Monday, December 4, 2017

Our Shadow Sides and Trust

First off, what exactly do I mean by "shadow side"?  This is a part that lives within each of us which is largely unconscious and not entirely known, even to ourselves.  Qualities, needs, desires, temperaments and capacities within all of us that make experiencing pain in close relationships inevitable.  How then, can we possibly trust within our close relationships if simultaneously we are to embrace and acknowledge the existence of these more challenging and dark aspects to each person as well?

In life, betrayal and hurt are inevitable.  This includes within close, personal, intimate relationships (platonic or romantic).  I know, bummer, right?  I imagine many people upon reading such a sentiment might be thinking things along the lines of, well then what's the point of having relationships if I am just going to get hurt anyway?  Or, if someone hurts you, then they aren't worth maintaining a relationship with.

Faulty, unrealistic thinking on both accounts.  Here's why.

We all, each of us, have awesome qualities and lightness within ourselves. Simultaneously, we each, all of us, have less favorable traits and darkness inside as well.  Our shadow side, if you will.  This is to be human.  And this existence of a "shadow side" within people is what ensures the inevitability of our being hurt in close personal relationships.

So, you might be wondering, if betrayal is inevitable and everyone is going to hurt me anyway, how can I possibly trust anyone?  And then, what's the point of having relationships?

First, trust takes time to build, as most of us know.  Its built via both action and word.  Some people move quicker into trusting than others.  Neither approach is right or wrong.  We all have different temperaments based on our childhoods, our own personal backgrounds and life experiences, personalities, the values we have adapted, life lessons we have learned along the way, etc.

We all have a shadow side.  Meaning, not just weaknesses/negative traits, but by "shadow," referring to needs, qualities and capacities inside each of us that are not fully known even to ourselves.  Sometimes, these shadowy aspects will express themselves without our care, sensitivity or sense of responsibility.  This could be things like: anger, vengeance, selfishness, jealousy, resentment, fear, or meanness.  Or, this can also be things like our need to feel free, important, powerful or beautiful.

Attempting to make these shadow qualities go away or promising not to ever express these parts of ourselves is an impossibility.  We cannot promise to be something that is a part of us.  That resides in all of us.  Especially when often, we are barely conscious of these parts.  Trying to control our own or other peoples shadows, is suppressive, likely to lead to disillusionment, and is destined to fail.  This can even lead to an explosion of these qualities in unexpected or more problematic ways.

This is not to say that people should be permitted or excused in acting in horrible, perpetually hurtful ways, such as intentionally harming others, abusing, etc.  Instead, the point is that people will make mistakes and missteps.  They will screw up, have bad moments.  Its part of being human.  Sometimes, this can be as simple as running late to meet a friend, or saying something uncouth that hurts someone's feelings.  It might mean spacing a friends birthday, or having to cancel plans which ends up letting a person down.  This can range to things like flinging hurtful words at someone you love in a fit of anger, or shutting someone out when really, you want to let them in.  It could mean a person agrees to be a certain kind of partner and then later learning they have needs or desires they no longer can suppress or accommodate.  It can mean cheating, not being there when someone needs you, the list goes on of ways that people can betray or hurt one another.

Important note: There are of course, breaches or hurts that cannot (or should not) necessarily be repaired.  I am not advocating otherwise.  It depends on both the specifics of the breach, and the nature of your relationship with the involved person.  This is not a suggestion to allow others to hurt you (or, to allow your hurting others) and to just "work it out," "let it go, "or continually forgive.  You alone will know if the bridge of that specific connection between you and this other person is irreparably broken, which it may be.  Without acting impulsively, trust yourself and your intuition to act accordingly.

That aside, how can we deal with this aspect of relationships and life?  Knowing betrayal and being hurt/let down in relationships is unavoidable?

Get to know yourself well.  Especially the sides your may not like, or that you know are your "shadows."  Additionally, get to know this part of your partner as well.  Because ignoring the shadow of the person you're in a relationship with is extremely common, especially in the beginning of the relationship.  Putting our best selves forward can inadvertently hide our darker sides.  This is precarious doings though, as it can lead to a lot of disappointment, disillusionment and sadness later on, when such an illusion is shattered. 

Thus, its important to make a conscious effort to explore, be open to learning about, and even discussing these parts of both ourselves and others to whom we are close.  Pretending or hoping these sides of ourselves and others do not exist is a fantasy, its inauthentic and inaccurate, and a recipe for disheartenment later on.  Instead, know these parts exist in everyone.  Approach such a mindset with bravery and a sense of openness and a wish to understand.

"Trust" that you and your partner really do have these shadow sides/qualities, and that they will sometimes express themselves.  Thus, expecting your partner to ever hold them in and never let you down is an unrealistic illusion.  When you accept and know this, its far more likely you will be able to 1. transform and grow through hurts together and 2. have an authentic, real relationship based on truth and depth.  Attempting to be perfect, both expecting your partner to be and of yourself, is likely to lead to a stressful, tense, disappointing relationship over the long term, as this isn't possible and perfection doesn't exist.

Trust, in reality then, is built on a kind of deep honesty of both who you are and who the other person really are.  Its built with an openness and bravery with regards to the approach of not just our lightness and best selves, but equally to our "shadow" sides and darkness's too.  Its knowing there will be points that your partner will disappoint or even hurt you, but trusting in the depth of your connection enough that you will navigate through it together.

Lastly, know that over time, you can respond and take steps in the relationship after hurts and betrayal has occurred.  This takes a novel kind of trust- the trust in ourselves to be aware of our hurts, to express those hurts, and to address the injury/breach with our partner.  This means essentially saying "I trust that there are times you will hurt me, and that I will hurt you.  I even trust that sometimes this hurt will be a breach of an agreement we have.  But I also trust that we can take steps to address these hurts/breaches, and even turn the process into one of strengthening our relationship and being even closer."

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