Our Shadow Side

It intrigues me that great success is this brilliant light, but also every brilliant light creates a dark shadow. I think wisdom only comes when you can navigate both.
— Sting

If you've spent much time with me via this blog, you're well familiar with my philosophy that we learn to hide/cast away parts of us (personality traits, emotions, desires) that have been directly or indirectly deemed unacceptable. Those unacceptable parts are shamed deeply affecting our mental and emotional health. This collection of cast offs results in the formation of the shadow. What Carl Jung describes as the "dark" side of being human.

We decide that we only present the respectable part of our personality and hide the socially unacceptable parts of us which ultimately gets buried in our unconscious.

No one is without their own shadow. But the difference is one's awareness of their shadow. 

If we're not aware of what is happening within, it contributes to "self destructive behaviors so many individuals struggle with and are unable to control despite consciously knowing they would be better off not engaging in such actions...The task in life which thus confronts everyone is to become conscious of and integrate one’s shadow into one’s conscious personality: accepting it with open arms not as an abhorrent aspect of one’s self, but as a necessary and vital part of one’s being." (Academy of Ideas)

Way easier said than done. I am aware. I've said it before and I'll continue to say it: this process is not for the faint of heart. You must truly long for wholeness because only then will you work towards it. Many are unwilling. And they settle for an unexamined life becoming shells. 

We must be willing to see ourselves as we really are, not someone we assume or fantasize of being.

However, for those who dare venture to look they'll discover the shadow isn't all bad as we would like to believe (it would be easier if it was because it would justify keeping it in the basement). Recall that we hide any part of us that isn't acceptable to others. These can be positive traits: sensitivity, compassion, creativity, intellect, the list goes on. These aspects that would "lead to greater wholeness and harmony" are met with condemnation from others (family, peers, society) and in order to belong, away they went. 

When positive traits are relegated to the shadow, one is by necessity less than one could be...growth of the individual becomes blocked, and life becomes sterile.
— Academy of Ideas

In order to grow, we must accept those parts we've been afraid to recognize. Growth requires more than mere acknowledgement or awareness. We must be willing to see ourselves as we really are, not someone we assume or fantasize of being. Take an honest assessment. And that's where the real growth can begin take root. As you become aware, you can then internally negotiate which parts lead to wholeness and which parts detract. Because they are no longer hidden, you are able to determine what and who you want to be. You are not bound by the fear of what might be hidden in the shadows because you've taken your flashlight and revealed the truth. 

This is why you will hear therapist after therapist describe their clients as some of the most courageous people they know. They risk for the sake of growth and truly living an engaged and present life. 

Will you join their ranks?

Gratitude & Growth

"Painful as it may be, a significant emotional event can be the catalyst for choosing a direction that serves us- and those around us- more effectively. Look for the learning." Louisa May Alcott

"Painful as it may be, a significant emotional event can be the catalyst for choosing a direction that serves us- and those around us- more effectively. Look for the learning." Louisa May Alcott

Fifi made the list! My good friend, Ashley, texted me and told me her 2-year-old son, who affectionately calls me "Fifi" mentioned me in his prayers. Not only did I get a mention but I was first (a spot reserved solely for his dad). Ashley and her husband are teaching Jack to be thankful. Each night, he lists off the people/things (inanimate objects) for whom/which he is thankful. They are cultivating character development in this little person. That is the most significant thing happening.  In addition, Jack's brain is forming neuronal networks that are building a sturdy foundation that will serve him well when he begins to face difficult and disappointing things in life.

Last week, I came across this article on gratitude protecting against PTSD with the tagline, "In the aftermath of trauma, gratitude helps us grow". As someone who specializes in working with trauma, my curiosity piqued. (I define trauma the way Dr. Tina Bryson does, "anything immediately and overwhelmingly difficult" which will be different for different people. What is traumatic for me, may not be for you, but it does not make it any less traumatic.)

Trauma rocks us to the core and shatters our sense of safety (hence, the definition: immediately and overwhelmingly difficult). It causes us to seek a new belief system as we try to understand why this terrible thing happened and what it means for our worldview.

Post-traumatic growth (PTG), developed by psychologists Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, is the psychological concept that the transformation following trauma leads to "develop[ing] new understandings of themselves, the world they live in, how to relate to other people, the kind of future they might have and a better understanding of how to live life" (Tedeschi).

