December 3, 2017
“…we can deliberate, so I believe only we are capable of true calculated evil.” Jane Goodall
In this post I want to reframe something that we take for granted.
We have several euphemisms for what I’m talking about – the most common being shadow side or dark side. We talk about peeling the onion back to see our dark or shadow side. The layers of the onion represent all the defenses we’ve built up to protect a tender core. But really, when we label the layers as our dark side, who wants to peel that back? All I can picture are creepy, crawly things that I would prefer not to poke.
I’d like to reframe the conversation from exploring our dark or shadow side to making friends with our whole self. Because in our vernacular, dark side implies pathological illness, and the truth is, we all have parts of ourselves that we’ve rejected, and they don’t represent pathological illness!
I’m not talking about behaviors that represent calculated evil. Although they exist they are rarer than we might imagine, and I think it’s very important to acknowledge that.
Rather, some of the greatest damage that has been done from the beginning of time has been an expression of our tendency to act out of parts of ourselves that we hide, even from ourselves. So often when we do damage we don’t even recognize it for what it is. Because we’re only working from an awareness of a portion of who we are.
We have parts of us that make us feel uncomfortable. Every one of our greatest strengths is also potentially our greatest weakness. Communication is one of my strong suits, except when I’m on automatic pilot and loving the sound of my own voice and I don’t know when to zip it. Beyond annoying! At times even harmful, which I deeply regret. Not pathological.
I like to think I’m kind, but there are times when I’m not. In my posts I tell on myself. I offer stories about how I can be petty, ungenerous, judgmental. I do that because I’ve learned that by accepting and making friends with the whole of me, even those parts that make me uncomfortable, I seem to act out of those parts less often.
There is nothing appealing about the thought of exploring something we’ve labeled as the opposite of light. Reminds me of the cowboy movies with the black hat and the white hat. Who in their right mind wants to be the black hat? I think most of us want to be the hero in the white hat.
Making friends with the whole of me seems more doable than exploring my dark side. Even saying ‘dark side’ makes my body sort of shrink to protect me from something awful. Dark implies repugnant. Experiencing something as repugnant doesn’t make it go away. It just makes it better at hiding. It goes deeper underground.
In 2006 I made friends with a crumbling cervical spine and breast cancer, both of which were acting out in my body. 2006 worked out ok. In 2017 I’m trying to make friends with a back injury that is turning my world upside down at the moment. I have good and bad days. All of me seems to be representing and expressing itself with this current physical challenge. Some days I’m strong and hopeful and some days I’m not my best self and I need help to remember who I want to be.
A discovery from years of making friends with my whole self is that when I make mistakes, or when my body is less healthy than I’d like it to be, it doesn’t mean I’ve done something wrong.
No matter how well I eat or exercise or try to do the right thing, parts of me don’t work as well as I’d like. Some days I’m okay with that, and some days I’m not. When I’m not, the people around me offer me the love I don’t feel for myself. If I was rejecting any part of what’s going on, I wouldn’t reach out for the love, and nobody would know I need it.
When all of me is on the table I more readily see my role in a conflict, I apologize more easily, and I give you the benefit of the doubt more often.
It’s got something to do with letting those parts see the light of day … when they’re not kept hidden in the darkness they almost immediately start losing their power.
And when I meet you in your wholeness, when you’re not hiding parts of yourself, I feel much safer with you.
The adage whatever you resist persists remains trite but true. So let’s stop seeing certain parts of us as unacceptable and just start seeing, and making friends with, the whole of us.
My suspicion is that rather than hiding and covering up what we have been trained to call our dark side, we will be kinder and much more likely to give each other the benefit of the doubt. And instead of being alone with parts of ourselves, we’ll be supporting each other because of our wholeness, not in spite of it.
As always, I’d love to hear what you think.