“Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.” ~ Carl G. Jung
I remember the day I fell back into my bad habits. I was in the middle of a course of CBT to help me overcome my depression and anxiety at that time in my life and at this one particular session I told my therapist I had nothing to talk about. “I’m fine, there’s nothing I feel I want to say this week,” I said. Except that both she and I could sense the huge elephant in the room. I was avoiding something. I was doing what I used to do best and shutting down when I had ‘messed up’ or when I felt guilty, ashamed or angry with myself. Until the next session that is, when I tearily opened up and confessed that the previous weekend I had slipped back into old habitual behavior and had ended up having a huge blow-out night drinking and taking drugs. When she asked me why I didn’t tell her, I said that it was because I felt ashamed that I’d done something bad and thought she’d judge me for not fully participating in our work together. At that moment she asked me a question which has stayed with me forever since.
“What does ‘bad’ mean Natalie?”
I told her it meant getting swayed off course, doing something I shouldn’t, and being pulled back over to the dark side of my personality.
But then she asked me, “Why is it bad to have a dark side? You’re a multi-faceted person. You’re allowed to have different aspects to your personality and it’s only you who is saying that these aspects are either good or bad”.
It was in that moment that I became acutely aware of just how much I’d judged myself over the years. Any time I did anything I thought to be wrong, stupid or bad, I leaped right in there and tarnished myself with the ‘you’re a really bad person Natalie’ brush. I had been living in a very black and white world, when in reality, as we go about our lives and do different things, make mistakes, make healthy decisions and not so healthy ones, we’re just navigating, we’re just learning, we’re just doing what we feel is right at the time, and none of that necessarily makes us a good or bad person, it just makes us human.
From that moment on I began to challenge the relationship I had created with my so-called dark-side. Who was that part of me anyway?
Well to me she was a bad person, mislead, a screw-up, a failure, and anytime I even hinted back towards my previously constant party-girl behavior I got out my little black and white paint brush again and decided that I was a bad person because of one little night out letting my hair down. The problem with this viewpoint though, was that I was completely ignoring what wasn’t ‘bad’ about this part of me as well. So I’m an ex-party girl, so what? What I’m also really good at is bringing people together, is a great hostess, making people feel welcome, making people laugh, having fun and knowing when I need to relax. Yes maybe I didn’t always make the healthiest choices when it came to relaxing or having fun at times and yes, I had to question those choices and why I was making them, but I really had to stop with my own self-defeating self-talk talk. It was finally time to let go of that harsh, self-critical inner voice because she wasn’t doing me any favors. And so I began to explore how, instead of shutting her out, I could at least be friends with her and if you’ve been fighting with an aspect of yourself lately, I encourage you to do the same.
How to Make Friends with your Dark Side
Below are the 3 simple shifts that I made and that can help you make friends with your dark side:
1. Acknowledge her but don’t indulge her.
“Why, when we know that there’s no such thing as perfect, do most of us spend an incredible amount of time and energy trying to be everything to everyone? Is it that we really admire perfection? No – the truth is that we are actually drawn to people who are real and down-to-earth. We love authenticity and we know that life is messy and imperfect.” ~ Brene Brown
The worst thing you can do with an aspect of your personality you’re afraid to come face to face with is being ignored it or suppressed. That part of you ,you’re wrestling with is still part of you. Yes, he/she might represent fear or doubt at times, but that’s still part of who you are, so acknowledge him/her. If you shut the door in her face, her knock will just get louder and more persistent, so let her in and get to know her, but when she acts up, don’t indulge her. My inner party girl would often be the source of my unhappiness because she never wanted to sit still; she was always searching for ways to be better, more popular, more lov , when what I really had to do was tell her to love herself. Instead, for years I made the mistake of sitting with her and wallowing in self-pity over a beer when she was feeling insecure. I completely indulged her victim mentality, so these days I have to pull her back if she starts peering over the rabbit hole of the downward negativity spiral and let her know that although I’m listening, I’m not buying into everything she’s saying.
2. Ask her what she really needs.
I have accepted that I can get a little carried away at times and I certainly know how to have fun, but these days I’ve learnt to distinguish between when my party-girl is trying to trip me up, or when she really does just need some TLC. I can feel the need to cut loose and reach for an instant quick fix when I’m feeling bored, insecure, low, when I feel my energy has been drained by someone else, or when I am craving some sort of attention or reason to escape. In those moments, I take a deep, conscious breath and ask myself what I’d love to do that’s fun but that will fill me up and nourish me again. Sometimes its organizing lunch with my girlfriends, sometimes it’s running a hot bath to soak in with a good book, or sometimes it is planning a night out at a gig where we might have a few drinks, but it’s all much more mindful and so I’m no longer numbing-out or ignoring myself.
Even if your dark side doesn’t always want to love you, you have to love her first. This really just comes from practicing self-love every single day even when you might not feel very lovable, and knowing that you’re worthy of that love and attention. For many years I thought I wasn’t worth anything to anyone and I certainly didn’t believe I was attractive or desirable, hence my party-girl looking for drugs and alcohol to boost her confidence and keep her appearing outwardly energetic and happy. If you really love your body and want to feel good, no external thing or person can do this for you, this work comes from inside you and it’s up to you to lean into the moments that you feel light, expansive and joyful and know that it’s OK to feel that way. Life doesn’t have to be an uphill struggle, but it will continue to be if every time you look in the mirror you go back to your dark side and start saying mean things to yourself about the way you look. You are worthy of the best and nothing less and you are certainly none of the things you say to your reflection, those are just plain mean.
“Inner peace can be reached only when we practice forgiveness. Forgiveness is letting go of the past, and is therefore the means of correcting our misperceptions.” – Gerald Jampolsky
None of us are perfect, but both the so called light and dark sides of us make up the whole person we are. It’s not all about the shiny, beautiful, well-behaved, or ‘perfect’ ideal. Being who you truly are means embracing, accepting and loving every part of you and showing those parts to other people, especially those that truly love you. Living that way means living authentically, unedited and being 100%, unapologetically you, and in my opinion, that is the only way to live our best, most beautiful life.
Do you have a dark side? Something about yourself that you’re ashamed of? Something that not everybody knows about you? Well how about exploring that part of yourself instead of keeping her locked away? Because to deny a part of yourself means not living wholly. To suppress a part of yourself and pretend it’s not there means you’re not fully accepting, embracing and getting to know yourself and loving every part of you whether it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in your eyes.