This article is written by depth psychology based emotional health life coach Diana Deaver and is copyrighted. Please contact Diana if you wish to publish or use this article in your own writings. Diana offers online and in-person life coaching sessions to individuals desiring a deeper exploration of their psyche. See more of her articles here and youtube here.
This article explores the Jungian archetype of the shadow and the complex of the ego from a perspective of their function as aspects of the human psyche. Within are also observed the emotional and experiential manifestation of the ego and the shadow in everyday life and how their manifestation influences the process of self-development. Depending on how it is engaged with and related to the ego can be experienced as a grounding beacon of consciousness or a controlling dictator-like force. Similarly, the shadow can be encountered as a temporary respite from what is unbearable or the repressed evil force that demands to be acknowledged. Interactions with the ego and the shadow are a normal and emotionally vivid part of an individual’s psychic life. While observing their influence with complete detachment is not possible due to their very function in the psyche, the more their dynamics are understood, the more functional the entire psychic system can become.
The psyche, as described by Carl Jung, one of the founding fathers of depth psychology, is the human functioning system that encompasses the conscious mind with its thoughts and feelings and the unconscious mind with its instincts, archetypes, and dreams. The function of the human psyche as a whole is to bring into manifestation the totality of a person with their individuality and uniqueness.
The term ego can sometimes have a bad connotation in the modern new-age language. Due to the important work of spiritual leaders such as Erckhart Tolle, the ego is often seen as the selfish, proud side of humanity that causes unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and discontent.
In depth psychology the ego is seen differently. The ego represents an individual’s ability to be anchored in a state of consciousness. As one of the organs of the psyche, some of the ego’s main functions is to give meaning to information “of a personal nature” (2014, loc. 993) that arises into awareness, to integrate this knowledge into consciousness and to offer direction and stability to daily life. The ego is responsible for creating a sense of safety or groundedness, for offering the necessary focus and drive and to make plans and execute them. All of the functions of the ego refer to the conscious aspect of the mind. Because the ego uses categories and labels to achieve its role, it can often become too rigid and too set in a particular way, neglecting and omitting other vital parts of the psychic system. The common phrase “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” referring to someone who cannot be inspired to change reflects the way the ego can become inflexible and closed to newness. What is rejected by the ego goes into the realm of the shadow.
The shadow is an archetype of the psyche whose function is to temporarily obscure hard to process psychic content. An archetype is a repeating pattern that is tied in with a particular human instinct. It is common in all humans to tend to hide and repress what they think they don’t like. But every now and then it is helpful to have one’s old ways challenged in order to reevaluate and rediscover parts of oneself one deems as worthy of hiding. All archetypes have a positive side and a negative side, or better said a balanced aspect and an imbalanced aspect. The ego and the shadow contribute to keeping each other in balance. The shadow challenges the ego by bringing to the surface repressed unconscious material and the ego can learn to relate to the shadow in a new and healthier way.
Even though both the ego and the shadow are parts of the psyche, there are some important differences between them. The ego is a complex and the shadow is an archetype. The ego focuses on what is conscious while the shadow contains what is mainly unconscious. The shadow can be both individual and collective, while the ego is only personal. Despite their differences, the ego and the shadow are strongly interconnected. The totality of the psyche known as The Self will use interactions between the two to achieve its goal of integration. The more is integrated of the personal shadow the better the entire psychic system will function.
Jung defines the ego as “a complex of ideas which constitutes the centre of my field of consciousness and appears to possess a high degree of continuity and identity.” (Psychological Types, CW 6, para. 706). The ego is the receiver and sorter of psychic and somatic material (Jung, C.G. Aion p3). The ego collects past experience, draws conclusions about the present and makes decisions about the future. It is what allows knowledge to be integrated. Through the ego, consciousness is expanded. In this way, the ego can be vital for the ultimate goal of the psyche, which is to become aware of, acknowledge, accept and integrate all aspects of the psyche.
