In all of the therapy I’m proud that I do, one of the hardest undertakings is Shadow Work. It sounds new age and strange but I promise you it is an absolute necessity to truly explore oneself. You aren’t just acknowledging the darkest parts of your personality, you’re accepting them so that you can manage, transform, and I suppose in rare cases and in the strongest individuals, exorcise some of them.
As a teenager and twenty-something, arrogance was always my darkest shadow. The fact that I was generally more intelligent, astute, and contemplative than my peers and even my elders was a source of pride that metastasized into aloofness and snobbery. I’ve been lucky though, as far as this particular shadow goes. Nearly, five years working multiple jobs (at least one always in retail) will humble anyone with an ego and a six figure education. My shadow’s appetite for superiority dwindled as I fell in love with the complexity of humanity and the understanding that behind our jobs and educations and familial/civic responsibilities, we’re all rich and complex beings seeking validation and witness.
That dark part of me, “Bitch Tara,” as my best friend refers to her, was excruciatingly honest and unforgiving. It was a defense and an outlet to show off the uncanny way I just seemed to understand people, their motivations, and their weaknesses without trying. By shedding this unnecessarily cruel utilization of such knowledge, I had in my mind, become a better person. Bitch Tara was banished because Shadow Work, as I understood it until recently, was black or white; there was no grey.
This past year has been one of the darkest in my life. Someone I trusted implicitly, from the very beginning, turned out to be toxic. There is no explanation for such uninhibited trust from day one, except to compliment the performance artist’s mastery in manipulation. That trust was eventually and relentlessly violated both in the way I was treated and the fact that I’ve come to learn that there was little truth in anything spoken to me. Instead, a narrative was created–complete with villains and martyrdom–that hid the duplicitous, dishonest, and dark true nature of a sick human being.
As a result of this dynamic, I spent a lot of this year suffering in secret. I began to doubt my own sanity and to believe that I lacked ego strength and that I was overly sensitive and that pleading to be treated, at the very least, in a civil and neutral way was selfish. I almost believed that yelling and pointing and insulting was acceptable and that my sensitivity to it was abhorrent. The key here is: almost. Along the way, I fought—in tears—to be heard. I called out the behavior at every twist and turn. I knew that ultimately my attempts at adult conversation would be futile and turn me into the bad guy and yet I persisted. Of this, I’m proud; my integrity and adherence to my own personal code of conduct was honored. Compulsive lying, emotional abuse and narcissism were confronted with their antitheses. This was black and white.
Until I had a moment of grey and “Bitch Tara,” nearly dormant and believed to be diminished, stepped into the light. She crossed the threshold and stared the sick one in his empty eyes. I told myself, in those long, drawn out seconds of fortitude that I stood before this person having done nothing more than adhere to my principles—a foundation of which he knows nothing as he lacks truth on a fundamental level. But remember, it was Bitch Tara who led the charge and I would be remiss to omit that she stood before the offender with an obvious and aggressive superiority; the same sense of superiority I wielded as a kid. He had confirmed for me what I’d chronicled all along and I was satisfied.
There, fueled by darkness, I set a new precedent in the relationship. There was no fear, no shame. I stood there clear-headed, with my healthy ego and my sensitivity intact. This time it was about me and the fact that I am no longer intimidated by the hollow and sullied.
I’ll admit that it’s a struggle now to put Bitch Tara away. Her appearance proved to be a seminal moment that rooted on many plateaus. She was useful in overtaking the darkness cast by someone else. But, attempting to quell her lust for devastating revelation has proved futile and will only happen retroactively. In that sense my integrity is taking a hit and it is clear there is still much hard work to be done. Thankfully, I do a lot of therapy.
- Falling in love is amazing.
- The difference between arrogance and confidence.
- Communication is everything to me.
- A space of one’s own is EVERYTHING.
- Being social is actually kind of fun.
- You are your own champion.
- Roasted vegetables are easy and AMAZING!
- Cats have personalities.
- I can’t change my personality, but I can develop and manage it.
- Baking Soda and Vinegar kick ass.
- Much of life is about showing up.
- People aren’t always who they say/think they are.
- Embracing my flaws is incredibly liberating.
- My people are everywhere, I just have to find them.
- I should have bought a power drill a long time ago.
- Area rugs are super expensive.
- Sharing your time and space with someone is what really counts.
- The way I plan to spend Christmas from now on.
- I find extroverts scary for all the right reasons.
- Being open about my flaws is incredibly liberating.
- The difference between a selfish person and an egocentric person.
- People who talk big and promise big can be full of intention and empty of action.
- How to say ‘No.’
- Don’t be empty of action.
- Show up.
- I can survive humiliation.
- Have expectations of no one, regardless of what they say.
- Indeed, blue is my favorite color, but I can appreciate others.
- ‘Death by meeting.’ The struggle is real.
- You can accomplish quite a bit in 4.5 minutes.
- People who make others their ‘project,’ need the most work.
- Therapy saves my life.
- Heartbreak is devastating.
It’s me, not you. Who am I to question you? So what if you confuse narcissism with self-reflection and confidence with egocentrism? It’s me, not you.
Gaslight the way. When you get there, turn, and expect to see me a step behind, you’ll know that it was me, not you.
