“I don’t trust that people are going to accept all of me.”
“And yet you can’t even accept yourself.”
My counselor’s observation caught me off-guard, but before I could get defensive or wonder what she meant, the truth of her words seeped into my consciousness. I am hidden. There are parts of my identity that have been relegated to the shadows so I can pretend they don’t exist.
One holds all of my shame. He reminds me of the ways I’ve failed and is certain I don’t deserve to be loved. Another carries my overpowering fear. His head is on a swivel; constantly searching for danger and disappointment. Still others hold my rage, anxiety and doubt. These shadow-selves lurk in the backround of my awareness because I refuse to accept them as the real Ben Tapper.
They don’t align with the person I’m trying to be, and yet they are probably the most authentic parts of me. I want to be this bold, outgoing man who has healed from his childhood trauma. I want to wake up with no residue of the pain I’ve experienced. Yet as my eyes open each morning and I take that first conscious breath, I feel the same fragility that plagued me the night before. I’ve assumed this fragility was meant to be overcome, but perhaps it is meant to be embraced.
I can keep pretending, or I can face the discomfort of my invisible truths and invite my shadow-selves into the light. I reconize the shame, anxiety, doubt, rage and fear that are embedded within me. These aren’t defects I need to improve. They’re responses I hope to understand.
Healing isn’t about becoming the ideal version of myself. Healing is about seeing and accepting my truths, so that I might love who I am in this moment. For better or worse, who I am includes shame, insecurity, anger and a host of other emotions I don’t want to acknowledge.
There is something especially terrifying about accepting my whole self. It triggers a miniature identity crisis as my true self comes face-to-face with the partial persona I’ve constructed and put on display. I feel vulnerable and exposed when all I want to do is feel safe and comfortable. However, the journey I’m on demands growth, and growth requires discomfort. So here I am.
I’m not who I want to be, and that is ok. This. Is. Me. Vulnerable and Resilient. Bold and Terrified. Confident and Insecure. I’ve been hiding from myself for years because I wasn’t ready to accept my complexities and shadows. Now I understand that there is no other to get where I’m trying to go. I have to tell the truth. If I don’t accept myself, I won’t ever now when someone else does.
What parts of yourself do you push into the shadows? What version of you are you working to keep others from discovering? Even if you’re not yet ready to take the step into acceptance, at least write down or name these shadow-selves. Once they’re named, they’re much more difficult to forget.
The work of Radical Self-Awareness is not easy by any means, but it is worth it. As much as we like the light, remember that the truth is often in the shadows.
2 thoughts on “Truth is in the Shadows”
Great post! This reminds me of my first marathon. I was struggling with running in the heat and realized the only way to finish was through. Meaning, there were no alternate routes and no alternate realities. I had to acknowledge the state of myself (hot, blisters, sore muscles) and put one foot in front of the other with my body as it was, not as I wished it was.
I agree whole heartedly and would add. Most of what is in shadow is best kept in shadow even as we acknowledge and accept it. As fear, shame, rage or anxiety begin to emerge from shadow and we risk their destruction in our present life it is good to examine, trace, and heal. It is good to send what is left back to shadow as opposed to allowing it to do damage.
Of course, it is also good to have an occasional closet cleaning; shake out the bogeymen and look at how we have grown, what rage is pale, what fear now holds no power, what shame is laid to rest. Some have been fortunate enough to find positives that were also in shadow; restrained by doubt and shame. A man might find a capacity for empathy held in shadow by fear of the “sissie” or by rage that would not let empathy out.
There is much in shadow that we look within and judge as signs of evil in our selves. That is usually mistaken. While we are all capable of evil what is in shadow is primarily the blood, pus and scabs of old old wounds. By accepting them as true parts of our selves we begin to prevent them from poisoning our lives and the lives of those we love.
A word about shame – while we may find genuine guilt in our shadows (I did that. It was terribly wrong as well as embarrassing to think about. I wish I could make it un-happen), shame (because I did that I am unfit to associate with others. I am worthless. I cannot be OK) does not belong to us. Shame was created in us by people with power over our very young spirits. They may have had good intentions or they may have intended harm but that shame that has intensified the shadows belongs to them, not to us.