The ego’s focus often centers on questions such as “who am I?” and “how do I fit into this world?”. The answers to such questions may change frequently over a lifetime as life experiences happen and are processed. To create such answers the ego takes the information it receives through the body and mind and creates definitions, fundamental beliefs, and values. Then it takes these mental concepts and uses them to reveal and represent itself to the world as a unique personal identity.
In an attempt to categorize and structure everything it perceives, the ego will identify with anything that is personally known or experienced: failures, successes, experiences, feelings, etc. It is common when reading someone’s biography to come across a list of labels: “I’m a mother, a wife, a seeker, etc”. This reflects the ego’s way of identifying with past events no matter what aspect of life they come from and whether they are labeled as positive or negative. People will claim they are “an alcoholic” or “a cancer survivor”. The ego is what usually dictates what follows after “I am” and also after “what I do”. Its role in the psyche is also to aid in making choices and facing the consequences of those choices. The problem with most of the ego created identifications is that they only take into account what has been seen and understood or what is currently is under the light of awareness, and what is under control through action.
The ego is blind to what exists outside its awareness and its consciousness. Because of that, it can forget about the inner realm, about what is unknown or hidden. Life direction, even when seen as successful by external standards, if it is not aligned with inner sources it will be only serving one part of the whole. Such satisfaction will be short-lived. Partial functioning is not sustainable long term and usually gives rise to concerning psychological symptoms such as chronic dissatisfaction, loss of enthusiasm, depression or anxiety.
Jung reminds us of the dangers of only tending to the external life: “although a disciplined consciousness is necessary for the performance of civilized activities (we know what happens if a railway signalman lapses into daydreaming), it has the serious disadvantage that it is apt to block the reception of impulses and messages coming from the center.” (Jung, Man and his symbols loc 3218) Without taking into consideration the unconscious, the one-sided ego-driven activity will, in time, become either exaggerated and dictatorial or empty of vitality and meaning. Jung further explains: “it is in the nature of the conscious mind to concentrate on relatively few contents and to raise them to the highest pitch of clarity. A necessary result and precondition is the exclusion of other potential contents of consciousness. The exclusion is bound to bring about a certain one-sidedness of the conscious contents.” (2014, loc. 3077)
The ego that has become one-sided creates illusions of grandeur and control. It makes one imagine that they know most everything they need to know and that they can control and achieve mostly everything they set their mind to. It can make one so bold as to believe that they know themselves fully. Furthermore, the ego will put in place mental constructs and behaviors that will defend and fortify this belief. Then it will defend it and react aggressively anytime someone may appear as threatening to their own concept of themselves. In someone set in their ways with little openness to the mystery of the self and of life, sudden change of circumstances can cause shock, turmoil, and strong inner conflict. A personal crisis can emerge anytime the ego will perceive that something under its reign has been lost or removed without its previous permission. Indeed, one of the ego’s functions is to defend and restore control anytime it is threatened or lost but at times people become so identified with the ego and the external structures it builds they cannot imagine a life outside of it. In extreme cases, individuals have chosen to end their life as a result of a sudden change that is related to their self made identity. There are many recorded cases of famous chefs who were fired, or businessmen who lost everything.
Another one of the manifestations of the ego’s structuring function is to make sense of what happens in life. The ego is the psychic structure behind needing to understand the why of life. Of course, knowing why a course of action is being pursued in life can be vital to the success of that endeavor but there are also aspects of life that cannot be fully understood from a human point of view. It’s not always possible to make sense of all of life’s events, especially not right away. The ego does not tolerate this very well. The ego needs to have a power and influence over what is and it will go to great lengths to achieve this, even if sometimes it has to manufacture the illusion of control. For example, many times when people suffer a major loss, they will have a psychological impulse to find someone or something to blame for that loss. And when that is not available they will make up a story that gives what happened some sort of sense. People need to know why this happened to them. “This happened because such and such.” And if the new story doesn’t make sense then they will imagine that they themselves have caused the unbearable event. Unconsciously taking the blame for a terrible loss, even if untrue, is for them more acceptable than to admit they cannot make sense of the tragedy. This is one of the great delusions of the ego- out of a need to feel in control it will imagine that it has more power than it actually has while the usual and real weakness and helplessness of the human condition is repressed, overlooked and forgotten. Their powerlessness is well hidden in the realm of the shadow. But not for long. The psyche has a built-in balancing mechanism that will activate in such situations and will force the ego to meet with what it has struggled so hard to discard, hide and obscure: the shadow.
