Exalt your shadow side: healing a split-self.

Sometimes emotional responses we have to events are desirablee.g. ‘great I achieved something or got something I wanted – let me post a pictureon fb so that everyone can think that is all of who I am’.   But what happens in those times when you seeand feel things that you recognise as undesirable or destructive? Maybe feelinginferior, hurt, unappreciated, or fearful. Do you shut it away and ignore it?. Repeatedly doing this can leave historical potentially dynamic parts ofyou remaining trapped, unknown, unseen and un-exalted.

By exalted I mean seen as a potential source of somethingpositive, something which deserves attention, action and representing a piece ofyour own universal truth.  My Buddhistpractise and my therapy training tells me that there is a place for everyemotion and behaviour in this world and my deep determination and need is toknow everything happening in my inner world has a right to exist and hasmeaning.  So, I pluck up the courage to faceand explore the sides of myself that I shun and discovered they contain a greatwealth of energy and release through creating a bridge with split off parts ofmyself that I rejected. 

It is a long story but in summary, I rejected my father’s violence,my mother’s sense of helplessness and suicidal desires, experiences of sexualand emotional manipulation from the very people who were closest to me.  For many years I shut off their impact – and rightlyso, I needed to; what madness would it be for a child to actively connect withsuch harmful experiences? It totally saved me emotionally at the time.  But there were imprints left deep down thatcaused me great anxiety.  Where was my actionto protect my mother? Where was my voice to say I was being molested and it wasn’tright? Where was my courage to speak truth and voice anger at being manipulated?Where is it now?.

After years of panic attacks at potentially high achievementpoints in my life I decided it is time to acknowledge my inner instinctual animalthat would have acted at crucial times and I consciously empower it to act inthe present.  Rejecting the animality in thoseclosest to me means I reject it in myself, cutting off the flow of energy that arisesfrom acting on my own instincts.  I alsohave the potential to be violent to defend myself or someone else, I might needto abandon someone toxic although I know how it hurts.  My instincts might mean asking difficultquestions.  Hearing and telling difficulttruths. 

As long as my actions are guided from a place of compassion (whichis where 12 years of SGI Buddhist practise helps me), I can exalt these same tendenciescreate benefit with them.  I have hadmany experiences where choosing to embrace this side has stopped destructive situationtowards me and others in their tracks.  Forexample, when I see intimidating youths in my area (within reason), I now approachthem, make sure I show no fear, feel my animal instincts vibrating; I talk withthem – I don’t reject their energy because I also embrace mine and it hastangible impact. 

It might sound stupid but at times when I feel insecure or fearful,over and over I invoke an image of a fearless and wise panther and prepare toact.  It has become a source of groundedenergy that acknowledges every part of me and others without judgement.  Projecting a purely positive image can inspireothers but it can also alienate and intimidate them.  Carl Jung says that the more you supress orreject a part of yourself the more it subconsciously controls and manifests inyour life.  Instead, find support to embraceyour past and the dark parts of yourself as something potentially incrediblygood and healing through exploration.

Russian Doll inside: Holding the trauma of our past to live more fully in the present.

Many people including myself have had experiences that make feeling vulnerable or intimate a bit more overwhelming than it needs to be.  Maybe you had experiences at school being bullied, with parents who were unavailable for support, an abusive or painful heartbreak which left a trail of mistrust and fear.

RussianDolls AnAccidentalAnarchist.blog
Image courtesy of Bradley Davis (CC BY-ND 2.0)

When we encounter a current situation that might resemble one of these experiences, those past feelings can get stirred up and leave us feeling confused, anxious, angry or feel that we want to keep people away.  For myself at times like this I usually don’t feel ‘like my-self’, with feelings that seem unsafe to express to anyone except those I feel close to and they aren’t always available to talk.  I have found that the feelings can affect my immune system, my digestion; supressing my appetite or make me clumsy (although to be fair I’m not usually that graceful anyway!).   These bubbling feelings can affect every day functioning at work where I need to feel focused, positive and confident but they leave me wondering how to pull myself together emotionally when I feel like liquid inside.

At those times I have found it helpful to visualise my life contained in a series of layers in time, like a Russian doll; each layer marking a point in my life where a particular feeling was very strong, such as an experience of family loss, betrayal or feeling alone. The layers go deeper, backwards in time until finally at the point of birth where are my first experiences of being with my parents; the most tiny and vulnerable Russian doll layer.

Connecting overwhelming feelings as belonging to one of those layers has been a helpful way to bring me to a sense of safety in moments when the emotional layers of past and present start to merge.  A way of both owning my emotions (- it is often tempting to blame outwards on the person triggering them!) and knowing that because they arose from my past and are seeping out in to my present that I can contain them; at least until they reduce and until I am able to talk to someone I trust (this is vital).

Finally imagining myself as the outmost layer of the Russian doll as I am now and drawing a boundary around my emotions helps me to stop and take a breath, ground myself in the present and to understand the difference between my feelings and what triggered them. I feel more able to respond the way I want to rather than just react and most importantly brings me back to the self I want to create right now.

We are all so vastly unique and complex, having experienced unspeakable things that creating a structure to help us identify what layer is operating within us can allow us a vital space to climb out.

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Self care; be the perfect parent to yourself

Self care, looking after ourselves, doing or giving ourselves what’s best in each moment, it sounds so simple, so why then can it be so hard to do?

