Shadow work, a decades-old concept developed by Carl Jung, is gaining popularity with Gen Z on TikTok. This psychological approach involves facing and integrating the hidden, repressed, or unacceptable aspects of the self. Keila Shaheen, a 24-year-old author, has self-published a series of fill-in-the-blank workbooks called Shadow Work Journals, which offer a version of shadow work, a niche therapy practice based on the writings of Jung. Jung was a psychoanalyst whom Sigmund Freud considered an heir to his techniques. Shadow work involves uncovering repressed desires and trauma.
The Shadow Work Journal, a self-help workbook released in 2021, surged in popularity this year, thanks partly to TikTok's new e-commerce platform, TikTok Shop. Since April, more than 500,000 copies of the journal have sold, and, according to The Atlantic, almost half the journal sales have come via the TikTok Shop. The book is a self-help tool that guides users through exploring and healing their hidden aspects, or "shadow self." The journal includes a variety of exercises and prompts, such as circling words related to childhood wounds, remembering emotional reactions to negative experiences, and writing down what makes the body tense. The journal also includes QR codes that link to breathwork exercises and blank pages for users to journal about their experiences in real-time.
Shadow work is not a new idea. In the 1980s and 1990s, the recovered memory movement suggested that people had repressed memories of trauma that could be uncovered. There is also conceptual overlap with Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a famous contemporary therapy that involves identifying and working with different "parts" of the self. Both shadow work and IFS can help people to externalize and understand uncomfortable aspects of themselves.
Some people may dismiss pop-psychology trends like The Shadow Work Journal as harmless, but there are potential downsides to consider. For example, people who dedicate themselves to self-guided journaling may neglect proven and effective treatments. Additionally, even guided journals can be complex for people with mental illness or past trauma to process on their own. Additionally, Shaheen, the author of The Shadow Work Journals, has no training or licensing in the mental health profession. Actual mental health experts have expressed concern over the widespread dissemination of simplified advice that may cause more harm than help.