Post-Traumatic Growth can provide a framework that trauma is not defining and a newfound hope can arise from the ashes of pain.

"Post-Traumatic Growth happens in the season after the trauma, when some people start to feel thankful to be alive, thankful that the trauma wasn’t even worse, and grateful for the chance to learn more about themselves," reporter Athena Dickau writes. Post-Traumatic Growth does NOT minimize or negate the trauma. This does NOT mean you must be thankful for the actual trauma.  It also is not to be misunderstood as the goal to achieve and bypassing necessary processing of the trauma. Rather PTG can provide a framework that trauma is not defining and a newfound hope can arise from the ashes of pain. 

In her article, Dickau highlighted a study conducted by researchers Julie Vieselmeyer and colleagues. The team sought to "discover whether gratitude can actually protect someone from the detrimental effects of witnessing trauma". They interviewed 359 students and faculty that were present or nearby during the campus shooting at Seattle Pacific University.

The results of the study showed that the individuals who already had higher levels of gratitude before the shooting were better able to turn their post-traumatic stress into growth. Dickau points out, "This is actually quite profound. It suggests that if we can help ourselves and others feel more grateful on a daily basis, we can actually prime ourselves to handle the trauma that life will inevitably bring."

If we can help ourselves and others feel more grateful on a daily basis, we can actually prime ourselves to handle the trauma that life will inevitably bring.
— Athena Dickau

Just like Ashley is teaching Jack to cultivate thankfulness we, too, must do the same.

Professor Robert E. Emmons defines gratitude as such: “Feelings of gratitude are anchored in two essential pieces of information processed by an individual: (a) an affirming of goodness or ‘good things’ in one’s life and (b) the recognition that the sources of this goodness lie at least partially outside ourselves.”

"So gratitude is recognizing that our life is a gift, no matter our circumstances and realizing that this goodness does not come from our efforts alone," writes Dickau.

As one study instructed participants, we also must "focus for a moment on benefits or gifts that you have received in your life. These gifts could be simple everyday pleasures, people in your life, personal strengths or talents, moments of natural beauty, or gestures of kindness from others. We might not normally think about these things as gifts, but that is how we want you to think about them. Take a moment to really savor or relish these gifts, think about their value, and then write them down every night before going to sleep.”

I would imagine that as gratitude deepens, you'll find positive responses in the areas that define Post-Traumatic Growth:

  • Appreciation of life
  • Relationships with others
  • New possibilities in life
  • Personal strength
  • Spiritual change

May we be people defined, not by our tragedies, but by our response to them.

{If you have yet to process your pain, my invitation awaits to sit and journey with you towards a healing transformation where meaning can be made of what has occurred. Please do not hesitate to contact me.} 

Honest Assessments

Let's just dive in, shall we? Travis Bradberry notes that, "Emotionally intelligent people don't just understand emotions; they know what they're good at and what they're terrible at. They also know who pushes their buttons and the environments (both situations and people) that enable them to succeed. Having a high EQ means you know your strengths and how to lean into and use them to your full advantage while keeping your weaknesses from holding you back."

Those with a high EQ know and accept themselves.

In summary, those with a high EQ know and accept themselves. They are honest with who they are and don't hide it from themselves or others. Which is a bold move.

Our culture promotes strengths and shames weaknesses and we have internalized this to the detriment of our own emotional health. You are not allowed to be weak. Weakness is viewed as a liability. So we learn to hide it or seek to compensate for the areas of which we are ashamed. 

When the StrengthsFinder personality assessment came on the scene several years ago, it turned everything around. It allowed for people to accept the areas they were not naturally strong and pay attention to where they were naturally gifted and talented. The example author Tom Rach gives is that not everyone can be Michael Jordan. I will never be Michael Jordan even if I practice 16 hours a day; I simply do not have what is needed (the natural ability, the height, etc.) to play at that level of perfection. Instead of trying to be him, can I divert that level of energy and commitment to hone in on and improve the skills that I already have? 

