ERP 078: How To Honor The Darkness [TRANSCRIPT]

ERP 078: How To Honor The Darkness

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Welcome to The Empowered Relationship Podcast, helping you turn relationship challenges into opportunities and setting you up for relationship success. Your host, Dr. Jessica Higgins, is a licensed psychologist and relationship coach who shares valuable tips, tools and resources for you to dramatically improve your relationship.

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Hi, and thank you for joining today’s episode, How To Honor The Darkness – episode 78. Before we get started, I want to invite to reach out to me if you have a relationship question or topic that you would like me to speak on, or you would like to be on the show and receive live laser coaching. You can find me on my website, I look forward to hearing from you.

Last week I was in yoga, and the instructor was talking about how to honor our shadow, and that we all have parts of ourselves that we don’t want to acknowledge, that we find uncomfortable, and that it’s easy to focus our attention on being happy, or joyful, excited, peaceful – all the yummy, positive feelings – and that we tend to deny, suppress, ignore some of the more difficult feelings. This topic stuck with me.

I actually had a whole different topic that I was going to record last week – which I will record soon – however, I got to thinking about this show. I know that many times I am trying to illuminate relationship growth, and the opportunities that relationship provides for us in our intimacy, growing closer as a couple and cultivating that depth together, or just even your personal growth and learning.

I don’t always talk about how hard and painful and uncomfortable it can be to face our more difficult emotion, to face our insecurities, to face our fears and our pain. When this yoga instructor was talking about our shadow — those of you that don’t know, I kind of mentioned what the shadow is, but also in the field of psychology it’s our blind spots; it’s parts of ourselves that we don’t wanna look at, the things we are afraid of and the things we are suppressing. We all do this. Every single person has this full spectrum of emotion, and yet again, we try to strive for the more warm, fuzzy feelings, particularly as it relates to relationship. That’s one of the things that I’m passionate about sharing with you guys – how to see and have a different frame of mind, paradigm around your relationship.

The relationship is one of the most rich, fertile grounds for growth and for becoming, yet it is extremely humbling when we’re faced with pain and discomfort. When we don’t have this framework or a real understanding… We might have an intellectual idea that relationships can be growthful or can be opportunities for growth – we might have a theory about that, but if we don’t know how, it can seem like a complete mystery. If our default is to go into repressing, avoiding and not wanting to look at those parts that are painful, then we don’t have the real experience of what that feels like, to meet the pain and to actually have some level of healing, awareness and to know and have a greater understanding of your own world and to be able to share that in a relationship that cultivates intimacy. Again, this is very counter-intuitive. It’s like the thing that we don’t wanna do, yet it’s the very thing that often is extremely transformational.

This is harder to do in practice. I’m using myself as an example here in a moment, but just wanting to speak to how painful this can feel. Because most of us enter into relationship and we don’t have this framework. I know I didn’t. And when we experience pain and hardship, where a range of things might come up, we tend to think, “What’s wrong with my partner? If they would just be X, Y and Z, we wouldn’t have any issues. What’s their deal? If they would just get better, if I could change them.” or “What’s wrong with me? Am I flawed, am I not made for love? Am I unlovable? Something’s wrong with me”, and really questioning my own lovability. “Does he love me?”, “She doesn’t care”, “I can’t do this, it will never work”, or we even start questioning the relationship in general.

If you’ve listened to my podcast, you’ve heard me mention this is typically where people get stuck. They’ll run the same cycle on repeat for years and years, or they’ll end up seeking therapy or counseling, or they’ll end up breaking up. Because most people don’t have a path around how to work some of these challenges.

Often times we are projecting in relationship. When we project, we are making up a story. We are telling the story based on our viewpoint, and that viewpoint may or may not be real. For example, let’s say I’m in high-school and I have two really good friends. I walk into the cafeteria expecting my friends to greet me with smiles, and wanting to talk about the morning events. Yet, when I walk into the cafeteria, they look at me and they start whispering to each other. That’s what happens. So I could make up a story that they’re talking about me. They are maybe making fun of me, or they’re talking behind my back, or they’re leaving me out… There’s many versions of where that story might take me. But in fact, let’s say the reality is my birthday is coming up, and they’re planning a surprise birthday party.

