I have heard it said over and over in the personal growth world that in order to reach your potential, you must “embrace your dark side,” or “shadow.” What the heck does this mean? I thought for years. What dark side?
Little by little I would step a toe into what I thought was my “dark side,” but I was navigating through uncharted territory and I would inevitably turn back.
Instead, I found my way to positive affirmations through the wise women teachers Louise Hay, Anodea Judith, and Caroline Myss. This seemed like a gentler approach to waking my potential. I liked the idea of overriding old programming that said, “You can’t do it,” “You’re not good enough,” and “You’re just a girl,” with “I can do it!” “I am good enough,” and “I am proud to be a girl!” This all seemed liked a worthy pursuit and revealed hints of working, but I have to admit never felt like I was getting down to the root of things.
Then more recently I heard someone say, “If you want to manifest your full potential you have to reclaim the parts of yourself that you’ve denied, hidden or given away to others.” Could they be referring to our “shadow” I wondered?
The person who said this was Debbie Ford, author, teacher and faculty at the Chopra Center in La Jolla, California. “We might not like all of our disowned parts, but acknowledging them to ourselves (and maybe even others) is a huge step toward owning our potential,” she says.
But how do we figure out what are the disowned parts of ourselves?
One method, according to Debbie, is to first look at all the qualities that upset you in other people. The idea here is that what we dislike in others is actually a projection of the parts of ourselves that we have disowned.
I thought to myself…how many times have I called someone (in my mind) – lame, boring, phony, annoying, overbearing, stingy, greedy, manipulative, mean – and a whole host of other “undesirable” adjectives? Was I actually pointing a finger at myself?
“If we embrace it internally, we no longer have to create it externally.”
— Debbie Ford
Although skeptical at first about owning things for myself that I did not like about other people, I decided to consider Ms. Ford’s idea.
Here’s a method she uses in her seminars:
She asks participants to write down five words that they wouldn’t want used to describe them in the newspaper. Once they’ve got these words, she has them partner up for a mirroring exercise that looks like this: Say one of your charged words was “shameful,” you would look your partner in the eyes and say, “I am shameful.” Your partner would mirror back to you, “You are shameful.” Then you would repeat, “I am shameful,” and your partner would repeat, “You are shameful.” This continues until it no longer matters to you if you are shameful or if you are called shameful. You work with your partner until each one of you no longer has any emotional charge on any of your five “disowned” words. Wow, could this really work?
Having been a part of the affirmation generation, I wondered if by going around saying, “I am shameful,” — would actually be a wiring recipe for negative self-imaging and quite the opposite of helping someone expand into their potential.
Apparently not, according to Debbie, “Just saying the word out loud, over and over, breaks down our resistance to being called that word and to having that quality.” In other words, it loses its energy and grip on our life.
I haven’t taken one of her seminars yet, but I went ahead and tried another method she suggested. You can do it on your own. The old stand-by … go to the mirror and say the words to yourself out loud. I did just that and while unsure at the start, I was surprised to feel the words lose their charge and felt a sense of liberation!
What are five things you wouldn’t want to see written about you in the newspaper? Are you willing to own them? (Or at least look in the mirror and say them over and over?)
Tabby Biddle is a writer and editor specializing in helping women entrepreneurs and emerging authors get their message out. Additionally she is the founder of Lotus Blossom Style, a yoga lifestyle company created to support women in their personal transformation. She lives in Santa Monica, CA.