Wait! Hard to do? That’s getting a bit ahead of things, even finding the notion of an inner voice of self care is difficult at times yet alone actually doing the thing we really need to look after ourselves. Self care is that thing we need, not the something we do out of responsibility for someone else or something out of duty to some other; none of those should and shouldn’t. What I am referring to here is having compassion for ourself.

SelfCareCat

I am sure we can all think of times when we haven’t really looked after ourselves well, maybe those times are recent, maybe even today! Certainly this week or this month. So how can we find the voice of our inner self care and what does this voice sound like?

Well, I have an idea for finding this voice, finding the voice and then carrying it with you everywhere you go. So here it is, a simple idea to help develop the ability to really self care. All we have to do is to ask ourselves ‘What would my ideal parent say to me?’ The ideal parent is the one that knows instinctively what we want and what we need. The ideal parent is completely attuned to our needs, it knows all that you do, feels all that you do, its a total empath with you. Of course it is, because its you. Let’s forget about our real parents for this (after all, who apart from Jesus had an ideal parent). So we pretend to be our own ideal parent, and you ask that ideal parent ‘what I should do?‘ or ‘what do I really need now?‘ Somehow its easier to hear the words of that imagined parent rather than the words of ourself in our current situation.

So I ask my ideal parent, ‘Hey, I am tired today, I said I would go out with some friends and I don’t want to let them down, but I have an early start tomorrow and I’m tired, what shall I do?‘ What would you ideal parent say? What would the ‘you‘ that’s not caught up in expectations and responsibility say. For me, I would probably be having a night in, a bath, and an early night, and I would feel loved by my ideal parent for taking such care of myself. In other words I would be giving myself love.

Peace and love!

Healing without rational answers

Still looking for a rational answer?  It feels good, but I need to know why?  C’mon, just put that mind away for a bit.  Enjoy without description.

An affective (feeling) of a growth experience is an experience that can’t be cognitised but is felt nonetheless.  Feeling lighter, feeling more spacious, feeling just a bit more well?

A wonderful quote from Carl Rogers from a client at the end of counselling:

“I can’t tell just exactly what’s happened.  It’s just that I felt that I exposed something, shook it up and turned it around; and when I put it back it felt better.  It’s a little frustrating because i’d like to know exactly whats going on”

(Rogers, 1961: 151)

My words, its simple, you healed a little.

 

Leaving our cocoon

Why is it that we often imprison ourselves in the pain of the past and the pain of the future?   What if the door was open all along but we just hadn’t seen it, we could choose to walk out at any time?   Would this be so hard? Perhaps it would and perhaps it is?

After all, it is scary to look outside that familiar cell? It scary to leave the known?  That known yet unhappy prison cell. The thoughts perhaps go like this: ‘This is the cell that is mine, my cell, my prison, its me.  And besides, if I leave the cell, where will I go? What will I be? How will I live? Surely its better to stay here, just a while longer, perhaps I’ll stay a while and try to figure it out, I’ll buy some flowers, make the cell a bit more pretty… but I want to leave, I hate this cell, this cell is a torture, why can’t I leave?’ Dejected scared but familiar, we stay in our prison.

What I am talking about here are people, like myself, that have had traumas, that hold onto those traumas and cannot seem to shed them.  I am talking about people whose minds create a prison such that we are a hostage to the past.  But we don’t just do this with the past, we can also do this with our future too.  Those future aspirations, our carefully planned path, ‘When I have done this, this, this and this then maybe [if I am lucky] everything will be okay, won’t it?’ This is the prison of the future, the prison that takes us from being fully alive and locks us into another prison of suffering.  Like the ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus, a man who was doomed to perpetually push a boulder to the top of the hill only to watch it fall down again; not surprisingly Sisyphus was in hell.  Our personal boulder can be the mission for self improvement; it has no end; its a path I know very well from my own experience. The path is never ending because ultimately we don’t want the path to end.  Its ending promotes the same fears as the prison cell of the past, ‘Where would I go when its over? What would I be? But most importantly – and just like the prison of the past – I don’t feel ready to leave?’

But as the Buddhists masters know, when we stop trying to get somewhere we arrive.

‘If not now, when?’

‘Wherever you are, enter Zen from there.’

So try this, say to yourself, ‘It’s okay, everything is okay.’  But not like a parent telling a child to push away the hurt, this is not about rejection or repression, the traumas were truly awful and that is acknowledged and their being is also accepted.  Did you suffer as a child? If so, ‘that’s okay.’  You got angry and shouted this morning, ‘that’s okay too.’  You feel lost and scared, ‘that’s okay.’  Be gentle with yourself, ‘its okay.’  Feel angry at me for suggesting this, ‘that’s okay’.

We can put aside the past and future, perhaps only for a brief while, but it can be done. We step out of our prison, we arrive, we come alive, we smell the roses, taste our food, see the richness of life, we experience love, love of ourself, love of another and love of life.  But be gentle, please don’t turn the goal of leaving prison into yet another prison; another opportunity to swing the whip at ourselves for not meeting our expectations.  Perhaps we begin by leaving just briefly, or perhaps we just entertain the thought that we could leave, we don’t expect too much, we are gentle, after all we have been in prison for a very long time.

So we begin with the notion of gentleness to ourselves, we allow ourselves to feel that we are ‘okay’ and that life is ‘okay’; it hurts at times, but that’s okay, its good enough.  We become comfortable with not knowing or paradoxically knowing that ‘the answer is the there is no answer.’  We cease the unending searching, the unending ‘Why? Why? Why?’  We lay the mind aside and we find peace or rather, when we surrender, the peace that was all around us finds us.

With love.