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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