Stop Ignoring Your Shadow

ImageI watched enough of “The X Files” back in the day to know that when you see a guy with no shadow approaching, you don’t walk, you RUN the other way.

If you’re looking to better yourself, either through a coaching program or personal development, I want to caution you: don’t suppress your dark side. It will surface.

This is heretical thinking to be sure.  After all, self-help is all about affirming the positive, or so they say.

This is the thing, really: most people don’t need a coach.  Most people are content with what they’ve got.  Most people have the ability to get the things that they desire the most and they can settle into a routine. And a lot of the time, they laugh at guys like me, thinking we’re all about fire-walking and pep rallies and big barn-burner speeches that have really nothing else of substance other than “YOU CAN DO IT!”.

I really wish I was one of these people who would have been happy with a 9 to 5 office job.  If I had, I’d still be married and probably a homeowner by now.  Two weeks vacay and health benefits, the whole nine.  There is nothing wrong with those things, and if that is what you’re looking for, if you know how to get it, and if it makes you happy, then what the hell would you need me for anyway?  Go for it.

As it happened, though, I wanted more, and while entering mentoring relationships with teachers who know how to get to that level of “more” is good, the goal should not and should never be to eliminate the shadow while affirming the light.

Last I checked, homo sapiens sapiens was a species that existed in three dimensions of space, one of time.  Though the more esoteric aspects of coaching suggest that we’re greater than physicality, the day to day reality is that we are creatures of length, width, and height who cast shadows when standing in light.  If you somehow find a way to remove your shadow, it can only happen at the price of becoming a two dimensional being.

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in “Committed” about her own “shadow work” with her fiancé Felipe:Image

“There is hardly a more gracious gift that we can offer somebody than to accept them fully, to love them almost despite themselves. I say this because listing our flaws so openly to each other was not some cutesy gimmick, but a real effort to reveal the points of darkness contained in our characters. They are no laughing matter, these faults. They can harm. They can undo…If we are at all self-aware, we work hard to keep those more dicey aspects of our natures under control, but they do not go away.”

Those are my emphases on that last part. I have been through three coaching programs now. I can say with certainty that there is a difference between mastery of the dark and eliminating it.  Too often, we confuse the two, and we do at the peril of our own well being and our relationships with others. We can never eliminate the dark.  It’s like trying to eliminate “up” or “down”. Our dark side has half of what gives us character, otherwise we’d just be vanilla.

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When women say that they like to date a guy “with an edge”, they don’t necessarily mean that he’s an actual gangster, but he’s got “gangsta” qualities.  For all you know, a guy with edge visits his grandmother for tea every Sunday without fail, or devotes his time to soup kitchens, or taking his kids to the museum. But that edge, that suggestion that he might be a little bit deviant, a little crazy or bad…that’s from his shadow.  That’s a small bit of contrast that gives him his character, and it’s his character that’s attractive. Take away that quality, and the guy becomes boring.

(Strike that and reverse it for women where applicable.)

Accepting the dark doesn’t mean that we go around fucking everything up all the time, but it does mean that we have periods in our lives when we’re not at our best. It’s important to recover and get back on track, and if you’re working towards these bigger, more ambitious goals, yes, your emotional state needs to be re-centered.  But – and this is an important but – you cannot betray how you really feel in the process.

What I used to do and stopped doing, which I need to start doing again, is viewing myself as a small nation state, with my conscious mind being the executive, legislative, and judicial branches all rolled into one. (Yeah, I know. If you can find a geekier metaphor, let me know: I’ll buy you some cheese and Pepsi).

The shadow is that part of our one person republic that we neglect or ignore because it appears to conflict with our dominant values, the introspective equivalents of counterculture.

Unlike real life, however, where the countercultures choose not to participate in the greater body politic, our inner countercultures are always active, always crying out for representation, and frequently being disenfranchised by the dominant viewpoints.

