All of us have a dark side. This dark side includes qualities we don’t dare reveal to others. It’s the traits we are ashamed of and embarrassed about. It’s the traits others have rejected. It’s the traits we believe deem us undeserving or unworthy of love.
You may be judgmental, weak, angry, lazy, selfish or controlling. You may hate this about yourself. Or you might’ve buried these traits so deep you don’t even realize they exist.
But embracing these negative qualities actually opens the door to happiness, fulfillment and “true enlightenment,” according to Debbie Ford in her book The Dark Side of the Light Chasers.
Our dark sides are part of who we truly are. By uncovering and embracing our shadow side, we become whole.
“Every aspect of ourselves has a gift. Every emotion and every trait we possess helps show us the way to enlightenment, to oneness,” writes Ford, who was a speaker, teacher and coach.
For instance, Ford shares the story of Steven, a man who was worried about being a “wimp.” When he was five years old, Steven told his father that he was terrified of going on a pony ride. His father replied: “What kind of man are you going to make? You’re nothing but a little wimp, you’re an embarrassment in our family.”
These words stayed with Steven. In fact, he did everything he could to prove he wasn’t weak — from becoming a black belt in karate to lifting weights. He also hated seeing weakness in others. After talking to Ford, however, Steven realized that he was still a wimp in some areas of his life and being a wimp actually helped him.
Being a wimp made him cautious. This not only “kept him out of fights,” Ford writes, but, in college, it also made him pass on going out with his friends because he didn’t want to drive drunk or be in the car with people who were drinking. His friends ended up driving off the road. His closest friend died, and everyone else was seriously injured.
When we don’t own a part of ourselves, it can run our lives. We may try so hard not to show weakness or stupidity or imperfection that we start chasing dreams we don’t even want. We fill our days with empty duties. We become people we don’t even recognize all because we’re trying to prove our worth. According to Ford, “We exhaust our internal resources when we try not to be something.”
In the book, Ford includes exercises to help readers uncover and embrace their dark sides. In one exercise, she suggests imagining that a newspaper article is written about you.
Write down five things you wouldn’t want to be said about you. Next, imagine five things the newspaper could write about you, but it wouldn’t matter to you.
Then ask yourself these questions: “Are the first five things true and the second five untrue? Or, have you decided with the help of your family and friends that the first five things are the wrong things to be, therefore you do not want them said about you?”
Lastly, write down a judgment you hold for each sentence you wrote. Try to pinpoint the time you first made this judgment and where it came from.
Another way to uncover your dark side is by paying attention to the traits that bother you in others. What initially prompted Steven to have his realization about being a wimp was his dislike for another man at Ford’s seminar. “He’s a wimp, and I hate wimps,” he told Ford.
Ford suggests making a list of the traits you dislike or hate in others. Think of a time in your life when you’ve displayed each trait or when someone else thought you did. Explore your judgments about each trait along with your judgments about the people who display this trait.
After uncovering your dark side, consider how these negative traits have been helpful to you. Has your imperfection made you a more compassionate parent? Like Steven, has your cautiousness helped you avoid potentially dangerous situations? Has your “weakness” made you more vulnerable and helped you build a closer bond with your spouse?
Acknowledging our negative traits can be tough. And you might be tempted to berate yourself for these traits. Instead, try to be compassionate. Remember there is no such thing as perfection.
As Ford writes:
We live under the impression that in order for something to be divine it has to be perfect. We are mistaken. In fact, the exact opposite is true. To be divine is to be whole and to be whole is to be everything: the positive and the negative, the good and the bad, the holy man and the devil. When we take the time to discover our shadow and its gifts we will understand what Jung meant by, “The gold is in the dark.” Each of us needs to find that gold in order to reunite with our sacred self.
Embrace your shadow. Let the dark coexist with the light because this is what makes us whole. This is what makes us authentic. This is what makes us human.