The Missing Piece – Finding Light In Our Darkness

The world will ask you who you are, and if you don’t know, the world will tell you.” – Carl Jung

We all have a darker side.  You know, that part that blurts out in the middle of a meeting and you wish you could reel the words back in?  Or the part that tries so hard to be patient with your kids and you end up blowing your cool and saying things you later regret.  How many times have you regrettably said to yourself “I sound just like my mother”?

The darker side is the part of ourselves that we don’t like.  We try so hard to live up to our ideal of who we want to be but somehow, those old thoughts and habits continue to linger in the shadows.

One of my biggest lessons in my own personal growth journey is “that which we resist persists”.

From the time that we are children, we are told what it means to be “good” and “bad”.  We are labelled, punished, and rewarded based upon our family’s values of right and wrong.

But it doesn’t end there.

When we marry and merge with another – we then encounter another potential set of family values.  I was engaged to a man from a strong religious upbringing before meeting my husband.  In their family, all the women played the piano and the men were church pastors.  My fiancé was a church pastor but I didn’t play the piano.  This began a seemingly endless list of all the things that his family thought was “wrong” with me.    And, it doesn’t end here either.

We go into the world of work where we encounter “corporate cultures”.  Corporate culture comes with its own list of how you may or may not fit into an organization.  It may be a “young” culture and anyone over 40 may not fit in.  It may be a culture of passive aggression, and a person with a direct pragmatic nature may find themselves having a hard time.  And unlike our families where the do’s and don’ts are a little more spelled out, in organizations these rules are rarely spoken about which can lead us to scratching our heads quite a bit about our challenges at work.

Is it any wonder we keep finding qualities about ourselves that translate into feeling wrong, not enough, or unworthy?

To manage the stress around these negative feelings, we often push these painful feelings away or reject them altogether.  We may try to deny that this is who we are and set an ideal to be a different way.  We steel ourselves to never do that “thing” again! But until we can look squarely into these rejected qualities, they continue to operate unconsciously within us.

Being willing to look at the darker sides of who we are takes great courage.  We may have to confront some old trauma, addictions, or other negative aspects.  But I have found there are also tremendous gifts waiting for us inside that darker part too.  Parts that were rejected because they weren’t valued by our family – yet are wonderful qualities none the less.

I have learned a great deal – the bad AND the good by embracing my darker side.  One of the wonderful things I’ve learned has to do with the world of play.

Growing up as a child, there wasn’t a lot of play in my life.  Like a lot of latchkey kids where the mom is at work when they get home from school, I had responsibilities waiting for me.  Do my homework.  Make sure my brothers did their homework.  Set the table for dinner.  Help my dad make dinner.  Clean up after dinner.  I didn’t have sports activities or talent developing activities.  My family didn’t value these and we didn’t have a lot of money for extra things any way.  My grandmother taught me to sew, though, and that has been a touchstone in my life in many wonderful ways.

So, I grew up and became the same kind of adult.  Very responsible.  Always getting my work done.  Making sure that my children were doing what they needed to do.  I played with my children and took them to places they wanted to go.  I allowed each of my children to be in one to two activities at a time (so I did expand a bit here from my parent’s beliefs).

I was dutiful at work too.  I studied and got certifications to further my work.  I always tried to be a good corporate citizen and make decisions that were in the best interest of the company vs. my own.

I never played for the sake of my own playing.  By the time Saturday nights rolled around, I was exhausted and just wanted to chill out (numb out) in front of the TV.

As I explored my darker side, I trotted out this reject part of myself – the kid who learns by playing –  for some exploration. 

I am learning that there is a part of myself that is creative.  I never thought of myself as creative or that I had any special talents.  In my darker side, I found my empathy and compassion – the qualities that I was told didn’t belong in the business world.  I admitted the traumas in my life and the places where I have wounds.  And, as I continue to admit to these traumas I am finding not only healing – but my voice is coming back.  I am learning that all the times I was told that I talked too much in meetings were men trying to put me in my place – and I invited this part of myself out of the shadows and back into her own power.

You can also retrieve the gifts of who you are by being willing to look at your own darker side.

Here are some thoughts to get you started.

  1. First, you might want to do a little research and reading about the darker side or the Shadow as it is often referred to. I like Robert Johnson’s work and he has a book called “Owning Your Own Shadow”.
  2. Find a coach or therapist who can work with you to integrate your dark and light sides.
  3. If you want to work visually, create a collage of all the parts of yourself – organizing the parts that you show in the world in the light on one side of the paper and the parts you keep hidden in a shadow on the other.
  4. Start journaling about your darker side. A powerful journal prompt I have found is “The wound that is keeping me from doing what I want in the world is…”
  5. Find an organization where this kind of work is support. For this, I love the Gestalt Institute in Cleveland.

I have learned by embracing my darker side, that it is up to me to decide what has value and what aligns with my own true nature.  That I can heal my wounded parts and when those parts are healed, they transform into the gifts they were always meant to be.

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