Because the ultimate goal of the psyche is to integrate all of its parts, the unchallenged illusion of power and control of the ego is usually temporary. The shadow will come to visit sooner or later. But what is the shadow and what is its function? The shadow is an archetype or pattern of the human psyche, which means that it is common to all people. The shadow encompasses everything that is unknown, unfamiliar or unwanted but also, at times, it includes qualities usually labeled as desirable or helpful. Some call this the bright shadow. There is no one without a shadow. There are no perfect humans or humans who know themselves fully. As an individual develops they encounter things that are overwhelming, intimidating or challenging. The main role of the shadow is to allow for temporary elimination or obscurity. The ego’s function is to tend to vital psychological and emotional needs by creating stability and forward movement. Anything outside of the purpose of the ego is cast into the shadow of unconsciousness. Left unchecked the ego will continue to deny important parts of the whole self indefinitely. Embracing certain aspects of the self while denying others causes inner splitting and self-deception. While the psyche may allow this temporarily, it will eventually force the ego to face its shadow. The psyche needs to integrate the shadow in order to achieve wholeness. Everything a person is must be owned and lived. Jung explains: “the shadow is a living part of the personality and therefore wants to live with it in some form. It cannot be argued out of existence or rationalized into harmlessness.” (2014, loc. 558) Jung further explains: “the shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality.” (Jung & Storr, 2013, p. 91)
While everybody has a shadow, not everyone is willing to acknowledge its existence. Repression causes regression, projection and compulsion. When someone rejects their shadow they are in fact rejecting themselves, even if only in part. Often times this self-rejection is not conscious but manifests as an active rejection of others. Indeed, for many, the first encounters with the shadow archetype happen by projecting it onto another. It may appear as simple as accusing one’s spouse of being the cause of their spilled coffee when they weren’t even in the same room. Or it can show as an emotionally charged and uncomfortable meeting with the mysterious figure of a neighbor that appears threatening, maybe even evil. Or it may be our best friend, who appears to us to be kinder and more loving than anybody else. Either way, a strong reaction arises from within. Sometimes to defend oneself seems unavoidable. Other times we wish we were more like that cool person we admire. In either type of situation, physical symptoms can show in the body. Robert Bly beautifully illustrates the times less than desirable qualities are projected: “our psyche in daily life tries to give us a hint of where our shadow lies by picking out people to hate in an irrational way.” (2009, p. 47) For many, a painful conflict ensues in such a situation. A war is waged against our unknown self and carried out outwardly in relationship with another. A lot of more suffering comes from the resistance to the shadow than from the discomfort of embracing it. When pain is resisted, it is only enhanced.
It takes a lot of courage and vulnerability to face what is unknown and intimidating and willingly open to it. Jung reminds “the shadow is a tight passage, a narrow door, whose painful constriction no one is spared who goes down to the deep well. But one must learn to know oneself in order to know who one is.” (2014, loc. 570) To do so, one must be willing to do consistent and intentional inner work, to allow themselves to change their mind about life long values that were perhaps inherited. For example, someone who may have grown up in poor circumstances may have heard the message that money is dirty and that people who have money are filthy and manipulative. The ego will store that as a belief that unless challenged it will continue to survive for a long time. When someone believes that to be rich is bad, they will unconsciously hide from themselves (or put into shadow) their own financial intelligence and skill. Their ego belief does not allow them to be financially capable. They are not allowed to do well with money so they are not bad. In order to embrace this financially capable side of them, such a person would have to divorce their parents’ beliefs and create new beliefs that better reflect their own individuality. The shadow does not contain only what is considered undesirable but any qualities, positive or not, that may be threatening to the current status quo.