There must be an acceptance of natural limitations which can be difficult. We may dream of the type of person we want to be or believe we should be and to find that reality doesn't reflect our fantasy can be painful. We can fight it. We can try to be what we think should be. But you can only do so by shaming yourself for not living into what this fantasy is. 

What if you take an honest look in the mirror, bravely accept that you are finite and limited as a human in what you can do? What if you take stock of the incredible strengths you've been given, celebrate those, and cultivate them? 

Oh, the real and available possibilities...

Accepting The Unacceptable

The art of life is constant readjustment to our surroundings.
— Kakuzo Okakaura

We're still looking at Emotional Intelligence...and we'll be looking at it for a few weeks. Next up: Those who have high EQ embrace change.

Travis Bradberry explains this attribute this way: "Emotionally intelligent people are flexible and are constantly adapting. They know that fear of change is paralyzing and a major threat to their success and happiness. They look for change that is lurking just around the corner, and they form a plan of action should these changes occur."

The opposite of change is stagnation. You cannot grow without change. Growth reflects life. Without growth, there is no life. But we like the status quo. We try and maintain it; it gives us a feeling of power and control. Life sometimes acts as status quo's arch nemesis because it allows the unforeseen, unexpected, and unwanted to take place. Change can leave us feeling small, helpless, and powerless. But not all change has to be awful. There are many times we may even anticipate the change and want the change (marriage, child's birth, a new job, a move) but it still disrupts what was familiar and comfortable and requires adaptation to the new. 

You cannot grow without change. Growth reflects life. Without growth, there is no life.

How do we deal with any form of new, whether wanted or not?

We can lock down and refuse to move with the current fighting with all your might. This will cause some pain. The refusal to see and face what is happening around you requires a denial that disengages from the present. Worst of all: you stay the same. Stuck. 

OR

You can acknowledge the fear, sadness, anger, confusion, conflicted emotions, happiness, elation that is occurring because of the shift in what was once your normal. You learn how to control what you are able to and how to best take care of yourself, what you're needing to thrive, not just survive this transition. You discover that, though it is not always pleasant, you have the capacity to adapt and it didn't kill you. This informs how you walk through the next change. Best of all: you learn and you grow. Your story becomes more dynamic and rich. 

Digging Deep

I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity.
— Eleanor Roosevelt

In looking at what it means to be a person of emotional intelligence, another characteristic is possessing a curiosity about others. 

Travis Bradberry says, "It doesn't matter if they're introverted or extroverted, emotionally intelligent people are curious about everyone around them. This curiosity is the product of empathy, one of the most significant gateways to a high EQ. The more you care about other people and what they're going through, the more curiosity you're going to have about them."

A desire to know about another suggests that other people's stories matter to you and you give time and place to ask questions in order to understand. There is an openness to others' behaviors and wondering what is tucked behind their words, choices, and actions rather than a rigid and closed judgment. 

When we close ourselves off to what another’s life can teach us, we miss out on how our lives can be stretched, challenged, grown and enhanced.

Those who make snap judgments about other people remove the option of curiosity. They have already decided about that person and denied themselves the rich opportunity of learning. This will affect not only how they see and relate to people but also themselves. When we close ourselves off to what another's life can teach us, we miss out on how our lives can be stretched, challenged, grown and enhanced. It also begs the question whether or not those who lack curiosity about others' possess it for themselves. I doubt it. I don't think curiosity can be confined or contained. I think that if you are curious about your own story and how it informs the things you see, hear, say, do and believe, that self-curiosity will externalize beyond yourself. You also cannot be known if you are unwilling to know (yourself or others). 

Will you explore within and without?

Get Smart

Emotional intelligence: "the capability of individuals to recognize their own and other people's emotions, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one's goal(s)". 

Unlabeled emotions often go misunderstood, which leads to irrational choices and counterproductive actions.
— Travis Bradberry

Research has shown a correlation between emotional intelligence (EQ) and greater mental health, leadership skills, and job performance. Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, through data analysis, has identified hallmark behaviors of the emotionally intelligent.

I'd like to look at these features he's listed, one at a time, here. 

According to Bradberry, the first core behavior is having a robust emotional vocabulary

We all experience emotions and science has shown how necessary they are. However, the majority of people have difficulty clearly identifying what emotions they are experiencing in the moment or even upon reflection. People tease that counselors want to know and look at how you feel. However, there is scientific merit to giving space to exploring one's emotional reactions. 

