Benefits: Gain an understanding of what your dark side is.
So That You Can: Recognize the benefits of embracing it in order to become your best self.
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How to Become Your Best Self: Embrace Your Dark Side
Does the title of this post sound preposterous to you? It should because we’re about to discuss a concept that most people will never think about, let alone accept the validity of. But, I know that you’re a Deliberate Thinker (or at least a Deliberate Thinker in training), and you’re up for the challenge.
I’ll pose this question to get us rolling: Do you have to embrace your dark side before you can become your best self? You probably don’t have a good frame of reference to confidently answer this question, but you will by the end of this post.
For now, I ask that you please put aside everything you’ve been told about becoming your best self. Forget the positive daily habits. Forget the affirmations. Forget practicing gratitude. Yes, those all have a place in our personal development but not today!
Today, we are going to focus on:
- Understanding what your Shadow, or dark side, is,
- Recognizing the benefits of embracing your dark side,
- And putting some action steps in place so that you can leave this post and start working on becoming your best self.
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But First, Let’s Look at Some Simple Examples
Since embracing your dark side seems like a preposterous idea — one that could be counterproductive to becoming your best self — it might be helpful to start small. Then we’ll dive into discussing the archetypal component of our psyche that Carl Jung called our Shadow (huh?).
Let’s start with this simple truth: everything that exists in nature has a dark side. And, every quintessential story man has ever concocted has a dark side. Here are just a few examples:
- In order to survive, you need nourishment. To get that nourishment, you must take another life, whether it be from a plant or an animal. So there is an inherent dark side to your survival.
- In all religions, as far as I know, there is a character who represents good and a character who represents evil, i.e. God vs. Satan. So there is an inherent dark side to your religion.
- In order for you to exist, your parents had to engage in what is, let’s face it, a pretty seedy act. Then, your mom had to go through the horrifying act of delivering you. So there is an inherent dark side to your very existence.
- And, of course, you can’t have a good action, thriller, or even rom-com movie without a good villain. So there is an inherent dark side to your entertainment.
I could keep going, but I’m sure you’re ready to move on. You’re probably already forming a few examples of your own.
Let’s end this section with a couple more questions — In light of these examples, why is embracing your dark side such a preposterous idea? And is it such a stretch to imagine that you could experience personal development through doing so? Not convinced yet — keep going!
Welcome to the Dark Side
Let me introduce you to Carl Jung. Jung was a psychologist and psychiatrist who founded analytic psychology. Basically, what that means is he thought it was more useful to analyze people’s current problems rather than focus on their past traumas.
If you’re familiar with the MBTI personality types, you may know that they are based on Jung’s work. He was the guy who first introduced the idea of introverted and extroverted personalities.
Plus, my main man Jordan Peterson has been heavily influenced by Jung, so of course Jung’s psychological theories are of great interest to me.
Jung believed that the psyche — the center of our thoughts and feelings — is composed of the ego, persona, shadow, anima, and animus. We talked about the ego already in, The Simplest Way to Conquer Your Greatest Enemy. Today we are going to focus on the Shadow, or the Dark Side.
Your Shadow isn’t necessarily evil. It is, in essence, the opposite of your Persona. Your Persona is the “you” that you show to the world. The mask you put on every day in the hopes that you will be accepted by society.
On the other hand, the Shadow is the “you” that you do your best to hide from the world. The Shadow possesses all the traits that you, or society, deem unacceptable. So, you instinctually repress these traits, and they end up floating around in your subconscious.
You and Your Shadow: A Match Made in Heaven?
Really? That seems a bit illogical. Why would you want to form a “match” with your Shadow? The parts of your psyche that your mind has worked so hard to repress? Afterall, there must be a reason your mind is trying to lock those traits away. And there is . . .
Because it can be terrifying to realize that the Shadow is in you; to realize that you are capable of unthinkable acts. The statistics that prove you are capable of unthinkable acts were introduced to me in my audit training this way: 5% of people will never commit fraud, no matter what; 5% will commit fraud without a second thought; everyone else will commit fraud given the right (or wrong) set of circumstances.
To bring this point home, Peterson often uses the atrocious acts carried out by the Nazis. Yes, you could do what the Nazi soldiers did, whether you want to admit it or not. Most didn’t choose the duties that were bestowed upon them. Most thought they were protecting their families. And most of them were sick all the time from the anxiety of having to perform the acts they were expected to carry out. Yet every time they killed someone, it got easier and easier.
I wrote a post about the process of dehumanization that you can find here.
And, I wrote a post about group influence that you can find here.
So yes, accepting that fact about yourself can be terrifying. But it’s worth facing if you believe what Jung did — that the only pathway to completion as a human being (your best self) is through the discovery of the Shadow. Which brings us to a trite ideal: we cannot change anything about ourselves unless we accept it and then bring it under our control.
That’s why you want to form a “match” with your Shadow and integrate it into your consciousness.
Let’s Talk About Some Specific Benefits
Yes, I know; you’re not convinced yet. Actually, I probably won’t be able to fully convince you with this post, but I can at least point out some benefits of embracing your dark side. Hopefully, you’ll Stay Curious! and learn a bit more about Jung’s work and the psyche on your own.