We have no idea what’s going on. All we know is that we observe something happening, and then we make up a story about it. We do this all the time in relationship. All the time. And often times it gets us into trouble, and many times we do not know how to look at that in an informed way. We tend to react and just go in reaction mode. We don’t know how to work with, “Okay, what’s really going on here?”

The other thing that we typically do is we will feel triggered. Our sensitive spots, based on what we’ve experienced in our life, will often get activated. In that same example, let’s say in my elementary years I was bullied. It might bring up all of those feelings of feeling left out, feeling made fun of, feeling bullied, and I might feel super scared, I might feel sad, I might feel insecure, I might feel a whole range of emotions that might have nothing to do with my two friends. But yet, seeing them whisper and look at me will perhaps trigger all of that stuff. This also happens in a relationship.

When we are in reaction mode in a relationship, we just have that knee-jerk response. There’s no insight, there’s no real awareness, and there’s really little opportunity for growth. There’s no real depth, no real understanding about really what’s going on, and we’re so much more likely to blame and make it about our partner.

As an example, I was working with this couple, and the wife was feeling a lot of dissatisfaction in the bedroom. She was calling her husband lazy; that he didn’t understand, or she had told him, but he wasn’t listening to what would really feel good for her, and she was really frustrated. She wanted to make it about her husband, but when I probed further, it sounded like there was a lot of vulnerability and actually discomfort in her really being honest and really real about what feels good. She thought she had communicated, but really as we unpacked that, it was something that was not easy for her to say “This is what feels really good”, and help lead him in that.

Projection sounds like “You’re lazy in the bedroom”, versus “Wow, I realize I haven’t been really able to share with you what would feel really good to me, and I want you to know. Would you be open to listening?”

In today’s podcast episode I am not going to go into great depth about how to deal with projection and triggers, because it deserves a little more time and space than I have on a podcast episode. Also, I really want to provide the curriculum for people that are wanting to go deeper in their relationship growth. I don’t want to just offer this up, because it’s actually a little more of a deeper dive. If you’re interested in that, I do have curriculum in my Couples Coaching program that really gives people the tools and the support to transform these negative, reactive patterns that keep couples stuck over and over again.

Coming back to how easy it is to want to distance from the pain – pretend the pain doesn’t exist, ignore it, judge it, avoid it, resist it… Somehow we think this will help the pain go away. It offers some short-term relief, but when it goes left unaddressed, it’s just gonna be reoccurring, hence the cycle-cycle-cycle. I’ve been paying attention to this topic more, reflecting on my own experience. Every time I do these podcasts, I try to run it through me and my own life; I try to give you client examples, but I also try to be really revealing about my own story and my own journey.

I’ve had some resistance to doing this podcast, in part because I’ve been dealing with some personal family challenges over the last 3-5 years. I have a very close family member that lost her home, and has been really trying to get stability, and doing it in alternative ways. The route has been stressful and challenging, and it’s weighed on me, and at times it weighs on me a lot.

For me, like us all, we want to remain strong, we think that it’s not okay for us to talk about really sad, depressing things with our friends, and we try to keep an up mood. Yet, people can feel us, and they can see us and that it weighs on us. I’ve had friends tell me, “Oh, you look a little tired” or “Are you okay?” And I don’t even feel like I am any different, but it’s affecting me, and sometimes more than others.

So it’s just normal, it’s really natural that we want to avoid this pain, but when we can really accept it, it invites a whole different way of being. I’m gonna talk about that in a moment, but right now I wanna talk a little bit about some of the main emotions. Ones we typically feel that we wanna avoid are grief – we don’t wanna look at our own mourning, our own loss; jealousy/envy, anxiety, sadness. For me, I’m very able to be sad and allow myself to drop into that place, and sometimes if it’s something that I can’t do a lot about, I feel powerless. If it just sucks and there’s nothing I can do and I have no control, I just need to learn how to just be okay with that, especially when it’s more of a crisis, and very unstable. And it’s not my life; I’m helping in all the ways I can, but this person particularly has their own route they wanna go, and learning how to just accept that person’s (my family member) path, but also my own experience of this feels hard. And there’s really nothing I can do about it.

