Embracing Both Light and Dark
Many women have asked me to write their stories after reading my memoir, Unbridled, and Wounded Warrior, Wounded Wife. Writing these books taught me the healing power of storytelling. While it is sometimes challenging to be honest and raw about aspects of our journey, the more we open up the better we can see our lives from a different perspective and make clearer decisions going forward. Putting our experiences into words transforms and heals.
With that in mind, I'm launching this series of posts on the power of storytelling. Every journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step. Let’s begin writing the stories of our lives whether we publish them or not. In August, I'll be leading a writing workshop for the wives of wounded warriors in partnership with Hearts of Valor, and will dig even deeper into these themes! If you're interested in attending, you can apply here to join Hearts of Valor.
But for now, let's talk about the importance of embracing your shadow self as you explore your story.
Without darkness, how would we see the stars?
Some of the strongest forces in our lives push us toward goodness, being good, striving to be full of light and hope and positivity. We hear these messages from our parents, our teachers, spiritual leaders, writers and philosophers. And of course striving to be optimistic, kind, forgiving, and selfless is admirable and important.
But we all have a shadow side, an inner darkness. And denying its existence is just as unhealthy as allowing it to rule us every hour of every day.
Leading a healthy, fulfilling emotional life isn't about forcing happiness. It's about finding balance between joy and sadness, peace and anger, light and dark.
My own fascination with archetypes is what drove me to name my foundation for four powerful ideals that reside within every woman: Mother, Lover, Warrior, Sage. Renowned psychologist Carl Jung's fascination with archetypes drove his entire body of work, much of which encouraged people to explore and embrace their shadow selves. He believed that every person is a synthesis of contradictory attitudes, that we all possess opposing traits and the tension between them is what causes us to act. Many of us know our own faults, the parts of our personality that seem negative, even destructive. But without those traits, we would not be ourselves.
Jung once said he thought his worst trait was obstinacy, but acknowledged that without that trait, he would never have achieved so much. His stubbornness made him relentless, ambitious, curious, and driven—all things that helped him become successful.
As you begin to tell your own story, consider your shadow self. Remember that negative traits can have positive outcomes, and that your supposed “faults” are essential to your true self. Let's look at some journaling and meditation exercises that can help you re-cast your own inner darkness.
Journaling exercise 1: Balancing the negative
Make a list of your own personality traits that feel negative. Focus on the ones that you believe are keeping you from achieving your full potential or blossoming into your true self.
Then go down the list and identify which traits are driven by logic, which ones are driven by fear, and which ones might be a bit of both.
The purpose of this exercise is to understand what is keeping you from your true purpose. To name it, claim it, and find ways to move forward mindfully. Perhaps your need for stability is preventing you from chasing a creative dream, or your feelings of inadequacy are hold you back from becoming a bold leader. You won't achieve those goals by eradicating the darkness. Your challenge is to integrate the two selves, find ways to turn those “weaknesses” into strengths. It's the opposing pull between the two selves—the stability-lover and the creative, the timid one and the leader—that gives you the momentum to act. In fact, without the traits that appear to be “holding you back,” you might not be capable of identifying why a certain goal is so important to you.
How can you leverage those “negatives”? How can you tap into the internal tension between light and dark to propel yourself forward? Write down any thoughts or ideas that come to mind.
Journaling exercise 2: Giving voice to your inner desires
Change can be frightening, but without it we stagnate. And your inner self knows this, and has been nudging you toward change, whether you realize it or not. Take a few moments to center yourself in a still, calm place, then answer these questions:
- What tiny hints or quiet voices have been reaching you from your own unconscious mind? What are they saying? What changes do they want you to make?
- Has this happened in the past? What happened when you ignored these internal signals?
- Are you living the life that is right for you? Or are you living a life that someone else imagined for you that fails to sync with your own soul's purpose?
When we feel we aren't living our true life, we often cast about for someone to blame. Parents and spouses are easy targets, since their needs and desires have such immense impact on our own. Their voices may shout down our own inner voices, and cause us to be delayed on our journey. But delay and abandonment are not the same thing. If you've been paused because of other voices, other desires, remember that you can begin your journey again as soon as those voices hush and you feel ready to continue.
Journaling exercise 3: Reasons and fears
Write down something you've desired or dreamed of doing for a long time, but have hesitated to really pursue. Underneath this, make two headings: Legitimate reason, and Fear speaking. Consider your reasons for inaction, and be honest about which falls into which category.
You may find that some of your reasons are linked to other people in your life, that you've not taken action because you worried that doing so would hurt someone you love. It's true that following our inner guides may hurt those close to us, at least temporarily. But it's much easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, and most families have an easy time forgiving happy, fulfilled human beings. When we walk our walk, the Universe supports us … and in the end, so do our loved ones. Even if they misunderstand or resist at the start.
It's a trap to let that fear of hurting others stop us. When we fall into that trap, we fool ourselves into believing that other people are standing in our way. The truth is, with rare exceptions, the only person to blame for not living our bliss or listening to our inner voice is ourselves.
Mediation exercise 4: Seeing your shadow self
Create a visualization of your own dark side. Pick something resonant and conceptual; an animal, bird, archetype, or object that resonates with you.
Face your shadow form in whatever shape it takes. Try to become comfortable with its presence. Then ask the question, “What is the shadow side of my soul?” Write this question down, then write absolutely anything that comes to your mind immediately afterwards. Don't judge yourself, just let the words come.
When you've finished, read over your messages from your dark self. Say aloud, “I accept this part of myself without judgment. Though I choose to stand in the light, I will listen to the voice of my shadow and learn.”
Your shadow is you
Remember that the darkness within you is as essential to your story as the light. Ignore the shadow, and it will start coming out sideways. You're better off to look it in the face, accept its role in your journey, and make peace with the natural conflicts within.
And if you are the wife of a wounded warrior yourself and would like to share your story in person with other spouses, I would love for you to apply here to attend SPA Day in April! By opening up to others you will heal yourself, connect with others to feel less alone, and help those around you begin the healing process.
Can't wait to share more on the power of storytelling with you next week!