Happiness means being authentic in all your emotions.Nina Vossschulte
Happiness is an elusive concept. People want to achieve it and treat it as a destination. Others try to chase it and wonder why it keeps eluding them. Once we understand that happiness is a state of mind we go from one extreme to the next: Now we think we always need to be happy. But a state of mind is not a constant. It’s rather in constant change, adapting to both the good and the bad times that we encounter throughout our lives, but also both the light and darkness that we all carry within ourselves. Yet, most of us are very much in the habit of repressing feelings like sadness, anger, uncertainty or frustration. Instead embracing them and allowing your shadow side to come forth makes way for greater freedom and release. Let me name some of rewards that come with this, truly the most fundamental of things that we all seek:
- emotional healing
- inner peace
- better psychological and overall health
The Shadow Self
In the domain of psychology, renowned psychologist Carl Jung devoted a lot of thought to this problem of the “Shadow Self”. Jung created the Archetypes model, a concept wherein he believed our unconscious minds are fragmented or structured into different “selves” in an attempt to organize how we experience different things in life. One of those archetypes, The Shadow Self is an archetype that forms part of the unconscious mind and is composed of repressed ideas, instincts, impulses, weaknesses, desires, perversions and embarrassing fears. This archetype is often described as the darker side of the psyche, representing wildness, chaos and the unknown. Jung believed that these latent dispositions are present in all of us, in many instances forming a strong source of creative energy.
We tend to ignore the Shadow Self
We are born pure, whole and complete, like blank canvases. In our cultural ‘socialization’ process, we begin to sort out those traits within us that are acceptable in society, and those unacceptable traits that aren’t, which are later hidden away. Slowly we learn to live fractionated lives, accepting some parts of our nature but rejecting and ignoring other parts, because, usually, our dark side comprises all the emotions and qualities about ourselves that we wish would just go away. It’s not even that those qualities make us seem evil, but it’s more about what we’re embarrassed of, what feels wrong to us.
How can you completely and wholeheartedly accept who you are if there are sides of yourself that you’re too afraid to explore?
The repression of our negative traits or emotions in society is one of the biggest barriers in any persons journey towards happiness, self-love and living authentically. Owning who you are, accepting our emotional imperfections makes them feel less detrimental and all-consuming. You might not be 100 percent happy about them, but, with acceptance, you can learn to manage how they affect you and in turn make you that much more happy in the process. Either you own your shadow, or it owns you.
To completely experience self-love we must learn to experience our Shadow Selves, and voyage into the dark of the unknown within us courageously.
So, apart from modern day society’s ideas of acceptable and non-acceptable behavior, what else causes such a great repression of the Shadow Self? In truth, a lot of it actually comes from the endless array of “feel good” motivational teachings out there, which talks to our light side. The “light” energies are usually represented with noble values such as as love, peace, joy, harmony, compassion, entirely ignoring the darker elements within us such as anger, vengeance, control, fear, shame, competitiveness, jealousy, lust, etc. Because these darker characteristics are associated with ‘negativity’, they’re avoided out of fear.
Yet by focusing only on one side of ourselves, we ignore the entirety of what it is to be human! By embracing your inner darkness you allow psychological and spiritual balance into your life. You become an integrated whole moving away from the disharmony of only looking at either one of those sides separately.
The keyword here is “integrate”, which comes from the Latin word integratus, meaning to ‘make whole’. To integrate an inner quality is to take ownership and responsibility for it, rather than rejecting or denying it. That does not mean indulging in any dark side desires that arise within. Indulging in anger, for example, will only result in more anger. Instead, shed light on the positive and unrealized aspects of your dark side, and think about acknowledging your angry feelings when you first feel them – not stuff them down only to have them get stronger and bubble over at one point. It’s rather about accepting and experiencing those feelings in the light of mindful awareness and deep honesty. And when you learn to truly acknowledge one of these darker traits within instead of avoiding them, they will stop having control over you. By accepting the shadow elements of who we are it gives us the freedom to witness those uncharted areas within our minds. This will allow you to see that you are not these shadow elements. They are simply thoughts and feelings that come and go. Yet they teach you valuable lessons about who you are and how you want to feel.
A whole and balanced self is a reconciliation of all parts, an inner unification.
As Debbie Ford describes in her book, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, every aspect to ourselves has a gift. Every emotion and every trait that we possess helps show us the way to enlightenment and happiness. When we learn to embrace and learn from our imperfections, we’re embracing being beautifully human.
I’m a huge Disney fan and really love the kind of ideas they’re trying to convey with their movies. And there’s one in particular, that speaks to this topic: the Pixar movie Inside Out. It’s a reminder to us all that a whole life includes both joy and sadness, and even sometimes anger and disgust to experience and communicate our true feelings.
Humans thrive best when they live in honest balance.
From one balance seeker to another with lots of love.