Anger. Anger is an emotion that people often struggle with, as well. Stereotypically, women might have a little harder time accepting and giving space to their anger. Over this last week I’ve been putting the magnifying glass on things that I might not always wanna look at – my shadow, the difficult emotions I might be feeling – and it was just humorous, some of the things I was noticing about myself.

My husband was helping me with this website that I’m working on on a project, and there were some backend technical stuff that was a little beyond my scope. He got frustrated and had a little bit of a tone of voice with me. We figured out what we needed to figure out, and he was on his way out, I think he had some errands to take care of, and he hollered at me as he left, like “Okay, I’ll see you later… Thanks! Bye!” and I was still frustrated with him and I flipped him off in my own mind. And I just was like, “Man… Oh, gosh…”

That reminded me – Elizabeth Gilbert, she’s an author who wrote Eat Pray Love and she’s a keynote speaker and talks a lot about creativity and various things. I think there was some post that she had done on Facebook that was shared by a friend of mine that is like “I whisper FU at least 20 times a day, or F-OFF to people 20 times a day”, and I just thought it was funny, because she’s known to be really spiritual and very highly developed. But it’s just real, it’s this part that we’re all human and we have this full range of emotions, and we wanna embrace that.

That’s the first point I want to highlight here – the value of the full spectrum of experience. We can’t just focus on the good. It reminds me of that Jim Carrey movie he starred in, called Fast Forward. He basically wanted to just fast forward all the bad parts in his life, and realized he was fast-forwarding his whole life, and that he was missing some of the most rich, intimate moments. So this is the invitation to really be with the full experience. I also want to add to this that this is where we get valuable information. In our shadow is where it’s the most fertile ground for our growth, for our expansion.

I was thinking about this… If we thought about anything we’ve mastered and that we’re good at now, we could probably offer words of encouragement or cheer and support someone who is in the process of learning. It’s easier to look at the arrival and say “Yes, you can do it!”, but it’s hard when you’re learning; it’s so painful when you’re in it, and it’s the uncertainty, the unknown. We don’t know if the safety net is gonna be there for us.

I was thinking about just even a little baby, a year, a year and a half, learning how to walk. It’s so interesting, because most of the time we see a little baby that’s just curious, who’s just wanting to explore the world; fumbling, but trying again, and we are cheering them on. We’re like “Yaaaay! He took a step!” and really celebrating each step, each progress, and every part of that developmental process. Yet, somewhere along the line, we start judging and criticizing ourselves. We limit and constrict ourselves. Somewhere along the line I got the message that socially it’s not as attractive to talk about sad and depressing things, especially when there’s nothing I can do about it.

So I’m very open to sharing with people, but I also am mindful that I don’t want to be a downer. But I think my shadow is… I’m not letting myself be upset. I’m not okay. This is hard. If I’m pretending that I am okay when I’m not, that’s not helpful for me, or the people that love me. They wanna be in relationship with me.

So somewhere along the lines we start judging and criticizing ourselves. It’s not okay to be sad. It’s not okay to fail. I’m weak if I’m feeling some negative emotion. It’s not okay to be angry. Whether or not we’re doing this consciously or subconsciously, it’s affecting us. We’re pushing them down, we’re telling ourselves it’s not okay and we’re cutting off parts of our being. So much so that I think, again, that’s actually where the fertile richness occurs. I’ve never regretted times of self-awareness or introspection, because I get to a golden nugget.

