The Upside of Your Darkside
Shadow Work is the time of sweet confinement and aloneness where we resolve inner conflicts, release trapped energy, and integrate all parts of ourselves.
The Promise of Wholeness
How often have we heard “don’t be emotional at work”? This comes up quite a bit in my coaching and organization work with women. We have all been conditioned to believe that there is “a set of emotions” that are off limits for women at work. That this “set” of emotions makes us look weak or incapable. That we need to hide these emotions, push them down, or block them out so that we appear cool, calm and collected at all times.
We often consider these parts of ourselves to be our dark side – those unacceptable and undesirable parts that we want to hide, avoid, or even obliterate. But what if I told you that there is an upside to your Darkside?
Positive psychologists are beginning to look at the value of ALL emotions, not just the happy, hardy, optimistic ones. Their research is showing that the emotions we think of as negative, including the painful ones, are all useful.
All emotional states have some adaptive (growth) advantage. Rather than steering away from some states by avoiding them, sitting on yourself in meetings, or cutting off from an essential part of yourself, this newest research is teaching us that it’s ok to admit that life can be hard; work can be an uphill battle; that grieving is a normal, healthy part of life, and there are good reasons to be afraid. Instead of chastising or shaming ourselves for getting angry, being embarrassed, or feeling unhappy – these feelings have something to teach us and allowing them to surface so that we can hear their message, becomes part of a repertoire for balanced living in an ambiguous and ever-changing world.
As just one example, let’s look at the positive quality of perseverance. At the VIA Institute on Character, perseverance falls in the courage category. Courage describes strengths that deal with overcoming fear. These strengths can manifest themselves inwardly and outwardly. But we can’t express courage without experiencing, acknowledging, and embracing our fears. Perseverance, as part of the courage category, is the voluntary continuation of a working towards a goal despite the presence of challenges, setbacks, disappointments, and failures. Perseverance requires both effort for the task and distress tolerance – my personal emotional equivalent of camping (no shampoo, outdoor toilets, and creepy crawlers in the night).
Rather than steering ourselves toward a particular outwardly acceptable feeling state, what if we could consider the usefulness of developing the ability to express and navigate every state, every part of who we are, the negative and positive emotions, the underappreciated parts of who we are, even the life experiences that cause us shame.
Until we we accept the challenge of drawing on our darkside, it manifests itself in often troublesome ways in our lives. We say things we regret. We are harsher than we want to be. Our built up frustration erupts like a volcano. The paradox is that by acknowledging and integrating our darkside, we bring wholeness within reach.
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