As I mentioned in my last article, I am kicking off a series in time for summer on the shadow or darkside. So, I thought that it would be appropriate in the time of longest light of the year to take a look examining our shadows while outside our days are being filled with sunlight. I hope this is a process of compassion and lightness rather than shame or guilt. So, let’s remove the villainy and cast some illumination on the parts we have historically hidden away.
As a Star Wars fan, like many others, I have always been drawn to the infamous character of Darth Vader. His story shows parallels to our human form. It is a story of grief, loneliness, passion, and anger, where we feel overwhelmed and out of control with life. However, his character was also seen as the fated one to restore the balance in the force, as a being born of light, who moved through darkness and back to the light.
Many of us have had our dark times. They might have shown up as mental health struggles, grief, shame, guilt, addiction, suicidal ideation or attempts, depression, and despair. In these challenging mental gauntlets, we cross where a new hope lies ahead in integrating these spaces with a compass toward greater possibility. In the movies, we see this cinematically. Enter Luke & Leia Skywalker and the community of support as they save the galaxy. In our real lives, it’s not so different; we need a community of others to band with us to help us navigate our darkest times and move us toward our most authentic selves. If you prefer another movie analogy, Lord of the Rings gives us this lesson also. Our community of allies, or in this case, the Fellowship of the Ring, helps our character, Frodo, journey to the edge of darkness and serve as the beacon to come back to.
These are the concepts of all mythology and what famous American mythologist, lecturer, and author Joseph Campbell wrote about when outlining a hero or heroines’ journey. In his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he outlines how a hero leaves a familiar world into one of mystery and uncharted courses where they encounter some superpower and force, and they achieve a victory both within and external: the hero returns with new knowledge and power to bring back to their community.
We also must pass through the edges of Mordor in our lives. We become more whole when we acknowledge that we can feel rage, anger, hate, powerlessness, helplessness, sadness, loneliness, and lost. It is not a place to stay but rather experience and move through. When we can be with the most overwhelming experiences, emotions, and sensations, we expand our capacity to hold, notice and savor the small and beautiful moments of life. We can slow time and delight in a flower blooming, a sun rising or setting, or children’s unabashed laughter.
There are many schools of thought surrounding our inner child work and what Stephen Wolinsky, Ph.D., author, teacher, and collective founder of Quantum Psychology, coined as the “Dark Side of the Inner Child.” He states that in our wounded spaces of childhood trauma, we become stuck in a repeated state of reacting to upsetting situations with the developmental mind space of a child. That might look like adult tantrums, name-calling, hiding, avoiding, procrastinating, and much more. Wolinsky shows that we all operate with many underdeveloped parts of ourselves, inner children stuck in these hypnotized states running on cruise control, reacting to the world. He calls them “schemas.” Alfred Adler, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, calls this natural response safeguarding or creating a safe space for ourselves. Both theories aim to protect oneself from feelings of helplessness, inferiority, and trauma. Unfortunately, these responses often keep us mired in the traumatic physical experience and unaware of the internal war inside. Frequently what happens in these childish states, our darkest parts come forward. We can quickly get stuck in a parenting trap to these little children of overindulging, spoiling, and catering to the little tyrants inside. This shows up in relationships, friendships, and authority figures at work.
Richard Schwartz, the founder of Internal Family Systems, offers one approach to this dilemma. He looked at the relationships and patterns among our inner child parts. He would have us see these children for what they are, engage our wise adult selves, and have us come to them with Compassion, Creativity, Curiosity, Confidence, Courage, Calm, Connectedness, Clarity, Presence, Persistence, Perspective, Playfulness, Patience (8 C’s & 5 P’s.) He observed that when the little kid parts felt secure and relaxed, the clients could engage in more spontaneity, openness, and compassion and exude greater confidence. This more integrated, matured space he called the self. Adler would likely have agreed to develop more appropriate adaptations and support these ”little selves” to mature into healthier spaces.
What does this mean? We are called to see ourselves even in these less mature states and nurture them the way an ideal parent would. From this space, we can re-experience our most upsetting times with a different level of comfort and compassion than our caregivers could afford us at the time. As adults, we have the opportunity and task to love and nurture our most wounded parts and bring them to a more positive and whole experience.
Now let us take a lens back to our character Darth Vader for a moment. Imagine if he could have been acknowledged in his anger, pain, and grief rather than operating out of a tantrum where he helps obliterates nearly all the Jedi. For those who aren’t fans, he lost his mother, from whom he was separated as a young child, and later lost his only love in a spit of rage. Instead of being with the pain, he turned it outward and hurt many others in both situations. What if he had the experience of being held tightly, loved, and nurtured in his deepest pain and had the opportunity to feel connected to his higher values of love. He could have still had an extreme sob while raging with anger and despair, but the feelings may have come to a place of completion. In this space, he could have had more creativity and presence, seeing more hope, light, love, and a sense of purpose to create different experiences for himself and future Jedi. The powerful rage he felt could have been healthily harnessed with intentions of greater social interest and creating a better galaxy for all. That would be an exciting conclusion, in my opinion. What will your conclusion look like?
So, for those who want to stand in the beam of the sun or beacon of the lighthouse, READ ON:
Should you want to take on an assignment, come to the Darkside:
The next time you notice you are feeling highly reactive to something…
- Stop and take a breath.
- Tune into your little kid part.
- Imagine you are holding a little you and listening with love and compassion.
- How can you get that little one’s needs met?
- Is it by creating some safety, security, or comfort?
- What is this little one fighting for?
- Be more mindful this week and see if you can see the little kids at play throughout your day inside yourself.
- Love them.
- Delight in them.
- Help them to soothe and relax so that you can be more present and integrated as the brilliant human you are!
For support in your heroic journey through the dark side, we are here to help! Let us be among your community of support!