How to face one's dark side?
March 9, 2007 11:02 AM   Subscribe

How do I face my dark sides?

Dear Hive Mind People -
At 35 and having been brought up to be untruthful to myself to function within a Catholic frame, I have spent much time to figure out who I really am and what I really want. Now that I am living through a painful breakup, I am trying again to recognize all those dark sides of mine, about which I am lying to myself, to be able to say more clearly what I want and need.

I have identified this process with C. G. Jung's term of the shadow, which refers to any unwanted qualities that we have stuffed away into a bag of oblivion, mostly as a result of our upbringing. These qualities are 'missing' in our lives if we totally suppress them, and we can recogniye them for example through our intense reactions (both positive and negative) to situations or to people who embody them.

What further ways are there to find out about one's dark sides? More importantly, how can I engage with them, and really incorporate them into my life?

Experiences, suggestions, advice all welcome. Many thanks!
posted by catherinem to Human Relations (23 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Psilocybin mushrooms, LSD and MDMA (not necessarily together) worked for a lot of people I know. So did therapy.
posted by limon at 11:17 AM on March 9, 2007

Start by reading La vie sexuelle de Catherine M.
posted by zadcat at 11:17 AM on March 9, 2007

Actually, not to be flippant: stop thinking of things as your "dark side" and recognize that all your impulses are part of what you are. Labels like that are literary devices: they don't necessarily help you think clearly about your needs and desires in a sensible way.
posted by zadcat at 11:21 AM on March 9, 2007

how can I engage with them, and really incorporate them into my life?

Art. Journaling. Something that no one else ever needs to see. Somewhere you can divulge your darkest fantasies and be completely honest with yourself, without consequences.
posted by desjardins at 11:23 AM on March 9, 2007

What limon said. It's not for everybody though.
posted by chillmost at 11:24 AM on March 9, 2007

Also, what zadcat said. Accept that this is part of you, and also that it's completely normal. I'm sure in many subcultures your darkest fantasies would be considered banal and boring.
posted by desjardins at 11:26 AM on March 9, 2007

A Little Book on the Human Shadow by Robert Bly.

I 've also found dreamwork to be a powerful tool for becoming aware of what's currently unconscious. Jeremy Taylor's Dream Work has a lot of useful pointers.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:32 AM on March 9, 2007

Some of the early antinomianists believed that since no sin was to be allowed in Heaven, the ten commandments were actually a laundry list of things you needed to do here on earth in order to fully exercise the potential God gave humans.

Personally, I think the "Seven Deadly Sins" are a better focus. As a human you possess plenty of Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride. Pick the one you believe you have the least of, and review your life so far for examples: unless you're in deep, deep denial you'll find plenty more than you thought.

Advanced study: find examples in your life where each of these characteristics was a positive thing. When you can do that, you'll be a fair way down the path of accepting your shadow.
posted by tkolar at 11:37 AM on March 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd second journaling. Meditation, though not for everyone, can help you see what you're avoiding.
posted by phrontist at 11:37 AM on March 9, 2007

Tantric philosophy actually talks about this a great deal. (It's really not just about sex.) One of the basic principles is accepting both the light and dark sides of yourself in order to be whole, and to bring light to the dark. This book is a fairly good introduction to some of the concepts. (You certainly don't need to accept the religious part as true; looking at it as metaphor is fine.)

Joseph Campbell's works might also be worth reading.
posted by occhiblu at 11:38 AM on March 9, 2007

Perhaps you will find constructing a persona for yourself that incorporates an element you call dark, and living through that persona during an interaction where it matters, will allow you to gain insight.

It isn't so easy to do this the first time, or even the first few times. You must identify the element and isolate it somewhat, then look at the rest of you and ask "what kind of person, or role, would have many of the attributes of mine that I'm comfortable with _plus_ the dark element in question?" Then try to imagine yourself acting as that person.
posted by jet_silver at 11:41 AM on March 9, 2007

I'm really puzzled as to why the original poster's name is Catherine M, and the book zadcat referred is written by a Catherine M...

Also I have to agree with limon, these hallucinogenic drugs will really go deep in your consciousness and make you realise things you've never seen before. However I'd have to say LSD and MDMA are not the best choice, as they are very strong.
Psilocybin mushroom, however, are very interesting. A gram will put you in another state of consciousness for about 5-6 hours.

IMPORTANT--If you try mush for the first time, make sure to have a person with you that will not be doing any drugs. It's very important that someone else is there in case something goes wrong.

Look for info on mush on this page
posted by PowerCat at 11:48 AM on March 9, 2007

Why not get into Jungian analyses or see a Jungian therapist? Your profile doesn't say where you live, but several major cities (e.g., SF, LA, NY, Chicago & Boston) all have Jung institutes which offer low-fee therapy if that's an issue.

I think it's really helpful to have some kind of trusted guide in this process, as it can be hard to distinguish pieces of your shadow from other archetypes that might lead you into harm. As you explore, you are literally going places where you will find yourself without familiar points of reference, and you may have a hard time knowing whether you should do something or not. Just because you had to trample down some part of your yourself in your upbringing to create a socially acceptable persona doesn't mean that part of you deserves full expression.

For books about this kind of journey, I'd strongly recommend the Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies. If you don't mind going outside a Jungian frame of reference, I'd also suggest you read Drama of the Gifted Child, by Alice Miller
posted by jasper411 at 11:50 AM on March 9, 2007

It depends what these dark thoughts or this darks side of you is. I am thinking from your question that you have an idea what this dark side of you is about. You just aren't sure what to do with it. You want to let it out of the cage, so to speak, but you are not sure how.

