about our lives. 

Examples of Common Shadow Work Exercises

The shadow work exercises below are in the context of self-talk or self-expression when done alone. 

  • Journaling: Writing down your thoughts and feelings can be a way to explore your shadow self. Try to be honest and non-judgmental as you write, allowing your true feelings to emerge.
  • Inner dialogue: Engage in a conversation with your shadow self, asking questions and listening to the answers. This can help you to better understand your hidden emotions and motivations.
  • Art therapy: Painting or dancing are used with the goal of getting in tune with your shadow. The goal here is to bring out and analyze repressed feelings.1

These exercises may sound good but with respect to resolving past traumas, will likely lead to action faking if incorporated into a routine. The practice of doing non-value added work but making no tangible progress towards a goal is action faking; considered worse than procrastination. 

Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

Physical Manifestations of Emotional States

Our emotional and mental states may manifest as unmanageable stress or anxiety leading to muscle tension, poor posture, and altered breathing patterns. Functional Patterns views the body as an integrated system where mental, emotional, and physical health are inextricably linked. Therefore, shadow work exercises should aim to address these interconnected areas to promote overall well-being.

Another critique lies in the potential overemphasis on psychological aspects at the unintended expense of physical health. Some individuals may benefit from shadow work absent of the FP perspective while others may find the process overwhelming. This highlights the need for a tailored approach to respect individual differences in emotional and physical health. At FP, we ensure that biomechanical improvements are not sidelined by psychological exploration.

The Downside of Shadow Work

While shadow work can be beneficial with a results-oriented process, it's not without its challenges. It requires confronting uncomfortable lies we tell ourselves which can be emotionally taxing. Individuals without proper guidance might misinterpret or overemphasize certain aspects, leading to more stress rather than systemic solutions. We emphasize treating the mind and body as a system. Some shadow work exercises align with this approach, acknowledging that emotional states can manifest physically. 

Image by Freepik

Beneficial Aspects of Shadow Work

At FP, we propose the practice of being honest by identifying when lying to oneself or others moving forward rather than re-experiencing past traumas. The goal of identifying lies is to take accountability of one's actions and find the behavioral root causes to problems to prevent lying in the future. This self-reflection activity seems to be a much lower risk compared to attempting to re-live life changing trauma from the past. However, it's crucial to recognize that shadow work is part of a broader wellness strategy and not a standalone solution.


Shadow work exercises can be a useful addition to practice as long as a problem-solving mindset is maintained. This is done by focusing mainly on identifying one’s own lies, the root cause of those lies, and corrective actions to minimize lying in the future. Common shadow work exercises like journaling and art therapy should be avoided due to the risk of action faking. When shadow work is done effectively, it can complement the Functional Patterns approach to improving biomechanics.

If you're interested in Functional Patterns, we recommend you to watch the Project Function Podcast (@projectfunctionpodcast).

Learn more about Functional Patterns and psychology in the following resources: 


  1. Berasi, Kateri  et al. “How to Do Shadow Work.” October 25, 2023,
Back to blog