SALT LAKE CITY — The truth is, we all have a shadow side that encourages ego and bad behavior.
You are a nice, kind, caring person, but there is also a part of you that is selfish, petty, lazy, controlling and angry. You have this dark side because there has to be opposition in everything (the ying and the yang). Knowing this and understanding your two sides can actually help you to become a better person.
What psychology teaches us
Sigmund Freud taught that all humans have three sides: an id (our dark side), a superego (our higher thinking, moral side), and an ego that tries to manage and balance the other two in a way that will make other people like you. Carl Jung, who was the first to use the term "shadow side" said it is made up of all the qualities and behaviors society taught us are unacceptable.
We were taught as children that a “good person” functions only in their Superego — being nice, kind, proper, composed and self-sacrificing all the time. We were taught that taking care of our own needs is selfish and giving in to improper thoughts makes us a bad person. This isn’t necessarily true, though. If you do nothing but sacrifice yourself for others, you will soon have nothing left to give, and there is a high cost when you are too nice all the time.
Dark or improper thoughts don’t go away either. Sometimes the more we try to suppress them, the more insistent they become, whispering and nudging you to be selfish, take care of your needs, seek pleasure or be petty or mean. You fight this nudging and work to suppress that negative voice, but maybe you need to listen to it and make note of what it’s saying.
All human emotions teach you something
You are on earth to feel every aspect of the human experience firsthand for what these experiences can teach you. This means feeling joy, happiness, acceptance, love, success, empathy, sympathy and humility. But it also means feeling shame, guilt, anger, superiority, failure, hate, desire, passion, selfishness and jealousy. These are all the fabric of being human. If you try to suppress any part of this, without processing the emotion or the experience, you are suppressing part of who you are and missing part of your classroom.
Dark and negative emotions and thoughts are there to teach you lessons, and if you never allow yourself to process them, they will keep coming back until you do or they might get bigger. How can you work on changing or shifting negative thinking or behavior, if you never look at it?
Try shadow journaling
I often recommend to clients — especially those that are trying really hard to be nice and loving all the time or who are really fighting with negative thinking — to start a shadow journal (or do shadow journaling on paper) that you will destroy after writing, because this will not be for your grandchildren to read one day.
This is a place to process your emotions in. When someone triggers a negative emotion or thought in you, get this journal or some paper out and write down every dark thought and impulse that shows up. Write down the awful ideas and responses your shadow side comes up with. Write about the jealousy or the anger you have toward this person. Write everything that you wouldn’t want anyone to know you actually thought. Let yourself be your worst self — that is the point of the exercise. Go where you usually would not allow yourself to go. Be petty, immature, angry, or full of self-pity.
Then, sit back and look at what your voice of fear/ego had to say. Process this by asking yourself these questions:
Some experts, like Dr. Aziz Gazipura, believe not processing your negative thoughts can lead to health problems down the road. In his book "Not Nice," Gazipura said, "Avoiding your shadow side creates a host of problems in your life, ranging from depression to physical pain. This is because it takes a great deal of energy to keep something down and out of awareness. The more we avoid it, the more scared of it we become… while befriending it gives you greater self-control and radically increases your self-esteem. It turns out your shadow is your greatest source of power."
Just like pain is an indicator that something is wrong that needs attention, negative emotions and dark thoughts also have something to teach you. Processing them and getting real about what they say, and the behavior they recommend (instead of hiding it away) gives you the chance to fix underlying beliefs and fears. For example, If a great deal of hate shows up toward a specific person, this is something you really need to explore. There is something in that hate that is tied to how you feel about yourself. You need to figure out what that person triggers in you and how that is your fear issue to solve.
You may want to find a coach or counselor, who can help you process these thoughts and feelings in a safe environment. If what shows up really scares you or is tied to addiction, abuse or mental illness, find a licensed mental health professional or program to assist you.
You can do this.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.