Monday, June 27, 2011
I've been thinking a lot lately about our "Shadow Selves" and the human tendency to split off the parts of ourselves that we most dislike. I see this all the time with my clients-- not so much in myself, because those unlikeable parts of myself are separated away from consciousness! Carl Jung talked about our Shadow Selves, as the aspects of our personality that we don't want to claim. They are very much there and in daily operation. If we see someone else displaying a feature of our own Shadow Self, we may find ourselves feeling very angry or even disgusted with this person. A strong reaction like this has become my own first clue that I am encountering myself in these people.
I wrote several entries ago about one such Shadow Self, my Know-It-All side. A few weeks after sharing this Shadow Self with the whole world, I began to notice that I wasn't feeling so triggered by a certain person who displayed that trait himself. I realized that bringing my Know-It-All Self out of the shadows made me feel less disdain toward her/the Shadow Self. I shared in that post how the Know-It-All Self came to be and maybe this increased my compassion toward her as well as fellow Know-It-Alls I meet daily!
I often see parents, who encounter in their children, an aspect of their own Shadow Self. This is always difficult for me, because all people have intense reactions to people who display certain shadow traits we find reprehensible or repulsive. It's hard to watch a parent feeling this way toward their own child, yet I know the parent cannot help the way he/she feels. I once worked with a parent that had suffered horrific abuse as a child. She learned to suffer silently under the abuse, behaving as perfectly as possible in order to avoid further abuse. As a child, she learned to disown feelings labeled as "unacceptable" by her abuser-- primarily anger. She was not allowed to demonstrate any sense of outrage or injustice at what was being done to her or she was likely to experience even harsher physical punishment in return. This woman grew up to have a child with serious anger problems. It's probably no accident that the child learned to adopt this particular affect as his primary personality trait. Being an angry kid, however, left his mother feeling very threatened by him and made him unlikeable to her. This, in turn, also triggered her to adopt certain other aspects of her own abuser (i.e., becoming harsh, unjust, overly critical and controlling). This was a complex and unhealthy loop that the mother and child operated within and one that left me feeling very powerless in therapy.
I wasn't trying to zap the power of my Know-It-All shadow self by discussing it openly. That is exactly what seems to have happened, however, and hooray for me! I don't know if the parent I mentioned above would have been thrilled had I suggested she share with the internet world all the ugly aspects of her own angry Shadow Self. What I'm realizing though is that bringing that aspect of herself into consciousness is exactly what she needed-- as painful as it would be to do so. Maybe this could have been done through talking about the angry self, journaling, painting her, or acting it out. Some therapists might have used sandplay, psychodrama, or various other modalities. In our daily lives, we often do the same work without the guidance of a therapist. When we are writing, playing with our children, or creating in various forms, we are dipping our hands into the realm of our own subconscious minds and drawing out forgotten people from those dark places. It is in the birthing of these Shadow People and incorporating them into our conscious selves that we become whole.
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Friday, June 10, 2011
I have a close friend who is a recovering sex and love addict. She is an older woman (a phrase I use when I mean "older than me") and so dear to me. This woman has about 20 years of recovery under her belt, immense wisdom and humility. She's been nothing short of a gift from God to me and I am grateful to share this universe with her.:-) She doesn't mind my sharing some insight she and I both are gaining as a result of a new relationship she is in.
My friend has not dated for probably about 10-15 years now. I suspect much of this comes from the deep respect she has for sobriety and her own addiction. She is fully aware that returning to addictive relationships could mean death for her. Many of the men she dated or was married to in the past are already dead themselves due to reckless behavior and various addictions of their own. I have encouraged my friend, however, that I do not personally feel that God intends for us to live alone. This doesn't mean we are all meant to be married, however, I feel my friend has much to offer in a relationship and is certainly deserving of much love and admiration. I've encouraged her to remain open to healthy men and when there is an opportunity for a date, she needs to go! Unlike decades ago when she moved desperately from one unhealthy man to another in an attempt to get her love fix, she now has a circle of sober friends who will help hold her accountable. She also has years of healing under her belt and numerous new coping tools. She has taken my fine advice and has been dating someone for 2 months.
My friend has established a rule for herself that, at first, I didn't quite understand. She has promised herself that she will not kiss this many until and unless they have dated successfully for 3 months. I spoke to her this week and asked, "Have you gotten to smooch yet or not?" She says, "Nope, still no smooching! You'll be the first to know!" She and I discussed what the purpose of this personal contract has been and how in the heck is it even working. She and I are first and foremost shocked that she is dating someone who has not questioned this. She has not told him about her personal promise and he has not attempted to kiss her. They have held hands and demonstrate a romantic interest in one another but neither are anxious to push things too far too soon. I am learning that, by slowing things down in this way, my friend is experiencing many unexpected benefits:
1) Reduced possiblity for fantasy behavior: we all know that sexual feelings can cause you to feel a little crazy in your head and influence you to overlook otherwise unhealthy or inappropriate behavior in a partner. By not taking the relationship to that level that particular temptation is not there and they are able to experience each other at a more "real" and therefore more intimate level than other couples who are hopping into bed within the first few dates. Yes, Honey, BELIEVE it.
2) Reduced tension and anxiety around the sexual aspect of the relationship: by limiting the first kiss, the sexual tensions are held at bay. This allows for the both of them to just stop thinking about it and worrying about it. Instead, do you know what they do? They just go on a date and have fun with each other without worrying about when is the sex gonna happen! Again, they are opened to a truer level of intimacy because of this.
3) Maintaining a personal sense of integrity and safety: for my friend in particular this is very important. This is a big deal to her and very scary. It is exactly this kind of limit that has allowed her to safely date at all. We are also both shocked that she has found this man who is so respectful of it. It's made her realize that it wasn't the man who was always the problem in past relationships-- perhaps she was the one pushing things too quickly sexually and there are actually many men who would be willing to respect her timing and limits. THAT is a true paradigm shift for her and very freeing. Should things not work out in this relationship, she's learned something so important about men-- they can be safe and responsive to your needs when you express them.
I've been with the same man for 17 years and we have 2 children. We're way past the withholding the kiss stage, so walking through this with my friend is so special to me. A part of me gets to learn alongside her. Yeah, recovery!
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