“Your life will be transformed when you make peace with your shadow.” – Debbie Ford
For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in personal development. When I was a teenager my Uncle introduced me to the work of Tony Robbins and, although ol’ Tony wasn’t quite my cup of tea, I quickly realized that the world of self-help definitely was. I loved learning how the human brain worked, what made us tick, and most of all, I liked the idea that I could change all the little bits of myself that I didn’t like. I loved that, with a little help, I could be different. Someone better.
Now I know that there likely isn’t a person on the planet who hasn’t struggled with self-acceptance at some point. In fact, I think it is normal for anyone, at any age, to have a personality trait or characteristic that they don’t love about themselves. Perhaps we feel as though we are too opinionated, too strong-willed, too quiet, or too boring. For me, this characteristic has always been my energy level and hyperactive nature (ie. I can be a little too much). I have always been exceptionally enthusiastic and energetic and, as charming as that quality can be, it tends to be best tolerated in small doses. Kind of like blue cheese or kalamata olives.
As a kid, my mom was always telling me to ‘bring it down a notch’ and commenting that I ‘never stopped talking’. (which is true, by the way.) I used to drive teachers up the wall with my chatty, distracting nature. And at times, my excitability could cross the line into rudeness.
Growing up, I became embarrassed and ashamed of my spirited tendencies. Although I had a lot of people delight in my energetic nature, I also knew that I drove a lot of people nuts and I often wished I could reel it in a bit. Tone it down, if you will.
As a young adult, this is something I worked hard on. I often tried to imitate the poised, professional manner that I so admired in my colleagues. I would try to present myself as even-keeled, stoic, level headed, and organized. (I can literally feel anyone I have ever worked with rolling their eyes right now.) Just because I tried, does not mean I was successful.
The thing is, it never worked. The more I tried to deny or hide my excitable nature, the more it would find a way to come out. And often, in even more obnoxious ways than usual. I would get excited and interrupt a client, burst into my boss’s office while they were in a meeting, or drop an enthusiastic F-bomb at the most inopportune times (such as during a moment of silence at a funeral).
It was never pretty and it was always followed by intense feelings of shame. (Gawd, Christine, you are so annoying! WTH?! Pull it together).
What I have since realized is that my problem has never been my excitable nature. The problem has been my attitude towards it.
I was in my late 20’s when I first watched the docu-drama ‘The Shadow Effect’ by Debbie Ford and learned the importance of not only accepting the ‘shadowy’ bits of ourselves, but to find the gifts within them. And that when we fight or deny these traits that are an innate part of who we are, they will find a way to come out anyway, often causing us more grief in the process.
When I reflected on my earlier years, I was able to see that this is exactly what I had been doing: Holding shame around a particular characteristic, trying to hide or ‘fix’ it, and then having it blow up in my face in obnoxious ways. And, when I finally started to accept my energetic nature, and explore it a little bit, I was able to see that it actually holds a lot of gifts. It is part of what makes me good at sales. It helps my writing. I can be lots of fun to be around. And if I had pursued a career in cheerleading, I think I would have done really well. The bottom line is, there are a lot of good points to having the energy of a ferret that is high on methamphetamines. And as it turns out, when kept in check, my energy is one of the things my friends and family love the most about me.
Embracing our shadow isn’t an excuse to be a jerk. I don’t get to run around interrupting people and dropping F-bombs at funerals because I am excitable and hyper. I still need to hold myself accountable and act appropriately. But when I accept all of who I am, and stop pretending to be something I’m not (ie: organized and even-keeled), I open up space for the light to shine in.
Whether our shadowy side is that we are bitchy, opinionated, lazy, or quiet, there are benefits to those traits. But when we deny those bits of ourselves, we miss out on the positive aspects and make the negative ones so much louder.
Self-acceptance isn’t just about accepting the fluffy, easy to manage parts of ourselves. It is accepting the prickly bits, too. And, when we do, we might find that they aren’t so prickly after all. Maybe ‘bitchy’ turns into ‘fierce’, or ‘opinionated’ turns into ‘passionate’. Just like the two sides to a coin, there are two sides to every trait and even the most ‘positive’ attribute can have negative impacts if not kept in check.
Personal development is fantastic and I will likely forever be a self-help junkie. But the very premise of personal development is not to change who we are, but to utilize our unique gifts to the best of our ability. To grow, to expand, to nurture, and to step into our light.