As one advances in their relationship with the shadow they may begin to relate differently with it. As confronting material from the unconscious is made conscious it brings with it helpful insights. These insights can prove valuable in time. The immediate emotional volatility and rejection is reduced. Trust in oneself begins to build, and the ego feels more willing and able to meet this shadowy material and use it for personal growth as opposed to personal conflict. The presence of a subtle curiosity may also appear, a curiosity about the material that comes up each time the shadow is encountered. While the steps towards embracing that material may be wobbly or shaky, they happen nonetheless. In the process, one discovers that approaching the shadow in a more open manner can vastly improve the overall function of the Self. Jung beautifully illustrates this: “The investigator may see in the mud-puddle a world full of wonders, but to the ordinary man it is something upon which he prefers to turn his back.” (2017, p. 45). The wonders Jung refers to are perhaps the breakthroughs, a-ha moments and new perspectives that are common side effects of embracing one’s shadow. The charge around conflict, both inner and outer, is reduced. More energy is made available. Other parts of the psyche function better too. There is a deeper sense of alignment between the inner and the outer.
The Realization of the Shadow
The main goal of the psyche is the manifested totality of the individual. Not functioning as a whole makes each part less functional. Totality means nothing is neglected, excluded or discarded. This is achieved by balancing the conscious attitude with the unconscious influence. Jung believed that “all opposites seek to achieve a state of balance” (1983, p. 404). Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche supports this perspective: “there is a natural impulse in us toward balance just as there is a natural pull toward increased awareness and spiritual growth. Both can be perverted or denied, but the wisdom that can lead us toward balance is inherent in our being.” (2003, p. 24) When it comes to the parts of the psyche, Jung believed that everything is at first unconscious: “the energy underlying conscious psychic life is pre-existent to it and therefore at first unconscious.” (1983, p.404) A healthy relationship with the shadow begins when it is no longer engaged with as something that needs to be contained, rejected, or hidden.
Jung defines an archetype in general as “essentially an unconscious content that is altered by becoming conscious and by being perceived. ”(2014, loc. 248) This is especially true for the shadow. Both the shadow and consciousness are impacted when what is repressed comes to the surface. Jung believed that the one-sidedness of the ego can be removed by “the realization of the shadow, the growing awareness of the inferior part of the personality.” (1960, p. 118)
When what is denied is faced it sometimes exposes dysfunctional ways in which reality is being engaged with. To suddenly become aware of how one is the source of their own dysfunction doesn’t feel good. That is why many people resist the shadow. Facing the tendency to withdraw from what is unpleasant or unwanted is the first step in acknowledging the shadow. The next step is to learn to humbly accept the reality of the limitation, imperfection, and uncertainty inherent in the human condition in general but also that which is specific to the individual. While this is often uncomfortable, this new information can be crucial when used for transformation. Jung believed that “the encounter with the shadow is the “apprentice-piece” in the individual’s development” (2014, loc. 729) meaning that it is the entryway into further personal development.
