I think we’re all in the process of building our own narratives at all times. We’re drafting the story of who we are and how we want others to see us. Crafting our image and caring for its upkeep is a full time pre-occupation. Sometimes I wonder if we’re more devoted to what we want others to think we are than to who we actually are – we’re certainly more proud of the version of ourselves we show to others than the one we hide away.
The shadow self – the one we often try to suppress and ignore – sometimes peaks out from time to time. But, I know for me, it’s always a little embarrassing when it does so unexpectedly.
There are times when I’m scared that some of my angry and annoyed reactions are the shadow self (my real self) showing her less than attractive colors and undermining my sense of myself as a good mother. But hating her, that self I hide away and pretend doesn’t exist, doesn’t really help her to be nice when she does come out.
I wonder why we are so afraid to be who we are. I know we’re afraid they won’t like who we really are. Some amorphous they that reflects the judgment and evaluation of those we care most about and even the opinions and estimation of those we only know in passing.
My shadow self, as I call her, is scared and doubts her worth. She feels inadequate and uncertain. Sometimes she feels like an imposter. She’s the little girl striving to please and to be “good”. She worries that she isn’t enough for others and that if she isn’t confident, funny, self-assured, and in control that they won’t want her around. That they won’t love her.
But she’s me and imperfection and self doubt are what let other people love US. The actual us. They’re a way in that the shiny veneer of perfection doesn’t allow.
I remember the first time I apologized to my kids for something I had done that I regretted. I was angry because they were fighting in the back seat when we were driving home from school. I yelled. I’m pretty sure they were scared and upset. I don’t even remember entirely what I said. I was so angry.
And then I realized something. I wasn’t angry. I would have preferred to feel angry. I was actually ashamed. I felt certain that if I was a better mother I wouldn’t have kids who would need to fight over whatever they were fighting about. After the shame came the guilt. A better mother wouldn’t get mad at her kids for pushing her inadequacy button. Would she? Then came the desire to ignore it and hope it went away, the kids – after all, as kids do, had moved on completely after a few minutes of stunned silence.
But I knew that I needed to apologize.
I explained that I was sorry I had gotten angry, but that I was actually angry with me and feeling worried that I had done something that caused them to fight. That my anxiety about whether I had asked too much of them to take piano lessons after school had overwhelmed me. That it was normal to fight with one’s sister.
They accepted my apology with better grace than I usually accept apologies. They offered hugs and reassurances. Kids seem to have an infinite capacity to love their parents, even when their mother is trying desperately to stop from focusing on the the self that she believes is unlovable (usually by making myself into the very thing I fear – unlovable).
My shadow self deserves love. She’s doing her best. Not THE OBJECTIVE best, but her very best. She loves her family and her life, she just sometimes worries that she doesn’t deserve it. She just sometimes worries that it could all slip away. She deserves reassurance because no one should have to experience that fear. It’s terrible.
I’ve tried to incorporate this realization into my work with clients. That they have these shadow selves that they hide, the selves that are their real, fragile, scared humanity. It’s that humanity that needs to be reached and reassured. That needs to be seen and accepted. Incorporated and loved.
It starts with doing it for ourselves. With accepting ourselves and our “worst” parts. Knowing that they are what make us human and real.