ERP 078: How To Honor The Darkness
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Acknowledging our shadow
Last week, I took a yoga class, where the instructor talked about honoring our shadow. She spoke about the fact that we all have parts of ourselves that we don’t want to acknowledge. We tend to focus our attention on positive aspirations, sensations, and feelings…like being happy, joyful, and in love. It is not as easy to look at our shadow.
What is our shadow
Put simply, our shadow is our blind spots and the parts of ourselves that we do not want to look at. Our shadow contains our fears, insecurities, and unresolved pain. Have you ever been super upset by something really small and not known why? Chances are you had a good reason for being so upset, but the reason for your strong reaction lies just below the surface of your awareness, within your shadow. Maybe the event triggered a deep, unacknowledged fear or maybe the event reminded you of a past wound that is still tender and raw.
Facing our shadow can be painful
To live fully, it is important to acknowledge the full range of the human experience. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Over the past few days, I have been putting the magnifying glass to my own shadow. It has been an incredibly rich experience. At times, I have laughed at my own immaturity, impatience, and reactivity. At other times, I have gotten in touch with some important emotion I have been wanting to avoid.
(Please listen to the podcast episode to hear my examples, stories, and tips.)
Honoring my shadow is not a new concept, as I have been in the study and field of psychology for over 22 years. Throughout my professional development, I have studied how to work with the shadow. Throughout personal development, I have gone through many phases of deep inner work and facing issues I had never looked at before. Each time I was confronted with some opportunity to heal a part of my experience. As I embarked on the personal work, I felt uneasy, scared, and uncomfortable. Yet, I have ALWAYS gained something tremendously positive out of the experience. I have never regretted the process, time, or energy spent on my inner work.
On this show, there are many times that I talk about and try to illuminate the learning and growth opportunities within relationship intimacy. I try to point out the benefits and value of doing the relationship work. However, I don’t always talk about how hard it can feel to face your pain.
The nature of romance versus the nature of intimacy
We all want the experience of love, to be loved and to love fully. Most of us strive to develop a meaningful, lasting, loving relationship. Yet, we get mesmerize by romance and epitomize the warm, fuzzy feelings as the ultimate state of love. We don’t know what to do when we are confronted with painful feelings in relationship. When we don’t have a framework or a paradigm for how to hold the pain, so we feel extremely threatened and try to push the pain away in various ways. For example, “What is wrong with him, what is wrong with me, what is wrong with us. He doesn’t love me. She doesn’t care. I can’t do this. It will never work.”
We don’t have a roadmap for the development of authentic intimacy. We do not know that intimacy brings out our shadow…our insecurities, fears, and inadequacies, so that we can heal and become more whole. It is almost as if love brings our pain to the surface to transform it…like a purification process.
To love someone fully, all parts of their being….in full acceptance and compassion for their humanness, it a powerful experience. We have moments or glimpses of this profound experience of love, yet we get stuck and caught in our own pain and we loose our way.
What do we do with the uncomfortable feelings?
Often, we are so busy proving that we are good people and demonstrating our likability that we deny our darkness and shadow. We try to distance ourselves from the pain. We pretend our pain doesn’t exist. We ignore, judge, avoid, and resist. Somehow, we think this will make the pain go away. We might get some short-term relief, but when pain goes unaddressed it will keep reoccurring.
When we don’t deal with our shadow, we tend to project and blame others. We don’t want to take responsibility for our own discomfort, so we make it about other people. We also will get triggered more easily. When we are moving through life in reaction mode, we have no real understanding of our experience. It is just an impulsive reaction, and there is no depth or learning happening. Example: “You are lazy in the bedroom.” Versus “It is uncomfortable for me to share what really feels good to me.”
In my couple coaching program, I give you the support and the tools to deal with projection and triggers, so that you don’t stay stuck in the same negative patterns over and over again.
It is humbling to connect with our pain. This week, I have been paying attention to my uncomfortable feelings. Can you notice and name some of your uncomfortable feelings?
1. Value the full spectrum of feelings.
What if you valued all parts of your human experience? What if you put your attention on both the good feelings and the “bad” feelings? How would this impact your growth and development?
2. Catch judgments and criticism.
Somewhere along the line we started judging and criticising and limiting our experience. “It is not okay to be sad. It is not okay to fail. I’m weak. It’s not okay to be anger. People will not like me if I am unhappy or negative.” We learned it wasn’t acceptable to feel a certain way, so we pushed the feelings down. It is time to reteach ourselves how to deal with difficult emotions.
3. Learn how to be with it.
Try to notice your shadow…the parts that you have labeled as bad, unattractive, or unloveable. Try to meet what is there without trying to change it or make it go away. Can you accept what is there?
For a good introductory resource, check out Emotions As Honored Guest, by Stephanie Noble (article).
The process of looking at our darkness is counterintuitive. The more we can meet and accept our pain, the faster we will move through it.
This week, I encourage you to look at your own shadow. What do you notice? If you are open to sharing, please comment below or post on Empowered Relationship’s Facebook page. Let’s share our humanness with one another.
Click on this link to access the transcript for this episode: ERP 078: How To Honor The Darkness
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If you are interested in developing new skills to overcome relationship challenges, please consider taking the Empowered Relationship Course or doing relationship coaching work with me.