I worked all last week on a blog about dealing with difficult people. It’s a subject close to home for me, and I struggled, because one of the difficult people in my life is someone I long to care for and enjoy a healthy relationship with. She and I are both failing miserably, and it’s having a negative impact on the people who love us both. I spent the week mired in research, trying to find a positive spin for my topic, and subsequently missed last Thursday’s blog post, and I apologize for the omission.
Interestingly, the further I got into the research, the more frequently I encountered the topic of “shadow self.” Our shadow selves are those dark and hidden places within us that we have refused to shine light on, for one reason or another. Everything that has happened to us in our life…every hurt, every loss, every shame, every personality trait that we have rejected or suppressed…go into our shadow self. Parts of us that we believe are unlovable, unacceptable, dangerous or taboo. It all forms what Jungian psychoanalysts call the “Shadow Self.”
Most of us prefer to suppress, deny and disown our shadow. David Richo, a psychotherapist who has written several books on this topic, calls our shadow self the FACE—Fear, Attachment, Control, and Entitlement—that we show to feel safe. Our ego is ruled by our FACE and it’s our way of disavowing our vulnerability to our conditions.
As long as we are caught in the dramas of fear and desire, we are stuck in the shadow of ego and not able to access the powers of fearless love.
Why do certain things and people upset us so much? The neurotic, inflated ego, the shadow side of the healthy ego, urges us to control others, place ourselves first at the expense of others, or punish them for daring to cross us. This ego is what makes us believe we are entitled to an exemption from the conditions of human existence. It is an arrogance that is full of the fear of grieving losses and accepting setbacks.
- *Am I seeing a mirror image of myself? Am I like that driver sometimes? Is it in me to treat people that way? Do I refuse to see and consider the validity of diverse points of view on a topic? Our negative shadow contains all that we strongly detest in ourselves but cannot see. We tend to see this shadow of ourselves in others, detesting in them exactly what we disown in us. The work is to ask ourselves if what strikes us so deeply about others’ behavior is the clue to a similar trait in us. That’s the “F” in FACE.
- Is my arrogant ego indignant? “How dare she talk to me that way? I’ll be damned if I let her get away with this. I’ll get back at her somehow.” These statements tell us that the entitled controlling ego is enraged at not getting its way. The inflated ego has a dogged dedication to the promotion of its own self-interest, even to the detriment of others, and sometimes even itself. At any slight it becomes aroused, puffs up to full mast, and starts aggressively poking. Like the erect penis, the neurotic ego has no conscience or clarity and does not respond to rationality. This is the “E” in FACE.
The work here is to acknowledge this and forego any punitive reactions. This requires a pause between action and reaction. Such mindfulness grants us the freedom to choose a response from a vast repertory, rather than revert to the automatic settings of ego.
- The curtness you met with today may trigger a reminder of a similar wound from the past. You feel hurt and powerless, a signal that your inner child has come to the forefront of your consciousness, to show you where you still feel hurt or afraid. This is the “A” reaction in FACE. The work is to grieve the past hurt by letting feelings about it arise, feel it fully, acknowledge it as legitimate, and then consciously decide it will not prevent you from getting on with your life.
Are any of the following sentences a characteristic of you? Do you know others who fit this list?
- * Everyone has to acknowledge my superiority
- * If I am wronged, someone will pay for it
- * Rules don’t apply to me
- * How dare you question me?
- * It won’t be done right unless I do it
- * I deserve a special deal
- * I become explosive if crossed
- * I’m never wrong
- I cannot tolerate having to ask or learn from anyone
- How dare you not realize:
You have to do it my way
You cannot override my decisions, think for yourself, or act on your own if you want to be close to me.
- I can’t be shown up or shown to be wrong
- I have to be excused for every mistake
- I may be highly insulted by the least slight
- I have to get the last word in. Or storm out
- I can make demands on you but you cannot make demands on me.
- I have to be loved, be respected, and given preferential treatment by everyone, all the time, no matter what! Otherwise, I’ll have to get back at you.
Richo points out the words have to and how they reveal the compulsive element of ego reactions. This is the opposite of the pause that makes free choice and new alternatives possible.
The way to tell if the sentences listed above are operative in you is to ask, “Can I take what happens simply as information?” If so, you can speak up assertively, refuse to accept abuse, and still feel compassion for people who believe they have to be mean. Events will elicit feelings that you express, but you can let go of them soon and move on. You are not so strongly affected that you lose your own groundedness or boundaries, and you hold no grudges. Furthermore (and I personally think most important), you can receive feedback and even criticism as information rather than as a threat.
Your healthy ego may be rankled by an injustice, but you assess your power to handle it and act accordingly. You see a need and mindfully devise a resource to meet it. Out of control or inappropriate reactions point to where your work is. In fact, this is how overreactions to others can become valuable information about yourself.
Thank you, David Richo, for giving me a more in-depth perspective of the shadow self. I realize now that I have some “A” traits in my FACE to work on, some of them newly recognized, some well-known but still prickly.
Is there a part of this article that rings especially true with you? Or do you have someone in your life that can check off every one of those “have to” phrases? If so, tune in next Thursday. I’ll be back to tackle dealing with difficult people topic, with Mr. Richo’s help.
Blessed Be, and Happy Saint Pats!