Who wants to deal with their hunger to control the behavior of others, which is often what’s underneath all the worries and anxieties we carry around?
Who wants to fess up to the quiet seductiveness and conflict avoidance that is usually sported by pleasers of all genders? Who is willingly exploring their need to be in charge among the notorious caretakers out there?
But, alas, these less flattering qualities often represent the flip side of our fear of being overlooked and disregarded.
It’s very difficult to stand up and actively protect the victimized parts of ourselves by taking responsibility for our less flattering characteristics. Instead, we get defensive and block out what we don’t want to see. I’ve certainly been there.
I’ve been reading a little book by a Jungian psychoanalyst called “Owning Your Own Shadow.” The author, Robert Johnson, argues that we all have parts of our egos that have been disavowed, split off and pushed into a hidden corner of our psyche.
If unacknowledged, they take on a life of their own. But they don’t just lay dormant. When continuously overlooked, they come out in an uncontrolled way, as in angry outbursts or panic attacks. That is when we shake our heads in disbelief, saying “I don’t know what’s gotten into me.”
But befriending your shadow has huge rewards: “The joy of life is created by owning one’s shadow,” writes Johnson. We have to find the balance between our golden side and our dark side. “That middle ground is not the gray compromise that we feared, but the pace of ecstasy and joy.”
Have you ever noticed the serenity and friendly detachment of older people who have aged well, and can just laugh off what used to be insulting? That is what he means.
And Johnson goes even further. You know how we get irked most by people who display behaviors that we don’t like about ourselves? Same goes with the positive traits. We most admire those people who have what we don’t seem to have – confidence, grace, power and so on. But the truth is, that these characteristics lie dormant in us – we just have to turn our attention to them and do the work to bring them out in us.
That process is of course very painful. It is the place many of us are stuck in right now. But if we plow through it and integrate our good and bad qualities, we are capable of becoming truly whole.
We can’t get there, says Johnson, “until one has owned one’s own shadow and drawn it up to a place of dignity and worth.”
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Giant Comfort » Embrace Your Dark Side (July 19, 2012)
Last reviewed: 19 Feb 2012