When the ego has integrated the shadow it will allow old categories to fall and new ones to be created, it will become flexible in attitude and spirit, new life will spring into the whole psyche. In time defensiveness and resistance are lessened while new vision and direction are born. There is a surge of aliveness and a sense of ease. Rejected parts of the psyche are restored to the whole. This more integrated way of being can be practiced daily by neglecting nothing, whether it is good or bad, weak or strong, ugly or ideal. Wholeness implies completeness and not perfection. Dr. Hoffman beautifully illustrates the therapeutic value of wholeness: “psychological wellness is the result of honoring all the disparate elements of the soul as they disclose themselves, however multifarious and divergent they wish to be.” (2014, p. 59)
In astrology, the ego is represented by the sun and the shadow is represented by the moon. Seeing them in this metaphoric way powerfully illustrates their individual importance. Would the day have the same brilliance without the darkness of the night? Would the night feel as peaceful without the contrast of the day? While the ego focuses on everything that is within one’s control, the shadow represents what is outside of this control. Together they form a crucial part of the psychic matrix and when related to with intention and awareness, they tend to balance each other out. As more and more elements of the psyche are made conscious and integrated, the entire system changes and becomes more functional.
Understanding the way the ego and the shadow influence psychic life is complicated and at best only partial. The personal psyche cannot be seen from the outside by the person to whom it belongs, but only from within. Just like someone can never see their whole body at once because they are within the body they are trying to see, someone can only understand their psyche partially at any given moment. Nevertheless, exploring each part contributes tremendously to understanding the whole, even if conceptually.
Bly, R. (2009). A Little Book on the Human Shadow. New York: HarperOne.
Hoffman, D. (2014). Becoming Beautiful: The Aesthetics of Individuation. Psychological Perspectives, 57(1), 50–64. doi: 10.1080/00332925.2014.874906
Jung, C. G. (1960). On the nature of the psyche. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G., Jaffé Aniela, Winston, R., & Winston, C. (1983). Memories, dreams and reflections. London: Flamingo.
Jung, C. G., & Hull, R. F. C. (1991). Aion: researches into the phenomenology of the self. London: Routledge.
Jung, C. G., Henderson, J. L., Franz, M.-L. von, Jaffé Aniela, & Jacobi, J. (2013). Man and his symbols. Bowdon, Cheshire, England: Stellar Classics.
Jung, C. G., & Storr, A. (2013). The essential Jung. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G., Adler, G., & Hull, R. F. C. (2014). Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 (Part 1). [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
Jung, C. G. (2014). Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 6: Psychological Types. Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (2017). Modern man in search of a soul. New York: Martino Fine Books/Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich.
Wangyal, T., Dahlby, M., & Mthu-chen Stoṅ-rgyuṅ. (2003). Healing with form, energy and light: the five elements in Tibetan Shamanism, Tantra, and Dzogchen. New Delhi: New Age Books.
Question by Dylan Hoffman, PhD:
How has mythology aided your personal interaction with archetypes? Stated differently, does the personification of archetypes, specifically in myth, provide access to the psyche in ways that you personally find beneficial? If so, discuss how you engage with myth—perhaps through ritual, active imagination, dance, prayer, art, drama, etc.—and how this deepens your experience of archetypes.
Diana Deaver: In my emotional health life coaching practice, I use mythical stories to normalize some of the experiences my clients struggle with. Using a recognizable well-known story like the hero’s journey, for example, I assist my clients to identify a certain stage in their life. This helps them see that what they are experiencing is not something due to a deficiency in them that needs to be fixed, but that it is, in fact, a natural human pattern. Myth really helps give our lives context. It puts in front of us a bigger picture, the narrative with a full story. It reminds us that there are different parts of the story, that every hero gets support or aid at some point, that where there are enemies, allies are also to be found. We feel less alone when we go through what others have also gone through in their own way. One of the most frequent image metaphors I use is that of a strong warrior guarding the door that leads to the king (my client). I use this to illustrate the concept of personal boundaries. Some people have weak warriors (boundaries) that sleep on the job and anyone can get in and out. Others have overactive warriors that won’t let anyone in.
I use this visual metaphor for myself as well. I have had many “discussions” with my inner guardian sometimes asking them to calm down and the other times asking them to be more vigilant. Perhaps this active imagination dialogue is the most concrete way I engage with mythical images. Sometimes, if I am scared I imagine my strong warrior standing beside me or walking in front of me.
