“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.