I have been wanting to write a blog post about the “shadow self,” but don’t feel I have the skills, knowledge, or insight to do it. Still, it demands tackling, so here is a wee effort, to be considered unfinished until I have the requisite skills, knowledge, and insight.
When we have a close encounter with a psychopath, and once we’ve managed to pin the label on them, one of the first questions we ask ourselves as victims is, “Could I be a psychopath, too?” Many authors on the topic of psychopathy opine, “if you think you’re a psychopath, you probably aren’t” — because psychopaths don’t care what they are. In fact, the self-avowed psychopaths who have written books and created websites generally think they are superior to people who are bothered by a little thing called conscience, and empathy, and doing the right thing.
This is all well and good, as far as it goes, in my opinion, but for anyone inclined to self-introspection, it’s a more daunting proposition. Few of us have reached sainthood, or can look back and not know in our hearts that we’ve made mistakes along the way, hurt people, made bad choices.
Before we break away from the psychopath that has allured us, we desperately want that soul mate we thought we’d found in the beginning to reappear. We don’t want our dreams to come tumbling down. We were lied to, abused, projected upon, blamed, given large helpings of word salad. We were told that everything that went wrong was our fault, that we deserve what we’ve received, and sadly, we believe it. “If only I’d done this…” or “if only I hadn’t done that….” s/he’d still love me.
The famous psychologist, Carl Jung, from whence we get Jungian psychology wrote about the “shadow.” All of us have darker aspects to our selves, whether conscious or not. The reason I’m not qualified to write this post is because I’m not entirely familiar with Jung’s work. But from what I can glean, to be healthy, whole, and functioning people, we need to become conscious of those darker impulses and integrate them into the totality of who we are. Otherwise, kept unconscious, the dark aspects come to rule the roost, and if we are not already psychopaths, we become more like them. Scary, indeed!
Again, a little bit about my personal history… When my daddy died, I was left an only child to be raised by my mother who was often a “not nice person.” For most of my adult life, I have suspected that she was having an affair at the time my dad died. I’ll never know the truth on that one. But shortly after my dad’s death, my mother did begin dating another man, named “Red.” Red was the complete opposite of my kind, sweet, hard-working, nurturing father.
Red was an unemployed alcoholic. Every evening, after school was done, my mother would take me to a seedy bar to sit with Red while he swilling Budweiser. I was certainly the only child in the place, and 99% of the time, my mother was the only female there, aside from the bartender.
One weekend, my mother drove to pick up Red — who didn’t even own an automobile — to take him to our house for dinner. My mother was driving the car, and I was sitting on Red’s lap in the front seat. As we crossed the bridge over the Arkansas River dividing Little Rock from North Little Rock, Red slipped his hand up the legs of the shorts I was wearing. He poked and gouged at me in places he shouldn’t have.
I remember looking over at my mother for protection, but she studiously kept her gaze straight ahead, on the road. Yet we were sitting right beside her, so she could not have helped but to have seen. She ignored. I didn’t know what to do. I wiggled and tried to get off Red’s lap, but he would not let me go, and there wasn’t much room for wiggling in the front seat of that Chevrolet Bel Air. Eventually he stopped his unseemly gouging, because what else could he do?
My drawing of the scene, done as an adult:
Even though I’m sure now my mother must have seen, I didn’t know that as a child. So after Red was chauffeured back home, I told my mother what had happened. It’s hard to remember the details now… My mother did confront him, “If you ever do that again…” But she continued to see Red for several years, and wanted to marry him. Until he left her and moved to California. Even then, the only trip or vacation we took as mother and child was to chase after him, but he still didn’t want her back.
Many other difficult things happened to me while I was growing up, and my mother protected me from none of them. In fact, quite a few of the unseemly things were done by her to me. So at a young age, I began to pray to God at night, “Please don’t let me be a bad person.” So desperately did I not want to hurt other people the way I’d been hurt, or to be hurt by other people in turn, that I adopted invisibility as a coping strategy. My young mind thought that if I remained as invisible and as unobtrusive as possible, I would never hurt anyone, and maybe, maybe, maybe, no one would hurt me.
I was wrong.
We can’t live in this life by being invisible. Sometimes our very invisibility hurts others and it certainly doesn’t protect us. By the time I met my wife, I thought I was a fairly decent person. I thought I’d done few wrongs on the grand scale. I still think that’s true for the most part.
But up until I met my wife, my shadow side was far too unconscious. By dint of what I’ve gone through, I’ve had no choice but to do a “searching and fearless moral inventory,” one of the 12 steps in most such programs. I find that I do like to laugh at risque jokes from time to time. I find that now that I’ve started smoking at age 53, kicking the habit isn’t as easy as one might think. Doing the right thing in all circumstances at all times is no simple task. I make more mistakes than I would like to acknowledge.
So the gift of my close encounter with a psychopath is being forced to become more consciously aware of my “shadow self,” and to integrate it with the good and wholesome parts of me, the parts I got from my dad. I believe this is a part of healing — I’ll let you know when I get there. Healing is not about the destination; it’s about the journey.
See the Wikipedia article on the “shadow” here.
Because I love Robbie Williams…
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