April 27 Poetry Prompt – The Shadow

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. – Carl Jung 

We discussed the concept of the persona in our April 6 prompt – remember that the persona is a mask that we wear that represents how we wish to be perceived by the world. By contrast, our shadow is everything about us that we fail to see or to accept. 

The idea of the shadow is complicated and challenging. Through childhood we go through a kind of sorting process – as we learn what is socially and culturally acceptable, we tend to keep those aspects of ourselves in the daylight for all to see. We tend to suppress or deny any characteristic that is disapproved or discouraged, and it doesn’t matter whether or not those parts of ourselves are “good” or “bad,” only whether they were considered acceptable or uncivilized. So, the selfish, lying, lustful, stealing, “sinful” parts of us are sublimated. But if your parents didn’t approve of your artistic streak, your athleticism, your sense of self-confidence, your bookishness or your adventurousness, these traits end up buried as well. 

There’s a good deal of pure gold down there, buried right alongside the unpleasant stuff. 


What complicates things is that shadow generally wants out, wants your acknowledgement. It hides in our secret shames (such as personal taboos, body issues, sexual issues or persistent regrets). It shows itself in how we project onto others – when we are shocked, disgusted or particularly embarrassed by something someone else says or does, we may actually be responding to some part of ourselves that embarrasses or mortifies us. The shadow can also come out in our little slips of the tongue, the things we say that unintentionally reveal something unpleasant about us. It lurks in our compulsive behaviors and our addictions, in our cruel jokes and off-color remarks. It can also manifest in physical symptoms, as we touched on in the April 20 prompt. 

In spite of its function as a reservoir for human darkness – or perhaps because of this – the shadow is the seat of creativity. – Carl Jung 

The shadow pushes at its restraints when we are stressed, under duress, at midlife and during our dark nights of the soul. It comes to us in our dreams – according to psychologists it most often represented by a “dark” figure the same gender as ourselves, enacting something that is consciously forbidden to us.

The shadow may reveal itself through our art and our writing, which relax the hold of our conscious mind and allow things to come up from below the dark veil of our subconscious. 


Shadow work is necessarily difficult and painful, but also potentially rewarding. The ultimate goal of this kind of work is to acknowledge and accept our shadow self, to face and then to assimilate it at the same time being aware that we do not identify with it. It’s an ongoing lifetime process, a commitment to ourselves that may be the most important work that we do.

Working with the shadow through the poetic medium will be a different journey for each of us, but here are some starter questions: 

* Write a poem about a particular problem that constantly recurs in your life.

* What do you like least about yourself? Do you dare air it, work with it, make an ally of it?

* Where does shame, depression, addiction, anger or anxiety live, in your family? Who carries it? Who denies it?

* What private thoughts or feelings most embarrass you?

* What traits in others persistently annoy or repulse you? What is it you cannot stand about a family member, a friend, a significant other?

* Who do you envy, who makes you nervous, afraid? Who do you feel sabotages you?

* What part of your personality do you wish you could be rid of?

Try a free-writing exercise on any of these questions to mine the shadow before trying to make a poem from what you find. It may help you to put some time between the free-writing and the poem. Be honest, but be kind to yourself.

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