Theme Day 6
The Upside of Your Dark Side
The next visionary guide for Quest 2015 is Todd Kashdan. He is author of The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why being your whole self – not just your good self – drives success and fulfillment. He also heads the Laboratory for the Study of Social Anxiety, Character Strengths, and Related Phenomena at George Mason University and travels the globe to speak to business executives, organizations, schools, and health professionals.
For this writing prompt, Todd asked the following:
Which emotions do you feel most guilty about having? Afraid that others might find out?
How could you spend this year trying to be open to the emotional window that allows you to be courageous?
It rarely feels good right before we do something courageous, but these moments are the most meaningful and treasured.
ANGER – FEAR – DESIRE
Growing up, the emotions that I had been conditioned to feel the most guilty about were anger, fear, and desire. I lived in a broken home and had gone through three father figures by the time I graduated from high school. The first step-father I had was very abusive, including sexual abuse beginning when I was 7 years old. He had a horrible temper and it took very little to set him off into a violent rage. He preferred that my younger brothers and I were out of sight and out of the way as much as possible, unless he needed or wanted something from us. He often boldly declared that ‘children should be seen and not heard‘ and preferably not even seen.
Once the sexual abuse began, I was quick to oblige when it came to not wanting to be seen. So I spent as much time away from home as I possibly could; sometimes with a close friend or group of friends, or hiding in my room with my nose in a book, writing poetry, and listening to music. If I didn’t have to be home, I’d be roaming the nearby wooded hills, exploring the creek, catching frogs, or examining the fluffy white internal matter of a cattail.
I lived in chronic fear.
I never knew from one day to the next…one minute to the next…when my step-father would fly into a rage or when he would use me sexually. When you are that tiny and unable to defend yourself, it doesn’t matter how afraid or angry you are when you are being beaten or sexually violated by an adult who is supposed to love and protect you…you either aren’t ‘allowed’ to have any anger or rage of your own in the face of total violation. Or if you are afraid, that just seems to satisfy those that feed off your fear in order to feel more powerful themselves.
So there was a great deal of confusion and guilt surrounding my own feelings that I had to chronically stuff and suppress in order to survive my childhood.
‘THEY’ were allowed to feel and express anger.
However, this post today isn’t really about sexual abuse so much as it is to reveal a snapshot of how learning to navigate emotions are a challenge for many of us in life. Although your story is different, many of you reading this could probably say the same when it comes to your own feelings growing up. Even if your circumstances weren’t as bleak and dismal as my own. In some cases, some of you have had experiences far worse. Learning to be dishonest about our feelings is how many of us were raised. And even if my caretakers hadn’t been overtly abusive, it was how most of our parents were raised by their parents. And so on.
- Don’t cry or I’ll give you something to cry about!
- If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
- Don’t hurt mommy’s or daddy’s feelings.
- Children should be seen and not heard.
- What are you crying about now?
- Quit being a whiner!
- Quit being such a cry baby!
- Quit being a sissy!
- Big boys don’t cry!
- And the list goes on….
Raised to suppress and deny the language of feelings.
We’ve become experts in denying our feelings to such an extent we live as aliens inside of our own bodies.
What was intelligently designed to operate as an internal navigation system, many of our emotions have been given a bad rap. In some cases, considered evil. This is often due to our inability to face the truth of our feelings in the first place. So they become unmanageable and explosive, leading to harmful acts towards self or others. We have become conditioned to cut off certain aspects of ourselves; parts of us that were never meant to be locked away but were designed to serve us throughout our lives.
Our language of feelings were designed to guide us to what is in alignment with our highest good.
When I saw the prompt for this post, I was delighted…even relieved! I knew that I would have the opportunity to address, at least in part, what has confused some when it comes to why I can and do focus on certain things like ‘negative emotions’ and why I embrace them when I write. This also isn’t something that happened for me overnight. It’s been a journey that has led me to studying the language of feelings and various traditions and religions on the soul and spiritual pulse of humanity.
The Story of Gaea and Uranus
In Greek Mythology, there is an interesting story about Creation that I first heard told by Chameli Ardagh, the founder of Awakening Women. The story of Gaea and Uranus. Although there are many details and layers to this story, I’m only going to offer the very beginning and a far more simplified version.
Basically, Gaea was considered to be a Goddess; the Great Mother earth from which all beings and life were born. Uranus was considered to be Father Sky and the husband to Gaea. It is said that their love was so great that Uranus covered Gaea on all sides (sky wrapped around the earth) and they were locked in an eternal embrace. Through their lovemaking, Gaea gave birth to many children and creatures, some were good and beautiful. Yet, there also came some very ugly monsters from their union and this shocked Uranus.
How could something so ugly come from their love?
He turned out to not be a very good husband and father. He was ashamed of his ugly monster children and so he pushed them back down into the depths (womb) of Gaea so that he no longer had to see them. He then tried to pretend they didn’t exist. Naturally, this angered Gaea! After all, she was a mother and loved ALL of her children equally and knew that each one had a special place and role and reason for their existence. So she enlisted the aid of one of her sons, Cronus, the youngest Titan, to attack Uranus in order to bring his abuse to herself and her monster children to an end. Cronus succeeded in overthrowing his father and a new host of issues and drama cropped up, but that’s a story for another time!
It is similar for us. Like the loving mother, Gaea, we were meant to accept and embrace ALL of our children (feelings), knowing they each play a special role in helping us navigate in this life. We weren’t meant to shut ANY of our emotions up and deny them like Uranus did to his own children. To do so, is to become an abuser of ourselves and our own bodies. Instead, we can learn to listen for the sound of ALL of our children’s’ voices early on. If we can learn to pay attention to their cries like they were our own infant children, than the earlier we can take care of them and ease our own suffering. Like a contented baby, the negative feeling becomes satisfied and settles down again.
Instead, we tend to do the opposite. We ignore our babies cries until we are in so much pain that it can’t be ignored anymore! This is when we tend to act out in some way, often involuntarily. It might show up as the ‘straw that breaks the camels back’ when we react by yelling at someone who upsets us. Or it could manifest in an affair if a husband or wife hasn’t been honest about their own needs and feelings in the relationship. It could wind up in petty gossip to discredit another if people fall into fear and envy and aren’t able to safely talk about it or take responsibility for it. Instead, we seem to think we can fool the powers that be in denying the dark side of our own internal GPS system. That’s like trying to navigate the earth with only half the map!
‘Let’s only see the stars in the sky please.’ Yet without the dark of night, the light of the stars cannot be seen.’
What is fascinating about many of our global mythological histories, is how they cleverly describe the collective psyche during those time periods. We get to peer into the collective consciousness of the past; into the depths of imaginations, theories, superstitions, and assumptions of cultures and societies throughout the ages. We get to witness their attempts to describe, decipher, and make sense of our world and the cosmos. Basically, each mythological story can be considered a map of the collective psyche and consciousness of that people and time period. These stories still serve us today when we can relate them to our own collective consciousness; often referred to as archetypes.
In the story of Gaea and Uranus, we can see how we have been taught to be like Uranus when it comes to our own ‘dark and ugly children’. In the form of our more negative and controversial emotions such as anger, rage, fear, sadness, lust, envy and all the shades of the emotional spectrum that are considered to be ‘dark’ or negative. We have been taught to stuff them down back into our own earth. Our bodies. We have been taught to deny they exist or pretend they aren’t there. We have even successfully learned how to shame others when they have negative emotions as well. Thus, the cycle continues.
And yet, how successful are we in banishing our negative emotions? By denying that they exist, do they really go away? Or does that energy still exist even if it’s being stuffed inside of our bodies?
Just because we deny, stuff, hide, and repress our negative emotions, that energy still exists. If we stuff the energy without properly addressing it, the energy could potentially damage our body. It will also tend to leak out in various ways, often passive aggressively, if we’ve been trying to hide it and not be honest about what we are truly feeling inside. Once our emotions become too strong, they can become so unmanageable that it can cause people to lash out at others and hurt them; emotionally, verbally, physically, or sexually.
Let’s take a look at another example of denial and suppression when it comes to marriage and sex.
Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church
For whatever reason, a group of men decided that the ‘God ordained’ holy union of marriage and sex interfered with a man’s relationship and communion with God. As a result, in order to be a priest, they must take a vow of celibacy and aren’t allowed to marry. As the Bible so aptly says, a tree is known by its fruit and today, the Catholic church is well known for an epidemic of sexual abuse of countless children at the hands of their own priests. By denying marriage and sex, their so-called ‘dark side’ or natural male sexual drive and urges did not magically disappear. Instead, their sexual energy transformed into a perversion and seeks an outlet of expression in one of the few ways they can. If women and marriage are not allowed, (and oddly enough, a completely HOLY and SANCTIFIED UNION…’the marriage bed is undefiled’…) they gave them innocent altar boys and children to abuse and have sex with instead. Apparently, the entire Catholic church for centuries seems to keep ignoring 1 Corinthians when Paul’s letter to the church says that it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
This is only one of many examples of how our lack of honesty in facing ALL of our emotions has damaged humanity. We can also see it in acts of rage that transpire in the shootings that take place all over this country and the world. When people aren’t allowed to be honest about how they feel, those emotions will demand us to pay the piper at some point in the future. And for some, at great cost with the result being in the loss of relationships and even precious lives.
Loving Our Dark Side
So what does it really mean to love our dark side? Is it suggesting that we embrace the urges and feelings that result in act of rape and molestation as acceptable? Or acts of rage that result in shootings of innocent people? No. Those are examples of the dark side out of control and beyond the point of no return.
What loving the dark side means is to accept ALL of our feelings in the first place as being normal, natural, and necessary part of our life. Instead of hiding from them, we can learn to welcome them as if they are one of our own children. Thich Nhat Hanh often says in his books, ‘Hello anger. I know that you are there.’ He doesn’t deny or avoid the negative feeling and energy. Instead, he applies the energy of mindful attention to it in order to take care of it.
In some cases, the energy of our negative emotions can feel too painful and overpowering, this is definitely when we need to enlist the aid of our church group and sanghas. (Or professional help if it’s an emergency) The collective energy of many people can help ease the suffering until we cultivate our own practice to be able to do it more effectively on our own. And when this happens, this is nothing to be ashamed of. Especially if we have years of pent up emotions and a lifetime of poor practice in not knowing how to manage emotions very well.
Regardless of whether or not you are a Christian, Hindu, or Buddhist, at the heart of most religious teachings is the call to either repentance or awareness. The ability to face and be honest about the condition we are in from moment to moment. This done with openness and sincerity generally leads to a change of mind. Which ultimately results in us changing our actions and behaviors.
There is far more that I can share on the language of feelings. For now, I hope this post can serve as a primer that would breathe at least a little bit of light, compassion, and hope in facing our negative emotions and learning to love our dark sides.
What step can you take right now towards acknowledging and honoring your own dark side?
Your thoughts are welcome!
Additional Related Resources
Quest 2015 Theme Day 1: Living Connections by Samantha Hall
Quest 2015 Theme Day 2: In Search of Serendipity by Samantha Hall
Quest 2015 Theme Day 3: Dare To Disappoint by Samantha Hall
Quest 2015 Theme Day 4: The Heart Leaps by Faith by Samantha Hall
Quest 2015 Theme Day 5: Stop With A Sacred Pause by Samantha Hall
On Cosmology by Dan Oestreich
Your Life Quest: Create. Curate. Conflict by Jon Mertz
Your Life Quest: Doing. Stopping. Feeling by Jon Mertz
Illuminate by Stan Stewart
Diving Into Your Shadow Bag by Ginny Lee Taylor
Quest 2015 Information Page by Jeffrey Davis
Tracking Wonder – by Jeffrey Davis