- You will know true morality.
- You will know how to control your aggression.
- You will stop projecting your Shadow onto others.
- You will realize your full potential.
Being a moral person doesn’t mean that you are 100% “good.” It means that you are aware of your Shadow and know how to control it. If you think about it, most people act in “moral” ways because they are afraid — of getting into trouble, of going to Hell, of losing something valuable to them. But, if you can take those fears out of the equation and still refrain from acting in an immoral way, that’s true morality.
For example, I’ve been preparing tax returns for 20 years (yikes!), and I know that 90% of people, myself included, will tiptoe over the tax-law line if they are pretty sure they won’t get caught. And, if the tax consequence is immaterial in their minds. But, once in a while, you get a client in that 5% who is going to follow the tax law to a T no matter what. That person is the truly moral one. They think about tiptoeing over that line. I’ve seen them hem and haw, wrestling with their Shadow, because tiptoeing would benefit them. But at the end of the day, they control their Shadow and make the morally correct decision.
Control Your Aggression
Your aggression is sure to come out in full force and in harmful ways if it is repressed. When you integrate your Shadow, you stop repressing your aggression and, instead, integrate it into your consciousness — you accept the feelings and bring them under your control.
Picture this: Someone cuts you off on your drive to work, which ticks you off, but you repress it. You get to work, and your boss lays into you for something you weren’t even responsible for. Your blood is boiling, but you repress it. A client calls to make yet another change to the project you’ve been working on. You are so frustrated, but you repress it. Then, you get home and your significant other/kid/roommate has left their shoes in the middle of the entryway (again!), and you go ballistic.
Been there? I know I have been. That repressed aggression is going to come out at some point, and you’re going to end up hurting the people closest to you. Which is why it is so important to accept the aggressive feelings, process them, and find an appropriate outlet for them.
I have a follow up post that discusses accepting and processing your aggression:
According to Wikipedia, psychological projection is:
. . . a defence mechanism in which the human ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities [the Shadow] by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.
It’s time to introduce another person with an amazing mind, Alan Watts, who was a British writer and lecturer. To paraphrase what he said about the Shadow — when you accept the devil in yourself, you don’t project it onto other people. You don’t try to find a scapegoat because you can accept your shortcomings.
Here’s an overly simplistic example: You (or someone you know) grumble about the “laziness” of all people who are on welfare, or some form of public assistance. You grumble, in part, because you are afraid to face the fact that you could very easily be in the same position; that you could fall prey to the same circumstances that landed that person in their state of “laziness.”
We all have thoughts like this; we project our fears and insecurities onto others. The key is to accept the thoughts, and maybe even laugh at yourself for how absurd they are.
Realize Your Full Potential
To paraphrase Peterson, by suppressing the worst in yourself, you preclude the possibility of the best. We can tie this thought back to my other main man, Abraham Maslow, and his Hierarchy of Needs. At the pinnacle of that Hierarchy is “self-actualization” (or full potential, or your best self). In order to reach that pinnacle, you have to meet your Love/Belonging needs.
A few of our Love/Belonging needs are trust, receiving/giving affection, and being part of a group. I contend that in order to fully realize any of these needs, you have to embrace your dark side. You have to accept and integrate every part of your psyche.
Let’s use our need for receiving/giving affection as an example. You will struggle to fully receive and give affection if you haven’t integrated your dark side. You’ll be prone to projecting your insecurities onto the other person in the relationship, and your defenses will go up. This could mean that you smother the other person because you’re afraid they are going to figure out who you really are and abandon you. Or, you shut the other person out, emotionally, for the same reason.
You deserve to meet your Love/Belonging needs. And that means that you have to embrace your dark side.
According to Peterson, to develop your Shadow (embrace your dark side) you have to face the bitter truth about yourself. Because, if you can face your Shadow, you can open up a dialog with yourself and learn to control it.
He offers a couple of suggestions for facing your shadow:
- Observe yourself when you feel resentful. Notice what made you feel resentful and what thoughts and feelings accompany that resentment.
- Observe yourself when you feel oppressed at work, in life, or even by your own doing. This oppression can quickly turn to bitterness. Again, notice what made you feel bitter and what thoughts and feelings accompany that bitterness.
If you can analyze and understand your resentment, oppression, and bitterness, you can control the actions that accompany them and transform the way you react to the outside world. You will have embraced your dark side.
Of course I put a worksheet together for you that summarizes this post and will help you go from inspiration to action, so be sure to check that out.
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And until next time . . . STAY CURIOUS!
Only Have 1 Minute
Jordan Peterson Joe Rogan – Understanding Your Shadow(Carl Jung) posted to YouTube by One Question on 10.29.17
Jordan Peterson: Why and How to Integrate Your Shadow posted to YouTube by PhilosophyInsights on 7.18.18
ACCEPTING YOUR SHADOW SIDE – Alan Watts celebrates Carl Jung posted to YouTube by Paul Siddall on 6.29.17
How to integrate your shadow – Jordan Peterson posted to YouTube by Rebel Wisdom on 9.26.17
“Jung: A Very Short Introduction,” Anthony Stevens, Oxford University Press, 1994