You would most likely find that there are some people on here who share your dark side. Some would likely be able to tell you how they have dealt with the issue, both successfully and unsuccessfully.

I note that you have been a member here for six or seven months and that this is the only thing that you have posted on here. You have no reputation nor identity to protect. I would suggest that to receive the best advice, you would need to get a bit more specific about what these dark areas are comprised of. You may be surprised and delighted at the results. Heck, just even typing it into your computer may prove to be threrapeutic for you.
posted by flarbuse at 11:50 AM on March 9, 2007

You might like some of the books recommended here. I became a huge fan of Robertson Davies, esp. the Deptford Trilogy.

Also, hang out with people who are non-judgmental.
posted by beatrice at 12:08 PM on March 9, 2007

Response by poster: Hi everyone, thank you so much for all great points and inspiration ...!

CatherineM both as my name and zadcat's recommendation is a coincidence (though a funny one, maybe I should change my name. Well countered, zadcat!).

As to flarbuse's question - no, there is no specific 'dark side' of mine I am thinking of, maybe that TV set I never smashed, some bitchiness kept in rather than let out, that cute guy I never shagged not to cheat on my husband (and I still don't regret it) - I just don't know. On the surface, and also when I think about it, I am really pretty empty of badness/darkness/evil, and just that seems to be my problem.

There is of course a lot of guilt about tearing apart a family with a little child, as I am doing right now. I am asking this question because I'm pretty sure my relationship failed not least because I kept so much anger, desire, silliness, and many needs not even to myself but completely out of my mind. (Catholics, don't you recognize this?) So I really, really need to find out what more there is, not to go down that road again.
posted by catherinem at 12:57 PM on March 9, 2007

I second all the recommendations for art and/or writing. If this is appealing to you, I'd make sure you go into with a focus on the process and not the end result -- if you focus on making a great work of art as opposed to really exploring what you want to explore, you'll likely continue repressing what you're trying to face.

Other suggestions that come to mind . . .

Geeky as they may be, role playing games of some kind (online or otherwise)?

Acting in theatre?

Making music? (Again, with a focus on the process, not end result).

Don't know whether or not it's your cup of tea, but some people seem find sexuality (e.g., bdsm, role playing, etc) a potent means of exploring their dark sides.

As for psychedelics, I wouldn't recommend them for this . . . it seems to me that they could lead to some overwhelming and frightening results for someone who a) may not have experienced psychedelics before and b) who has been actively suppressing awareness of said "dark side" for 35 years. I'd say you'd definitely want a trusted, compassionate guide if you were to explore this route.
posted by treepour at 1:23 PM on March 9, 2007

One other thing (and I apologize if this veers off-topic a little bit) . . .

If you're used to thinking of yourself as a bad, guilty soul, then be wary of looking for aspects of yourself to confirm this negative self-image. E.g., watch out for thoughts along the lines of "if I feel this guilty, then there must be a reason for it, there really must be something horrible about me."

To put it another way, getting to know your dark side is a step toward wholeness, but using whatever you find there to beat yourself up isn't. If you're used to beating yourself up, you may want to be mindful of the former becoming the latter.
posted by treepour at 1:38 PM on March 9, 2007

It's a cliché, but getting in touch with your inner child can be a good place to start.

Try to remember the overwhelming feelings of anger/hatred/jealousy that you experienced as a young child. If you can't remember feeling any of those things, you need to dig deeper. Everyone has felt them at some point.

This process is most efficient when led by another person (preferably a therapist). As you talk about your most intense childhood memories, you're bound to hit on one that makes you physically choke up. Follow that emotional vein as deeply as you can--let the emotion take over. Realize that you've probably never really gotten over it. (This process is definitely compatible with psychedelics, but you'll probably want to try it sober first.)

Really, a therapist is your best bet. I'd also recommend reading The Drama of the Gifted Child, which despite its title isn't really about "gifted children". It's about trying to find your "essential self", which sounds like your true goal here.
posted by danblaker at 1:49 PM on March 9, 2007

Maybe I don't quite understand, but are you saying you think your relationship may have failed due to a lack of "badness/darkness/evil" or is it more about being out of touch with your feelings as a whole?
posted by magikker at 6:51 PM on March 9, 2007

Second the theatre/acting class. If that's too intimidating, see if you can find an improv class. Some of the improv work (games) are surreal in how they open up your subconscious.
posted by Arthur Dent at 7:28 PM on March 9, 2007

Working through the exact same thing about now, just without the painful breakup. zadcat's got it--you don't have dark sides--you don't have sides--hell while I'm at it you don't even have you.

Work on avoiding the tendency to whole-person rate yourself. Go ahead and say oh shit I made a mistake, but don't rate your entire self as a mistake.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:03 AM on March 10, 2007

Try flower essences, in your case you would use "Black Eyed Susan". You can buy these at health food stores. I, of course, was skeptical but a few years ago my best friend bought it for me, and made me promise to try it. I had the same type of problem you are describing. After one week of feeling a weird internal shift, coupled with unusually vivid dreams of such a disturbing nature that I woke up HAPPY to be alive (i.e., happy that the dream wasn't real!), I had to concede that the Black Eyed Susan had some sort of effect... or that it was a huge coincidence.
posted by mjao at 1:57 AM on March 11, 2007

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