Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Shadows, Sticking Up For Oneself, and Overshooting the Mark

Shadow work. Ever hear of that? I studied it at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. I included a chapter on it in a book I wrote called Changing the World One Relationship at a Time. Paul and I sometimes address shadow pieces of a person's nature in spiritual counseling and healing sessions. But that doesn't mean either one of us is beyond having a shadow or two to contend with of our own, at least from time to time.


The "shadow" supposedly is where "good" and "right-thinking" people store their anger and cynicism and rage, all those "bad" thoughts righteous, spiritual, "good" people aren't supposed to have. And then, when they're not looking, when they least expect it, some innocent thing triggers the monsters to come roaring out of the closet. Damn!

Lately, I've been going through a rough patch emotionally. Oddly enough, when things are going the best they've ever been on some fronts. But that's usually how it goes. You stuff your feelings down so you can keep an optimistic positive face on during the worst of times and then the first time things go well and you let your guard down all those icky awful feelings come roaring to the top.

The feelings seem so out of context, so unrelated to what's really happening that people, myself included, often think the feelings must be justified. The boogey man must really be out there, evil really must be lurking in the dark, because why else would I feel so awful? Talk about the experience of believing there are "negative entities" in one's space! An awful lot of the time, activation of someone's "shadow" material is all that's really going on. We push our unacceptable beliefs and feelings far away because we refuse to identify that icky stuff as our own and then, woosh!, there it is, taking a form we don't have to believe is ourselves.....but it really is.

I'm talking about that bookshop in Santa Cruz again. Paul just showed me what he wrote months ago and how it was resolved. I remember all that, of course, but at the time I was miffed at him for being so angry and "unreasonable" that I refused to accept that the feelings he was expressing were exactly the same as my own. Then a simple email brought all those feelings back and the next thing I knew was firing blasts of gunshot over my bow.

I'm expecting at least one of our next clients to come in with a long-buried issue that she doesn't think matters anymore completely disrupting her life and running the show. That almost always happens when some freaky thing happens to disrupt things for Paul and me psychologically. As soon as we work it out, or when we really need help to get a handle on it, the next 2 or 3 or 4 people come in with variations of the same thing. That happened when I worked as a caregiving consultant for Del Mar Caregiver Resource Center and most therapists and healthcare professionals report the same thing: you're messed up in some big or small way in your own life and all your clients come in complaining of the same thing until you work it out.

That's what supervision and mentorship is for in these other professions. Thank God Paul and I have each other. Usually, within a few days, no more than a week or two, one of us will pull the other one out. I've been strongly considering the idea of starting a healing arts healing group -- a place where healers can go to get help with what comes up in the course of doing their work. It seems essential. Without that kind of support you can get lost and spiral into burn-out, depression or worse. You can even lose your perspective and do other people (and organizations) harm. And that's pretty much the opposite of what any of us really intend.

Strangely enough, Paul always has wished I'd come out of my shell and stand up for myself more. But, frequently, the wimpiest ones among us wind up with the biggest stick. Trying to make up for missed opportunities and lost time, perhaps?

I keep thinking of the new Spiderman movie where wimpy Peter Parker (Spidey) gets taken over by his 'dark" side. I actually loved that until it went too far. He was so much more able to take care of himself and show a little charisma. I was disappointed at movie's end.

In the world of psychology the key of having a healthy personality is not to relegate painful emotions to the dark side but to integrate them in a positive way. We need our power, our ability to say what's missing and stand up for what's right. Sometimes we need to swagger a little, feel proud and worthy of being treated with respect. I was trained out of doing that at a young age. A lot of us get that. And on the road back sometimes you overshoot the mark, get belligerent and strike out with all you've got.

But that generally leads to a strike-out of another sort.

For me, that has meant embarrassing myself and beating a hasty retreat. And that's what Spiderman did (to some extent) too.

In the next Spidey movie I want to see Peter Parker get his groove back and have the kind of fun he had in this last movie without hurting himself or others. Wouldn't that be a great thing?

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