Do you have a committed witness?
Wait, let’s back up…do you know what I mean by “a committed witness”…?
We all need a witness – someone who will give us the space and security to share our fears, flaws, and mistakes…out loud, without judgment.
But it’s hard to admit the need – and sometimes harder still to find that one, neutral set of ears to fulfill that need. I can help with that…
The (necessary) art of being emotionally naked.
It takes tremendous courage to bare your emotions to someone. It’s vital that you make the effort, though, to someone trustworthy. It doesn’t have to be your spouse or your best friend. It can be a therapist, counselor, coach – and in case you’re wondering, even coaches need coaching!
You have to express the ways in which you perceive intimate relationships, your career, your concerns about money or your health, the daily travails of parenting – sometimes parenting your children and sometimes parenting your parents.
This will require revealing your ‘dark side’ – what I prefer to characterize in my practice as your “Shadow Self”.
We all have a Shadow…and fearing it puts us in a self-imposed prison, stunting our emotional growth and locking up the potential for authentic, honest relationships.
We need to get naked and show our Shadow Self to somebody.
Me and my Shadow.
I can’t emphasize this enough.
Even if you don’t find a committed witness, you have to give yourself permission to acknowledge the mistakes you’ve made in the past…without shame and self-recrimination.
This includes your Shadow. None of us is perfect. We’ve all made mistakes. I’ve made some doozies. But crucifying yourself, hiding those mistakes – and allowing them to haunt you – undermines your self-confidence. And that’s the biggest mistake you can make.
Your Shadow is your constant companion – so why not strike up a friendship? You can start by saying, “I know we’re flawed, but we’re still loveable…and we’re a work in progress.”
How liberating would that be?!
Here are the steps you can take to build a solid friendship with your Shadow. Ideally, you’ll have a committed witness to guide you through this process, but if you haven’t found one just yet, don’t let it stop you from diving in.
1. Review your internal narrative.
Take a good, hard, honest look at the long-held stories you’ve kept in your head and heart. The ones that produce guilt, shame, and fear.
I would suggest that keeping those thoughts locked up and silenced has magnified them beyond their actual harm on your worth in the world…to your family, your friends, your colleagues. They’ve been blown out of proportion, pushed and pulled, stretched and reshaped, by time and the daily flotsam of life.
Clinging to those memories once the moment has passed simply doesn’t serve us.
2. Flip your faults on their head.
This is tough to do, but will give you a sense of freedom and power…
You’ve been looking at some of your faults, idiosyncrasies, and past mistakes as evidence that you are lesser than the people around you. You’ve perceived them as traits in the ‘deficit column’ of your self-assessment balance sheet.
What if you saw those hiccups in your personality as assets? As opportunities to learn and grow? To be vulnerable and compassionate toward someone else who is also feeling inadequate?
Simply put: give yourself a break!
3. When in doubt, write it out.
I strongly recommend that you keep a journal, especially if you’re talking regularly with a therapist, a trusted friend, a spiritual advisor, a life coach. Not because it will “speed up the pace” of a conversation with them, but so you can revisit feelings you had in a past moment that you might have already glossed over and assigned to your Shadow to manage.
Reviewing those letters to yourself can trigger meaningful conversations…sometimes even more productive conversations because the ‘trigger’ has passed and you can view the sorrow or worry with a little calmer, distance, and perspective. You can really get naked with that moment and talk it through. And then put it in the past where it belongs.
We’ve all suffered loss, committed blunders stumbled and recovered…we all limp along sometimes. We all need a witness to those blunders, those stumbles, those seemingly unforgivable mistakes that dampen our souls.
Would you like to explore your Shadow? I’ve got tools and resources to help you start that journey, contact me. It’s a lifelong adventure…and worth the effort!
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This article was originally published in February 2017 and has been updated for 2020.