And as with all countercultures that routinely get shut out of the national discourse, when you ignore or suppress them long enough, they will rise up and sabotage your national efforts.  They will fuck you up until you listen. And listen you should.Image

That recently happened to me. I ignored what was really going on in my darker side and it got the better of my judgment. The result, without going into details, is that I damaged some key relationships in my life as well as my own sense of self-confidence that I have everything under control in my life.  Part of that was feeling that I could not admit to my lack of control because I’d be compromising the positive thinking aspect of my coaching work.  I didn’t want to disappoint my coaches, or the people who admire me.  Not surprisingly, the thing I feared the most came to pass.

So, here goes the absolute truth: I do not have it all under control.

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In the past year, I’ve been dealing with a lot of  situations, feelings, and challenges that are absolutely new to my experience.  I want to believe that I can maintain my control and calm when I’m in them, emphasis on the “want”, but if I’m truly honest with myself, there is absolutely no prior frame of reference to support my assertion that I will be okay with them, so I can’t say for sure how I’ll react.

I didn’t want to believe this myself, out of pride, and in those key relationships I mentioned earlier, my lying to myself about my true ability to keep control transformed into me lying to them about it, and now they feel betrayed and angry.

Worse yet, this affected my ability to ‘fess up and admit my truth because they weren’t in a position to hear it, like giving flowers to someone to make amends for knocking over their garbage can with the car yesterday, but only after you’ve just pissed on their shoes thirty seconds ago.

Again, despite knowing better, my ego ended up compromising my apology and made everything worse.  Now I’m totally disempowered because the ball is in their court to forgive me or not forgive me because through my own actions, I have lost all credibility as a friend.  I can forgive myself at some point, but if I did it now, it would be inauthentic because I don’t believe I deserve it yet. To get to that point, I need to process for a while.

But I’m also sick of blaming myself all the time.  I’m sick of my coaching philosophies always stigmatizing “blame”.  I know it’s not the most productive mindset to be in, but sometimes it’s necessary to discharge negativity elsewhere: that’s why it’s called ex-pression.  Get it out of your system so it stops eating you up from the inside, and then do your learning from your mistakes.  Then forgive yourself when you really can forgive yourself.  You’ll know when that time comes because you won’t feel like a total fraud doing it.

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If getting to that place of forgiveness means that you blame external circumstances, situations, and people for a while, then go ahead, blame, blame blame. Anywhere but yourself. You have my permission. You don’t need it, but God knows someone has to give it to you.

I can’t take responsibility all the time.  I don’t want the world always on my shoulders alone, but my coaching work seems to suggest that’s what I do, all the time.  It’s not fair.  Let me do my blaming when it serves me. Only after you’ve discharged the blame do you start looking at responsibility.  That’s where the learning is, and you do that without further stigma, without punishing yourself multiple times for a single sin.

I’ll repeat this call to all people who would be life coaches: create room in your courses and teaching strategies for the safe, guilt-free discharge of darkness.  Don’t make your clients, either indirectly through the material or directly in session, feel guilty for feeling bad, even a little.

joygirlI know many of us got into this business because of the images of people running through pretty grassfields waving their arms and laughing, of living in the Pacific Palisades sipping wine with your gorgeous sun-tanned soulmate with the beach bod, or nights spent in placid meditation and what-not, but that’s the end result.

I’m talking about the process by which you get there, and it’s not always pretty. I understand and accept that indulging the negative is not the best thing to do all the time, but I’m not going to change my mindset if it feels like I’m being forced to be happy.

Bob Proctor says “people don’t resist change, they resist being changed”: this how I feel when I’m told in endless teachings on the subject of self improvement that feeling bad is bad, and I should think positively. I call bullshit on positive thinking all the time.  That’s a surefire way to damage your clients. I will think positively after I’ve made room in myself to be positive, and that involves feeling bad for a while.

Authenticity trumps positivity wherever the two are in conflict, because if you choose positivity without authenticity, neither one shows up in your life. Trust me: I just lived that.

Make no mistake, I am angry about this.  I think I have a right to be.

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