This is the experience of tolerating some of that emotional discomfort to meet my authentic self and my pain, and then get to a sense of acceptance and understanding and a golden nugget that helps me move forward in a much healthier way, and sometimes a transformed way. I feel lighter, I feel clearer, I feel happier, I feel more connected to myself, and not to mention what this can do for a relationship. If we’re able to share with our significant other, “Hey, here’s where I’m at. Here’s what’s going on for me.” That’s such a beautiful gift, to get that insight and to have your partner share with you, “Hey, here’s what’s going on for me. Here’s what I recognize, here’s what I realized.” We want to know those things, we wanna help, we wanna care, and we wanna show up, especially when it can be shared like that; that kind of revealing in a very transparent way.

Most of us don’t know how to just be with these uncomfortable parts of ourselves. It’s uncertain, unfamiliar, and it can be pretty scary. We don’t have a lot of experience. I don’t want you to just take my word for it, however there is an article that I have posted on previous podcasts at least once, and I’ll mention it again here because I think it’s so helpful and valuable, and it’s actually pretty simple. It’s an article titled Emotions As An Honored Guest.

Why I like it so much, it just gives some metaphor for our emotions and how to relate to them, how to be with them. That they could be a source of useful information. But even before that, there’s something about just looking; without trying to change it, without trying to make it go away or be any different. Just the noticing and the accepting. I think that’s going back to my original introduction to this topic and me being in yoga. Yoga is largely about yoking two different parts: mind and body; the left part of your body with the right part of your body. This yoga instructor was talking about the positive parts of ourselves and the shadow parts of ourselves. The parts of ourselves that we might label as bad, but really are just things that we are uncomfortable with, and that we want to yoke them, we want to integrate them.

So part of the practice is to breathe and be able to just notice and just observe it. And we all have this, it’s a part of all of our experience. So if we can devote some of our energy and attention to the shadow parts of ourselves, of our being, that could give us a fuller, richer experience in life. It’s not to say we don’t want to aspire for all the positives – we love those experiences, and we want to be liked in the world, we want to be successful in the world, we want to experience joy and peace, but also we want to acknowledge the parts of ourselves that we are not comfortable with. We want to be more fully integrated.

There is a belief in psychology that when we restrict one part of our experience, we restrict the other parts. Let’s say our emotions are on a spectrum, and you have positive on one side and negative on the other, as we would label them negative. If you restrict one side of the spectrum, you’re gonna restrict the other side. So people would say, if you’re cutting off your ability to feel any emotional pain, you’re also cutting off your ability to experience emotional pleasure.

So again, for this full experience and this richness that’s integrated, we wanna honor both aspects. Again, this is much easier said than done. It’s very humbling to come in touch with our insecurity or the things we’re afraid of, the things we’re ashamed of or not proud of. Yet, again, anyone that could cheer us on would be able to see that’s for our higher development, that’s for our good. There’s no bad in that, but when we’re in it, it’s not comfortable, and it’s very humbling.

The irony of this is the more that we can meet and accept our own pain, the faster we’re gonna be able to move through it. It makes sense. If we’re willing to look at what’s there, then we’re gonna be able to transform it that much faster. I’m just almost thinking book-keeping – if it’s receipts that I haven’t been categorizing or inputting into my book-keeping device, the more I let it pile up, the bigger it’s gonna be. It’s not gonna get any easier, and I wanna develop a system that works. I wanna feel like I can look at my receipts and put them into my book-keeping system.

I would invite you, if you’re interested, to just look at the parts of yourself that you’re maybe not proud of, or you have fear about something, or just the parts that you would maybe label negative. And if you could just give yourself the gentleness and the acceptance to just be with it… What if you got to let that be okay, that there is some real value in it?

I would invite you to download or click on the link “The Emotions As An Honored Guest.” I did not write this article. You can click on it, you don’t have to opt-in. It’s a really short read and it’s got some reflection questions. But again, I would just invite you to play with this notion of what it would be like to honor your shadow, the darkness. And it’s interesting, because our days are getting less light and we’re kind of going into the winter, if you live in the Northern hemisphere, and this is a time of more reflection.

I would love to hear from you. If you wanna post on Facebook, I think it would be awesome to hear some of your comments around what you’re noticing, and maybe even having a sense of humor or playfulness about it. I would love to hear what you’re noticing about yourself.

Thank you for listening, and until next time, I hope you take great care.

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching