Why do some of us find it so hard to say no? Or to ask for help? or Say what we really mean?
Why do we keep on sabotaging our relationships and other good things in our lives?
Psychologist Carl Jung first coined the term The Shadow Self. The parts of our personalities we deny and keep deep in our subconscious. In this Episode we talk about how we can identify our shadow selves, and what it really means to integrate it into our personalities, and what is the point really? How does this help us live our best lives?
Since Arthur was a little kid his mom has always been sick and he does everything to help her out. He's rewarded for this by his mother's constant compliments on his behavior. She tells him he's special because he never complains and always has a smile on his face. He’s going to grow up to be a good person, She tells him. and that he should always smile his way through the world and make people happy. And he adapts this as his only identity. Always Good and happy. Even when people are rude, even when it goes wildly against his needs. This all eventually gets too much and he just breaks and starts killing people out of anger and frustration. Yes, this is the story of the Joker from the Batman trilogy.
Even if this is fiction and not as extreme for most people, there is a part of us we suppress and emotions we deny for the sake of appearing good and making people happy.
This is not something we are born with. Even if kids are inherently good and innocent, they don’t try to showcase their goodness. They own their wholeness, curious, playful, and then hurt so they cry, somebody took their toy and then they’re angry, but they don’t hold on to it. They ask for what we want even if it’s just the next toy, and they say what they think.They embarrass how they feel at every moment. It just is.
And then as we grow older already by the age of 5 or 6, we learn that some parts of us are shameful. Anger is bad for example and so is jealousy. Happiness is good. We like happy people. We’re told 'You should be a good little girl 'or 'a good little boy'. And just like that for the sake of approval and fitting in, we comply and we turn into adults that are people pleasers, afraid to speak up, stand up to unfairness.
This is what the psychologist Carl Jung called our shadow self. The parts of us that we deny and repress into our subconscious that still dictate how we live and keep us from living the kinds of lives we desire.
In reality, Every trait can be good or bad and we need to access every emotion. For example anger is a sign of feeling you’re in an unfair situation. It’s an internal guide to regulate. Instead of feeling it and solving the unfairness, if we suppress it, we might blow up at a very unfortunate moment, at the wrong person, in a disproportionate manner. People who are screaming at everyone all the time are not so because they’re in touch with their feelings. They’re compelled to do this because they’ve suppressed so much frustration and feel they can’t control their anger. It can also make you sick if you keep heavy emotions in you for a long time. Like Woody Allen once said, "I never get angry, I just get a Tumor".
Another example is Greed. Nobody wants to be described as greedy, But if you have none of it, you can’t ask to be paid for your work, or have any property or belongings because you would just give everything away. On the other hand, to the extreme, with too much greed, you’ll be selfish and take from others what you don’t deserve and be unable to build loving relationships.
Aggression in the wrong place is bad. But if you’re about to get robbed or a crazy person approaches you in the street, a little aggression can actually scare them away. Or even looking like you can get aggressive or scream can keep you safe. Thieves and bullies would rather have an easy target. That’s why women are usually targets. Bullying also applies in adult lives, there are just some people who like to pick on and degrade people and they usually target the people who they think won’t do anything about it. As they say, if you can be dangerous, usually you don’t have to be. This is what they teach in martial arts. It’s more than learning to defend yourself. It’s building a good posture standing with your head high and gracefully, treating others with respect and still being able to handle mistreatment in a correct manner which can make you look confident. martial artists are never aggressive. And they almost never need to be.
What I’m saying is, You need to be able to access your “bad” traits. Because you’re human and we’re all complex creatures and have evil characteristics as much as heavenly ones. This is in our nature and has helped us to survive over the centuries. The true measure of being a moral person is not being unable to be bad but being able to be angry and still communicating calmly. Being able to lie but still choosing to be an honest person. Being able to say no, and still choosing to say yes because you really want to.
Another thing that’s most repressed aside from Anger& aggression is sexuality. Intimacy is a taboo topic in most countries. Some more than others for sure. Still some people learn to find a way to integrate it into their personality through conversations with good friends, romantic relationships or many quality online resources. Which porn is not one of them. If you feel shame or guilt at the end, it’s not good for you or your self-esteem.
When sexuality is repressed it leads to uncontrolled promiscuity, constant need to prove desirability, and feeling like that’s the only way to gain personal worth or alcohol induced irresponsible acts of intimacy. You can know if you have a healthy or unhealthy sexuality by questioning if you or your impulses are in control.
Other ways to identify your shadow selves is to pay attention when you’re triggered or have strong feelings towards how someone else is. For example, if you’re often triggered by people who talk too much, or too loudly, you can ask yourself if you feel you can’t be assertive or communicative if you want to be accepted. Maybe that’s what you thought growing up? This is different from a non-judgmental, non-emotional character observation. People who are comfortable both expressing their thoughts and listening, won’t feel triggered by someone else’s over communication or volume even if they don’t agree with it.
Another way to spot your repressed selves is if you feel bitter or resentful or constantly feel taken advantage of. Most people who are people-pleasers feel this way because they are constantly giving and not allowing their needs to be known so after a point they grow resentful and project into other people all the blame. Ask yourself if you’re also sometimes choosing to fulfil other’s needs without considering your own or even over your own. Practice checking on yourself often what you need and what you can afford to give, whether it’s resources, time or energy and learn to say no comfortably and lovingly.
Most People are also terrified of Conflict. There is a good kind of conflict, a disagreement, a misunderstanding that’s healthy to talk about but they just flee at the first sight of it because they were raised to obey and disagreeing with parental figures might as well have been a crime. This is internalised and they convince themselves to be someone flexible and not problematic and agree with whatever is said, leading to dishonesty and going behind people’s backs to assert themselves. You sometimes see people who couldn’t say….” no, i’m not ready to be in a relationship right now”, they just agree for a fear of not losing a person they liked and then they cheat. Or they agree to too many things they don’t really want, move at a pace they’re not ready for and it gets too much, they still fear communicating this out-loud, so they disappear.
And sometimes, maybe we all do this to some degree, we set a goal, and we start seeing progress that’s it’s coming into fruition, whether it’s a new youtube channel that’s getting more views now, or a relationship with the ideal person, and then boom, we start sabotaging it. We haven’t made a video in months, we’re always tired apparently or if it’s a healthy relationship, all of the sudden, we can’t stop starting fights or out of nowhere we feel our freedom compromised, and this could be because of a repressed belief that pursuing your passion or having a certain amount of success means you’ll be liked less, or you’re not deserving. Sometimes, we see our parents fight too much or the people around us having a terrible time in relationships and we associate this with too much closeness in relationships to be a bad thing. Or maybe it’s your own experience. If you’ve been cheated on in the past and you haven’t worked to feel the pain and learn to trust again, you’ll sabotage your next relationships, or have a really hard time trusting.
Whenever you find yourself running in loops, not being able to do the things you know you need to do, it’s important to ask yourself what kinds of beliefs or emotional associations you have with what you’re trying to do? And if your beliefs are encouraging excitement for it or fear? Because your subconscious mind is wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain so it will be very hard to do the things you’ll think will be a source of pain at some point.
As Jung believed, the greatest threat to human civilisation is not the weapons we have but our inability to understand ourselves and our inherent destructiveness.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Carl Jung’s book Visions read by an impressively good AI.
“When one tries desperately to be good and wonderful and perfect, then all the more the shadow develops a definite will to be black and evil and destructive. People cannot see that; they are always striving to be marvellous, and then they discover that terrible destructive things happen which they cannot understand, and they either deny that such facts have anything to do with them, or if they admit them, they take them for natural afflictions, or they try to minimize them and to shift the responsibility elsewhere. The fact is that if one tries beyond one’s capacity to be perfect, the shadow descends into hell and becomes the devil.”
My Name is Niya and This has been must-knows before you die.