Self-Care for the Dark Side

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A year ago, I entered into a deeper self-care journey with a lot of pessimism, criticism, and wariness. I’ve always tended to stay on the jaded side of the road; it felt safer there. Peering out at the world with critical eyes feels powerful; jumping in and being open and vulnerable is scary. And so I would hide behind fear and anger, choosing to isolate instead of engage in order to avoid being hurt. However, as I’ve moved into taking better care of myself, I have discovered that being open and vulnerable can also be powerful. I have more freedom to ask questions, and to learn and grow.

But what to do with that jaded side? It still lives within me, and rears its ugly head more often than I care to admit. I am ashamed of it, embarrassed by my harsh thoughts. Fearful that it will cause heartache in my newly formed relationships. I am angry at it for having so much power over me. I am hurt by it, worried that it represents my true nature, that I will never be free of it.

Because that is the truth. We will never be free of this so-called Dark Side. It lives within all of us, sitting and waiting. It lashes out at the most inopportune times. It frustrates and scares us. And, it protects us.

You read that right. Our Dark Side protects us. It is there for a reason. Within each of us is a child who has been scared, hurt, abandoned, and made to feel ashamed. And our Dark Side is born out of a need to shield ourselves from that pain. Because who wants to feel pain? Our wounds are nursed when we can lash out in anger or judgement; when we can feel powerful instead of powerless.

And yet, in our quest for self-care, we often learn that these emotions are dangerous; they are to be overcome, to be dispelled. Our quest is to be happier, kinder, and more loving. There is no room for darkness in our lives.

I challenge that belief. If we leave a wound to fester, does it not get worse? If we cage an aggressive animal, does it not become more ferocious in its attempts to break free? Our Dark Side is that beast. Ignoring it, caging it, pushing it down will only give it more power over us.

Instead, I propose we embrace it. Hug it. Kiss it. Empathize with it. Give it a name and take it out for coffee. Learn to understand it. Only by understanding can we truly transform its power over us. And we need that power. We need anger and fear; if not for them, we would never leave abusive relationships. We would never make gains in social justice. We would not change for the better. The challenge is to craft our Dark Side into an instrument that can work for us, not against us.

So I encourage you to spend some time with your Dark Side. Take the tools you learn on your self-care journey and use them to implement a care plan for your darker thoughts and feelings. Journal when you feel anger. Ponder the reasons for the judgement that pops into your head. Explore how your Dark Side was created; what did you need protection from? Take a good look at how it is trying to protect you now. Then wrap your arms around it, thank it for its love and concern, and ask it to work with you as you move toward a higher understanding of self-care.

Bio: Erin Ottenwess is a social worker and yoga teacher with a background in solution-focused counseling. As a Life Coach, Erin strives to create a thoughtful and safe space for self-exploration and developing a mind-body connection in order to promote growth and transformation. If you are interested in striking up a conversation about how to make that space happen in your life, get in touch with Erin at erinottenwess@gmail.com.