The parts of you that you reject the most fiercely. The parts of you that you feel the most shame about. The parts of others that you hate most vehemently. All of these are in truth your deepest friends, they need to be embraced, and they actually will enrich your life.
Some people call these parts our “shadow self”. Your shadow self is the parts of yourself which you reject, deny, and do not identify with. We refuse to acknowledge and accept this shadow self as part of who we are. And when you do that, when you reject a part of yourself, then it is impossible for you to truly embrace your whole self.
Allow me make an example of myself. When I was living and working in Washington D.C., there was a part of me that really wanted to leave. It wanted to move to a small, liberal, “hippie” town either on the West Coast or in New England and “disappear”. It dreamed of working a quite job like at a family owned book store or grocery. This dream had started before I had graduated college, but I refused to listen to it. Instead I listened to my friends, culture, and family’s insistence on what I “should” do. That I should get a good job that’s respected in the eyes of others and “pays well”. That I should pursue a career that used my talents and abilities, and channeled my passion for social change. That I should work a job I hated because it was better than being unemployed.
There are two primary ways ignoring your shadow self can manifest. One is rage. You judge, evaluate, blame, and criticize anyone who shares in the qualities which you deny you have. The other is depression. You judge, evaluate, blame, and criticize yourself such that you feel small and insignificant.
I experienced both. Whenever I was in the office I would hold my co-workers in contempt. I would judge them as lost and misguided. I judged them as being only interested in money and power. I even judged the whole city as corrupt, poisonous, and oppressive. By judging them I was able to hold these qualities of being misguided, lost, and driven by social approval and money as things that were “not me”. It helped me feel self-righteous. They were the lost ones, not me. They were the misguided ones, not me. They were the money and power hungry, not me.
And then when I was at home I sank into a depression. I drank heavily to drown out my feelings of loneliness, isolation, and disconnection. I would stare at the ceiling, or at the mindless video game, crying inwardly. I felt horrible. I noticed how empty my daily life felt.
But there are three ways to turn this around. First, you need to start where you’re at. If you’re judging others start there. If you’re judging yourself start there. Notice what you are doing to contribute to your suffering. Second, see that as your friend. The judgment of others or yourself has a friendly intention. But that intention has simply become blurred by the immense frustration brought on by denial and rejection. Finally, listen to, accept, and learn from the feelings and needs within it.
In the very moment that I got laid off I felt this joy and freedom in my chest that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I stopped resisting it, I didn’t go home and drink away my feelings, and I didn’t numb my brain with video games. I saw this feeling within me as my friend, as wanting something more for me. And so I stopped and listened. I listened to my racing heart; I could hear its yearning to leave. I learned that what I really wanted was a quiet, simple, low-key living environment. That I wanted to do work that was embedded within a context of compassion and understanding. I learned that it was I who had become lost and misguided. It was I who had become more concerned with money and social acceptance than listening to my own heart. And I learnt that I was deeply sad and lonely. And when I accepted that I had to move. I visited some towns, pick one, and left. My depression and rage began to lift, and slowly but surely I came to embrace my whole self.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.