Not me, that’s for sure, I thought to myself upon beginning to read ‘The Dark Side of the Light Chasers’ by Debbie Ford. In this book, she explains why we find ourselves disproportionately angry with the selfishness of a friend, the laziness of a coworker, the arrogance of a family member, or even the rudeness of a stranger; why the same old things get to us so easily, and so intensely; because they are clues to our dark sides – and to the emotions and traits that we fear most in ourselves.
She explains how – consciously or unconsciously – we hide and deny our dark sides, rejecting these aspects of our true natures rather than giving ourselves the freedom to live authentically. Here she shows that it is possible to acknowledge and accept our so-called weaknesses – and that in fact, these qualities may prove to be important, hidden strengths.
She says “You must go into the dark in order to bring forth your light. When we suppress any feeling or impulse, we are also suppressing its polar opposite. If we deny our ugliness, we lessen our beauty. If we deny our fear, we minimize our courage. If we deny our greed, we also reduce our generosity. Our full magnitude is more than most of us can ever imagine.” (From The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, May 1998).
Well, all of this makes perfect sense of course, and is straight from the Jungian concept of the ‘Shadow Self’ which is a well known concept in psychology. We are taught from a young age that only certain personality traits are acceptable or desirable, so we try to deny or repress the parts of ourselves that don’t quite fit the bill. Or so the theory goes anyway.
Reading the book, I found it hard to relate to what it was describing. I am not sure quite why, but I’m pretty confident that I’ve never felt the need to repress any of my ‘bad’ qualities. I am very well aware of what they are, and very aware of how other people react to or feel about them, but I have also always been aware that these qualities have enabled and empowered me throughout my life. For the last 33 years (as of tomorrow) I have principally used my anger, stubbornness, arrogance and coldness as blunt instruments to get whatever I have wanted or where I have wanted to be. And what’s more I have never really tried not to, or felt bad about it. So I wondered what exactly I would learn from this book that was going to be new or useful.
Until I realised that actually, I was looking at it the wrong way around. I live in my ‘shadow’; it’s my comfort zone, it’s my normal ‘self’. Some people lose control when they are angry. For me, my anger makes me feel strong and safe; I never feel more powerful and in control than when I am arguing with someone. My mind is clear and present, focused completely on the moment, my heart is pumping, adrenaline is surging through my limbs making me feel ready to take on anyone or anything in my way, my vision is pin-sharp and I am articulate to the point of sounding as though I’m reciting a pre-prepared script. Good luck to anyone who wishes to take that on; as you can imagine, you will come off worst.
This is something that has proven extremely useful, time and time again. It means I am able to bend most things to my will; if something is not going my way, and it is at the discretion of someone to change or fix it, they will do it for me. Which is what is needed when, for example, it is winter and the heating has been turned off in student halls of residence, the temperature outside is -10 and someone needs to go and demand that we are given heaters or moved to accommodation with satisfactory heating. It’s always good not to freeze to death out of meekness or politeness.
Similarly, my stubbornness knows no bounds. I will simply flat refuse to accept things, or continue to pursue something long after most people would have given up out of exhaustion or to save their own sanity. I have ridiculous reserves of stamina and have been prepared to forego sanity on occasions when it didn’t seem like a necessity. This has been helpful to me in many ways, not least in getting through the EPSO selection tests. The whole process takes this kind of sheer bloody-mindedness, which is why some otherwise highly talented and intelligent individuals will never make it.
What I realised, reading this book, is that I struggle with my lighter side. My so-called ‘better’ qualities. Those are the ones I find hard to accept. Those are the ones that scare me. It’s hard to admit, when you are this ‘hard’ or ‘scary’ person that you have a softer side. I have no problem with caring about people, and no problem with showing it, it’s just that it is a kind of ‘tough love’ which often lacks sensitivity. I can be particularly hurtful and cutting to those closest to me, in the name of honesty, but it’s an honesty that lacks compassion and sometimes lacks understanding. Not because I’m not capable but because I shy away from those things. To understand, and to have compassion, is to allow others to make the ‘wrong’ choices or ultimately to let me down. I think I am starting to see how this works, and I think I have a lot of work to do.