Bradberry and his team found that "only 36 percent of people can [accurately identify their emotions as they occur], which is problematic because unlabeled emotions often go misunderstood, which leads to irrational choices and counterproductive actions."

He explains that those with high EQ's are not overrun by their emotions because they understand what they are feeling. They are able to locate the source of the emotion by utilizing an extensive emotional vocabulary to specifically capture and identify what it is that they feel. The majority of people may generalize their emotions to a few categories: "bad", "sad", "happy". But that generalization can make it difficult to gain insight into what is happening internally.

For example, I can be sad for multiple reasons: conflict with a friend, being misunderstood by my boss, losing a special memento, a friend's cancer diagnosis. Even listing only a few probable situations, there is a wide range of sadness that is possible. Associated with each of these different situations, there are varying degrees of how the emotion is experienced. Feeling misunderstood by my boss is not the same depth of sadness as learning of a friend's grave health status. Labeling one as "disappointing" and another as "sorrowful and grievous" gives the appropriate weight to what is being internally experienced. Having access to this insight and self-awareness allows me to respond appropriately to each situation because I understand what is occurring and why.

In their New York Times bestseller (and one I highly recommend!), The Whole Brain Child, Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr. Tina Bryson, have a strategy for emotional regulation called, "Name it to Tame it". They are employing the same idea that in identifying one's emotion we can have mastery over the emotion. For many, you may feel like you are tossed and turned (emotional dysregulation) by what you are feeling because there is a lack understanding of what and why something is happening. Dr. Siegel and Dr. Bryson recognize what Bradberry does, "The more specific your word choice, the better insight you have into exactly how you are feeling, what caused it, and what you should do about it."

To be emotionally healthier individuals, it's crucial you expand your emotional vocabulary. Most often it is beneficial to do so in the company and presence of one who will help you find this language to give more texture and depth to your life and relationships. We name to not only tame but to honor. 

Inside 'Inside Out'

A few years ago, Pixar knocked it out of the park (yet again) with Inside Out. This special film creatively depicted the significant role our emotions play in our day to day interactions with the world. It showed that each emotion is necessary and vital. Even more impactful, the film discussed the importance of grieving our losses. 

[We have] to have this full complement of emotions to develop. I think we all need to remember that. This is a weakness in Western culture and the United States. You need sadness, you need anger, you need fear.
— Dr. Dacher Keltner

Dacher Keltner, leading scientist in the study of emotions and a professor at the University of California-Berkeley, was one of the psychologists who served as a consultant for Pixar's Inside Out. He shared in a PacificStandard magazine interview with J. Wesley Judd, "Well, I think that the film really got a couple of big ideas about emotions right. One, [emotions] are really critical to how we look at the world — our perception and our attention and our memories and our judgment. They guide us in our handling of really important life circumstances, like moves and developmental changes...People in different traditions like to refer to emotions with a social idiom or a grammar of social interactions. Emotions are the structure, the substance, of our interactions with other people. If I’m falling in love with somebody, everything that I do in that euphoria of love — buying flowers, reciting poetry, touching the individual’s hair — it’s textured by the feeling, and it sets up these patterns of how we relate to each other. Those scenes in particular with Riley’s fights with parents and running away and coming back are all about sadness. That’s what it really got right. Emotions shape how we relate to other people."

One thing I personally and professionally appreciated about the film was its portrayal of Sadness. The film normalized an emotion often discarded because it is uncomfortable and is often a response to a loss. Often times, people will come into my office struggling with their sadness. Their sadness confuses them and they want to ostracize or minimize it. But it's a real emotion and true to the human experience.

Keltner and his colleague, Paul Ekman, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote a New York Times article entitled, "The Science of 'Inside Out'" explaining that sadness is a healthy part of emotional development.

Dr. Keltner says, "One of the things I really resonated with is that we have a naive view in the West that happiness is all about the positive stuff. But happiness in a meaningful life is really about the full array of emotions, and finding them in the right place. I think that is a subtext of the movie: The parents want Riley to just be their happy little girl. And she can’t. She has to have this full complement of emotions to develop. I think we all need to remember that. This is a weakness in Western culture and the United States. You need sadness, you need anger, you need fear."