I am intimate with few people. I have social skills, I socialize, I speak so as not to reveal. I am an introvert. The few people with whom I am intimate, I trust. I trust them to be open and honest and to say the difficult things, but to say them with tact and most importantly, humility.
There’s a lot of emphasis here on language.
When my more intimate relationships end and it is by my choice, it tends not to be because someone did something I didn’t like, but because they said something. Not something I didn’t like, but something that “set me free.”
Once it was being told, “I don’t care about you.” As soon as those words were uttered, I felt whatever emotional attachment I had to this person leave my body.
Weeks later, in conversation, they asked me why I wasn’t calling, why I hadn’t stopped in. I recounted the aforementioned tale and was met with an incredulous: ‘it’s not that easy.’ Except it was.
Another time it was hearing a friend tell me they paid their lawyer a lot of money to see to it that they could do whatever they wanted without consequences. I felt sick to my stomach and needed a shower when I got home. I have no room for such sociopathic privilege.
This time, it was slightly different. This time I took offense at being labeled, at being told what my life experience was and continues to be, and how I should see the world. Again.
Shocked that it would happen again, I lashed out. I was told my anger had more to do with “other things.” I sat in disbelief. The child in me apologized, I felt ashamed and humiliated. And then a calm came over me. I just felt…untangled. Sad, but untangled.
Indeed, there had been an over reaction on my part, but it had nothing to do with “other things.” A hundred conversations had ended similarly: in deference, with me blaming myself for being offended, for over reacting.
I was being managed and always have been ‘managed.’
The declarations of deep and profound understanding, the pursuit and assimilation of my own language, the promises of being shown love and gentleness, the poetry, and the sense of equality…all acts of seduction. All misinterpreted. All my fault.
This time, my own utterances set me free: Shit! I’ve been played.
Over the past few months, I’ve heard the word dignity thrown around quite a bit. In most cases, the discussion was about poverty. On one hand, the poor needed to have or show some dignity by working harder, by “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.” And, on the other, the working poor deserve a livable wage so that they can live with dignity. In fact, because I’m finally in a job that uses and tests my education, I now have a more dignified job.
My response, sometimes vocalized, was one of confusion. Is being poor or working a job that doesn’t require a degree or a particular expertise, exclusive of dignity? According to the aforementioned paradigm, yes.
In both instances, a lack of money and capital equates to a lack of dignity. Consciously, subconsciously, and culturally, this language suggests that our bank accounts are intimately linked with how much honor and respect we are given and with which we view ourselves. Yes, living comfortably on the salary of a single, 40-hour-a-week job is a luxury everyone should be afforded, but not living such an existence doesn’t necessarily make people feel less worthy of respect. I hear stories about a middle-class that once existed in this country, a middle-class that prided itself in working hard and earning a living. As those people continue to tumble down the tax brackets, now it appears that they had only dignity in numbers of the populist kind.
It’s unfortunate (though hardly surprising) that something as subjective, personal, and unique as respect has been usurped by a symbolic practice. And until money ceases to be the token for succeeding at life, I don’t see this changing anytime soon. If even the deeply altruistic believe dignity is bestowed with cash, then even the good guys are cogs in a system that must, at the very least, be re-calibrated. Honestly, we’re all just rats the maze. But seeing the dignity in others should have nothing to do with their bank accounts. Unless, you truly believe a person can be paid their worth.
Suddenly, I exist within a world where I’m talked at, instead of talked to or conversed with.
My own utterances–ideas, sentiments, profundities–are filtered through the egos of others, broken down into what I can only imagine one believes are digestible chunks for someone like me (other), and spoon fed back to me, mere seconds after departing my lips.
Technical terms I introduce in a question are explained and defined for me before the question isn’t answered. My own conclusions are interupted only to be articulated for me. And when I can’t recall the point toward which I struggled because my path was constantly obstructed, it’s because I’m tired. Like a child, I’m told I’m tired.
When I take issue with how something is said, I’m told to worry only about what was said. Because, I suppose, the intrinsic link between the how and what of discourse applies only when they–the them to my other–says so.
Assumptions are made that my time is spent “playing around” and so I should welcome the idea of taking on and picking up the responsibilities of others’ (their “us”).
I smile and nod. Menial tasks are praised. Feats and struggles and my resulting successes are unacknowledged because they were never witnessed because I am invisible.
I want to show support and say hello, but I’m ignored. Look at me, I can’t further their cause. Did I mention I was tired?
Occasionally, one of them–by now it’s clear I am other–makes a joke about my big education and “the big bucks” it makes me. I’m sorry, does my education intimidate you? Obviously, my bank account doesn’t.
But this is a job that affords me more dignity. They use that word a lot and they know not what it means.
I read in a book, or an article, maybe even on a blog, that soul mates are fleeting. The logic was one of purity; it was the same reasoning that once declared: the only reason Romeo and Juliet are bastions of “true love” is because they died before their passion could be swept away by the mundane machinations of time.
Like R & J, soul mates are an ephemeral experience crystallized only by gentle recollections and colored gloriously by violent pangs of loss–never to be subverted by comfort and complacency.
I believe such things. Though, as I convince myself that my heart is not broken, but broken open, I’ve come to know–connaître–the pain that necessitates the soothing sterility of such postulates.