Loving our Shadow | The Unpalatable Paradox
"We arrive as adults presenting a diminished 'brochure' of ourselves... a shop window of our good bits - sanitised and appropriate." - Jamie Catto
Whether we are willing to accept it or not, every single human being has a shadow – parts of ourselves we’ve relegated to the dark corners of our consciousness, parts of ourselves we knowingly don’t want to exist or unknowingly acknowledge are there.
We often hold a deep antipathy for these ‘dark’ parts, these habits, tendencies and thought patterns, wishing wildly for them to vanish. To amputate the unappealing and the ugly pieces, to be all virtue, upbeat and ‘acceptable’.
Who wants to admit they contain jealousy juxtaposed with joy? That we can oscillate between anger, animosity and outrage, and then open-hearted empathy?
Me and dad, circa 1983
Someone once said to me whilst I was bewailing my flaws and deeply entrenched in the erroneous belief that one day I would be ‘free’…. Why would you be exempt from the whole rainbow of human emotion, Olivia? Mind blown. I felt both affronted and relieved in equal measure.
So where do these unenticing and seemingly repugnant parts come from, and how do we accept them?
One theory goes that as children, we are helplessly forced to unconsciously decide between attachment and authenticity. We learn very quickly which parts of ourselves are agreeable by the response we receive from our caregivers – compliance good, tantrums bad; happiness good, sadness bad. (These are sweeping generalisations of course – everything and every theory is multi-dimensional, multi-textured and wildly nuanced.)
We often receive love and approval in response to our acceptable qualities, and disdain, disapproval, anger or criticism in response to our ‘unacceptable’ traits. Because love and approval feel wonderful in our bodies, and disdain and criticism feel wretchedly awful and scary (our bodies feel unsafe, we fear deeply the possibility of rejection) we learn as little beings to present palatable, masked versions of ourselves to the world.
We learn to illuminate our happy, shiny, lovable parts and squash down all the rest. We subjugate our needs and feelings. We sacrifice our authenticity.
What we resist persists
But like a beach ball being pushed down under water, these parts we try and suppress are irrepressible. They will always resurface, and the more we fight, the more force they will erupt with.
True freedom and peace therefore come from the (perhaps) unpalatable paradox of accepting the parts of ourselves we wish didn’t exist. Befriending our internal enemies. Folding into our arms the pieces that appal us, the traits we’ve drenched in shame.
Because when we stop fighting ourselves, when we cease the self-flagellation and wave our white flags of surrender, there is spaciousness and peace and ease within our entirety. In our wholeness there is harmony between light and dark.