1. Emotions organize- rather than disrupt- rational thinking.
2. Emotions organize- rather than disrupt- our social lives.
— Dr. Dacher Keltner

He writes, "The real star of the film is Sadness, for "Inside Out" is a film about loss and what people gain when guided by feelings of sadness."

The articles continues by explaining insights from the science of emotion, "First, emotions organize- rather than disrupt-rational thinking. Traditionally in Western thought, the prevailing view has been that emotions are enemies of rationality and disruptive of cooperative social relations. But the truth is that emotions guide our perceptions of the world, our memories of the past and even our moral judgments of right and wrong, most typically in ways that enable effective responses to the current situation." 

"Second, emotions organize- rather than disrupt- our social lives. Studies have found, for example, that emotions structure (not just color) such disparate social interactions as attachment between parents and children, sibling conflicts, flirtations between young courters and negotiations between rivals." 

""Inside Out" offers a new approach to sadness. Its central insight: Embrace sadness, let it unfold, engage patiently with a preteen's emotional struggles. Sadness will clarify what has been lost (childhood) and move the family toward what is to be gained: the foundations of new identities, for children and parents alike."

Sadness purposefully contributes something beautiful to life. Keltner explains the "vital function of Sadness" is to guide the main character "to recognize the changes she is going through and what she has lost, which sets the stage for her to develop new facets of her identity." 

As a counselor, I want to help clients become acquainted with their sadness, their grief, by identifying and acknowledging their loss and its affect. In doing so, over time, their grief can add new textures and significant meaning to their lives. There is strength in the sorrow and beauty in the tears.

Sadness can be one of our best teachers. We have much to learn from her. Will we be willing students?

Homeward Bound

I wanted to continue the conversation on Rumi's "The Guest House" and a reactive response of denying parts of oursevles. We last left off with the question of whether or not we would agree to exile nothing or as Rumi would say, "welcome and entertain them all".

To dispel the often misguided notion that counseling is solely to talk about your feelings, let me tell you that, for me, that is never the end goal I have for my clients. For those who are concerned that the purpose is to dredge up every past, painful memory, please hear me: we are not setting out to be masochistic (feeling pain for pain's sake) or indulge in every emotion that comes our way. While "feeling talk" does occur and is important to good therapeutic work, "the goal of this journey is to reunite us with ourselves" (Stephen Cope). A homecoming. 

What are the narratives that keep you from feeling whole?

For many of us, we've presented a facade that has led to being gone for a long while and aren't really sure how to get back home, back to what is authentic. The breadcrumbs we left along the way got eaten up. Or maybe we didn't ever feel at home in our own skin; we never had a chance to develop a healthy connection to our innermost being because it was not safe for various reasons. Either way, we're lost.

We've attempted to make due with the loneliness of our homelessness by distracting or numbing through various addictions (work, relationships, substances, food, shopping, working out, and on and on the list can go). But we know that in each of those places, you can't truly relax. You're not home. And that is a terrifying feeling.

You may feel like you've been gone too long and wouldn't even know if you'd be welcomed back. Or perhaps you're meant to be a vagabond, roaming around from the next place to the next. Shame tells you that you've pretended and hidden for so long that that is the only version of you that will be accepted. These are all important things to consider and examine and explore. What are the narratives that keep you from being reunited with yourself, from feeling whole?  

Until we can accept and embrace joy, depression, meanness, sorrow, the dark thought, shame, and malice, we leave ourselves stuck in no man’s land.

Our map back home cannot contain exiles. Those parts that have been split off leave us fractured which is the complete opposite of being whole. Until we can accept and embrace each arrival ("a joy, a depression, a meanness", "a crowd of sorrows", "the dark thought, the shame, the malice"), we leave ourselves stuck in no man's land. 

Can we, as Rumi beckons, treat each guest honorably? I love this notion of honoring our emotions, our parts, our self. Each, in its own way, is there to tell us something, sent as a guide. They serve as our compass and have an important purpose. And perhaps, instead of shutting the door in their face, by greeting them, hosting them, having gratitude for them, they may be "clearing you out for some new delight" and lighting the way back home, where the possibility exists of feeling safe, received and accepted. Whole