We all have shadow sides. Most people don’t see these sides. A few, like maybe our coworkers or acquaintances, see snippets on our worst days. Even our friends may only catch glimpses. If we’re really good at hiding it, even our close family rarely see it. A lot of us probably don’t even see our whole shadow sides unless we really go looking to uncover all the less obvious aspects lingering in our subconscious and unconscious.
But what is a shadow side? There seems to be no consensus, although most people use it to refer to the hidden aspects of our nature. Usually “hidden” is translated as “dark” or “bad” or “unpleasant.” For some people, their shadow sides are their gentler nature, though—the parts most people put on display. I tend to be somewhere in the middle. I’m not always on my best, society-approved behavior, but I am still inclined to strive for this like the good little programmed citizen I am (a discussion of how we are programmed is a whole series of blog posts, I think.)
Anyway, this past weekend, my shadow side came out to play in one of its least pleasant forms: a savage, violent, destructive rage. I always know this rage is there somewhere inside me. For the past several weeks it’s been bubbling just below the surface, occasionally popping out to throw something or yell. This is primarily because I’ve been having a lot of pain and frustration with my back injury situation as well as having financial difficulties. Life has been wearing me down, as it has a way of doing at times.
Historically, I tend to push my rage down deep (we’ve all been taught to do this). When that fails, I smother it with depression. Depression helps me cope by turning off my emotions as much as possible and just vegetating. As long as I can stay away from suicide, depression can be an effective short-term coping strategy. Although there have been times when short-term turned into years, which really just meant I was a pretty unpleasant person to know most of the time.
Now I’m generally too self aware and committed to staying present to linger in the numbness of depression for too long. This, of course, could change in the future, but I do a lot of work to decrease the likelihood of that happening.
So, yeah, this weekend. I got sick with a stomach bug, but for the first 36 hours, I wasn’t sure if it was a SIBO flare up, which would be much more devastating than the annoyance of a temporary viral infection. And like I said, I’ve already been riding a short fuse.
At the end of last week, I made some real headway in my quest to get my muscles to calm the fuck down without muscle relaxers. I felt good. And then I started vomiting. It was the infamous straw that breaks the camel’s back. All the rage came rushing out. It was ugly. Clearly my husband wasn’t having a good day either because he also got a little rage-y, which is quite unlike him.
Long story short, when I get to this level, which is maybe once or twice a year as of late, I have a visceral need to destroy something physical. This time it was some artwork I did. In hindsight, it is a small loss to help dissipate the rage, and doing so helped move me into the crying and release phase.
After I’d come down, which was a record less-than-24-hours, I was able to slowly restart my mindfulness practice. The relatively short duration tells me that I’m doing something right with meditation and Buddhist practice. Anyway, instead of just shoving the whole incident away, I began to learn from it.
One thing I realized is that I only have a release by destroying something I value. Destroying any old piece of trash or flotsam just won’t do. And while I wouldn’t say my shadow side is the epitome of wise mind, today I realized the wisdom it has in choosing something precious to me. These are objects I am attached to. These are objects whose loss I feel. By destroying them, I am, in a way, freeing myself of that attachment. This is a beautiful thing because my attachment to any given object, like my attachment to anything else, is a cause of suffering.
That led me to realize that my violent rage is really a desperate stab by my unconscious mind to release me from the much more destructive attachments I have to, in this particular round, ideas like security and hope. This shadow part of myself is trying to teach me wisdom the best way it knows how.
Why had I been so angry about the setbacks I was once again facing with my body in new and different ways? Because I had let an insidious sliver of hope infect me: a hope that I would get healthy and be normal again and then my life would be so much more better.
Now, I’m not saying that I can’t be open to the idea that my health can improve, but the moment I become attached to that outcome, or more precisely that belief that improved health will make my life so very much better, I’m lost. Now I have something serious to lose and my suffering amplifies. And suffering of my own making? Well, that makes me really angry at myself and the world.
Of course, I also get angry about suffering not of my own making, but that in and of itself has yet to set me off on a destructive tear. It’s the stories I spin, which I control, from my circumstances, which I don’t control, that creates the downward spiral (shout out to Nine Inch Nails).
There were others things beyond my health that triggered this episode. My deep-seated fear of abandonment reared its ugly head, as did my fears around my lack of financial security. All kinds of ways that I look for security outside of myself.
The security I crave is an illusion. The ground is always shifting under my feet. Change never stops. I either accept this and move on, or I get really angry. Even if one believes in a glorious afterlife or a benevolent god(s) who take care of you, it does not alter the fact that there is constant, unpredictable change in this life as we experience it.
This episode has made it even more clear to me that hope is not a useful concept to me because of the particular attachment I have to it. It is a word that I will watch for, and when it once again creeps into my thoughts or comes out in my words, I am now a bit more ready for it. Maybe, just maybe, my rage-filled shadow side won’t need to come hit me over the head to make me see what I’m doing. Instead of losing something precious to me through destruction, this new awareness can help my conscious wise mind release my attachment, my desire for a specific outcome, before it gets to that point.