One of the most difficult, but most important, gifts we can give ourselves is to have the courage to look at our 'shadow' sides. If we shine light onto our traitor characters, find out what they are protecting us from, and then find a way to negotiate with them, we can then turn them into allies. Though scary, this, I have found, is a way to make peace with yourself and find fulfillment and joy.
In my late teenage years, I read the German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. One of my favorite passages which speaks to this notion of befriending our traitors is found in Letters to a Young Poet:
How should we be able to forget those
ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the
myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses;
perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses
who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave.
Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something
helpless that wants help from us.”
In my twenties, a friend of mine wrote a poem for me when he heard about my work. It, too, goes to the heart of this important task that we humans face:
Encountering Dragons: To Thine Own Self Be True
Once or twice upon a time
Back in the days of yore
Knights encountered dragons
In the new worlds they'd explore.
Though times have changed, they've rearranged
Some things last today.
We still encounter dragons
We must fight, befriend or slay.
It doesn't matter where we go
There is no place to hide
We still encounter dragons
Cause these dragons live inside.
Our shield is forged of honesty
Our lance is made of trust
Prepare to face our dragons
For we know that they are us.
In my own life and in my work with people of all ages, all careers, socioeconomic levels, ethnicities, etc., I have found that the scariest challenge we face is looking internally. I believe that this is so for several reasons:
- When we put something into a closet and attempt to make it 'Not Me,' that aspect or character gets stronger. As it gets more intense, wanting to be noticed, acknowledged, and attended to, it gets louder and more obstreperous.
- As that character becomes more aggressive, wanting to be noticed, we dislike it more intensely and push it away even more aggressively. That exacerbates the pattern of avoidance that is starting.
- The more we dislike this character that we have tried to disown, the more we don't want to believe that it is a part of us. Hence, it goes underground and becomes even more sneaky in its attempt to find a way out of the closet. We start believing that it is not a part of us.
- As we cut it off more and more, we see it in others very readily and don't like it. We then have intense reactions to those people, become very judgmental, and even hostile. We are not aware that we are not liking the reflection of a part of ourselves that we have disowned. This is totally underneath our conscious awareness. Remember, we dislike in others what we don't want to see in ourselves.
- It creates problems inside ourselves, such as anxiety, depression, stress-related illnesses, harsh inner critics, and malaise to name a few.
- This also creates problems in relationships. Have you ever met anyone who likes to be judged harshly?
With all this in mind, enjoy the journey of finding your inner 'frogs,' kissing them, and welcoming the princes or princesses that emerge.