This Quiz Can Help You Start Exploring Your Shadow Self—Which Is a Key Part of Understanding Who You Are

Photo: Getty Images/ Lilly Roadstones
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you may have heard one of Taylor Swift’s singles from her recent album Midnights, “Anti-Hero.” Digging into her insecurities, Swift paints a picture of the criticisms others have leveled at her and that she's internalized. There’s one interesting lyric that the subsection of Swifties who are also interested in clinical psychology may have picked up on in particular: “Did you hear my covert narcissism I disguise as altruism?”

Swift seems to be saying that inauthenticity and narcissism are two traits of her shadow self, or the aspects of the personality that are difficult for her to accept. “The concept of the shadow self was first introduced by Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung,” holistic-business and mind-set coach Amina AlTai previously told Well+Good. “He believed, studied, and demonstrated that we all have dark sides of our personality that we hide in order to stay safe, lovable, and accepted by our communities, families, and society.”

Experts In This Article

But shedding light on your shadow and learning how it presents itself can help you feel more integrated and connected to yourself—you can do so by taking a simple shadow personality test that can kickstart the exploration of your shadow self, which according to experts, is a key part of who you are.

What is the shadow self?

The concept of the shadow self is about what’s underneath the persona we present to others. According to clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD, author of Joy From Fear, it’s all about what’s underneath the surface. “The shadow aspect tends to be the part we are not familiar with that we tend to repress," she says. "It often holds the pieces of the self that are filled with shame, guilt, inferiority, and unlovability—all of those critical pieces that we like to keep away from the persona that is very ego-driven,” she says. Everyone has a shadow, and Dr. Manly says what’s important is to recognize your personal shadow traits and to draw them out into the light to work on healing and integrating them.

Often, things you judge others for being are your shadow traits, or emotions you don't allow yourself to feel, like anger, for example, are elements you've put into your shadow because you believe revealing them to others would lead to disconnection or rejection.

So where do these shadow traits come from? According to licensed therapist Jor-El Caraballo, LMHC, co-founder of Viva Wellness and author of The Shadow Work Workbook: Self-Care Exercises for Healing Your Trauma and Exploring Your Hidden Self, for many people the shadow self is a result of their past experiences. “For most people a lot of it is historical, and sometimes it can be a present manifestation of a shadow that has long roots in a person's history,” he says.

There’s no specific list of shadow traits, because any emotion can be part of someone’s shadow self. However, it’s important to note that the specific emotions that comprise someone’s shadow self aren’t necessarily only negative ones. What determines someone’s shadow trait isn’t the presence of an emotion, but rather how it’s expressed, Dr. Manly says. For example, I took the quiz and got anger. While anger can manifest in negative and damaging ways, it’s not itself a negative emotion because it can also have useful, positive applications like keeping you safe by enforcing your boundaries. Whereas a negative expression of anger would be erupting at people unexpectedly or demeaning others.

Similarly, even seemingly positive traits can be part of the shadow self. Going back to the Taylor Swift example, altruism and volunteerism are generally considered positive qualities; however, if someone only does good deeds for others to get something in return, like monetary compensation or admiration or recognition, that would be a shadow manifestation of that quality that isn’t necessarily positive. “If you are really just giving for givings’ sake that is a light quality, but if you’re doing it to get something back from it that would be shadow,” Dr. Manly says.

And through doing shadow work, it’s possible to bring these emotions into the light (meaning become conscious of them) so they don’t cause harm in the background (your subconscious). This work isn’t instant and can happen over a lifetime. According to Caraballo, the idea of shadow work is to identify and work on these emotions to the point that “those things won't be sort of working subconsciously in the background creating these internal conflicts that may manifest in troubles in our everyday lives.”

How to use quizzes and assessments to learn about your shadow self

While Dr. Manly says short shadow personality tests like this one are overly simple and not a useful tool for definitively learning about your shadow self, they can serve as a jumping off point to explore further. In a session with a clinical psychologist or therapist, a more rigorous analysis takes place that can allow someone to actually do the work of contending with their shadow self.

"It's not easy to face these parts so it's really important that people take their time even if they're really excited or hopeful about what they can learn and work through."—Jor-El Caraballo, LMHC, therapist and author 

And while many people can benefit from doing shadow work, it’s important to note that there are some for whom this work won’t be realistic or possible. Because this involves considering what some people may find to be the worst parts of themselves, Caraballo says it's important to delve into this when you're not in psychological or mental crisis mode.

Especially coming out of the pandemic he’s noticed people wanting to engage with their emotions more deeply, but that the idea of uncovering something potentially unpleasant can be unnerving to some. He emphasizes the importance of taking your time doing shadow work and not rushing through, and only doing it when you have "really solid and consistent sources to help ground [you]."

When it comes to grounding, guided meditations may help, and Caraballo personally uses a token ritual to do this. ("It's where you sort of imbue a small token with a certain psychic energy through meditation, and you use that as a grounding tool moving forward to help you feel safe as you navigate a difficult situation," he says.) The key is to have the supports in place before you start. “It's not easy to face these parts,” he says, “so it's really important that people take their time even if they're really excited or hopeful about what they can learn and work through.”

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