Dylan Hoffman: Diana, You describe the value of myth beautifully. We never outgrow myth. Or if we do, we do so to our detriment–like a tree growing so tall, it doesn’t think it needs the soil. In any case, whenever we witness someone reconnecting with the psyche, there is always a return of myth–we regain a sense of adventure, of enchantment, or our archetypal role in the story of the world. As I described in the lecture, myth is the primordial language of archetypes, and we find ourselves living this language the closer we get to them. And as you describe, “It puts in front of us a bigger picture, the narrative with a full story.” The language of myth is wholistic, it covers all of life–childhood, rites of passage, rivalries, friends, enemies, romance, sex, loss, work, sickness, weakness, old age, wisdom. Myth no only gives us access to new areas of life, of the psyche, now and going forward. It helps us to recover our past, the portions of our lives that didn’t make any sense to us at the time with the frame of reference we carried. Wholeness doesn’t just cover what will happen, it encompasses what has happened–I can’t be whole without bringing my childhood with me. I remember when I got my childhood back, when I no longer tried to keep it in the past (this is where my warriors stood guard), when I had a way to tell it and tether it to the rest of my life. It’s almost like the warriors won’t let something through unless we have a myth to give them. Trauma is like that. It is kept away from the rest of our lives until it can be storied, narrated. Only then do the warriors let it through to integrate with the rest of our lives. That recovery is essential to wholeness. Since myth is timeless, it is able to retrieve what has already happened. And so we find ourselves finally being able to tell the story of our past too, our whole story. This has to go hand-in-hand with individuation, since individuation entails our ability to consciously realize the whole psyche. If the psyche makes its archetypal wholeness known through myth, we can’t realize that wholeness without becoming conscious of the way that myth is finding unique expression in our own lives and has–whether or not we knew it at the time.
This article offers a critical view of Carl Jung’s description of the concept of the shadow as described in his essay on “The Shadow” found in Aion, CW9, II. References to the shadow found in selections of his other work will be used to compare and complete the descriptions found in Aion. Jung’s definition of the concept of the shadow will be examined both through a linguistic perspective as well as in a modern cultural context. The article will argue that Jung’s metaphor of the shadow is both brilliant in the way it suggests its principles and incomplete inadequate in the way it tends to focus on what is considered negative by the ego consciousness. The shadow is, in general, a difficult concept to define and explain, specifically to individuals who are becoming familiar with the concept for the first time. Jung’s use of the visual metaphor of the shadow is ingenious because of the similarities between the phenomena of shadow and the features of the part of the psyche he describes. At the same time, the term shadow has connotations that make the conscious attitude more reluctant to orient towards the part of the psyche it denotes.
Carl Jung was the first psychotherapist to coin the term “shadow” and to write extensively about it. The shadow concept was mentioned frequently throughout his body of work. This article will examine in detail his descriptions of the shadow in “Aion” as well as shadow related excerpts from “Modern Man Search of Soul”. The aim of this article is to investigate critically the linguistic and modern nuances of the metaphor of the Jungian shadow. Jung used this metaphor to identify and describe unconscious psychic phenomena. His choice of language is both brilliant and incomplete as will be shown below. This argument will be substantiated by comparing different meanings of the word shadow as it is understood today with the nuances of the concept of the shadow as explained by Jung in his work.
Jung shares his first encounter with personal shadow in a personal dream he shares in “Memories, dreams, and reflections”.
I had my hands cupped around a tiny light which threatened to go out at any moment. Everything depended on my keeping this little light alive. Suddenly I had the feeling that something was coming up behind me. I looked back, and saw a gigantic black figure following me. But at the same moment I was conscious, in spite of my terror, that I must keep my little light going through night and wind, regardless of all dangers. When I awoke I realized at once that the figure was a “specter of the Brocken,” my own shadow on the swirling mists, brought into being by the little light I was carrying. I knew, too, that this little light was my consciousness, the only light I have. My own understanding is the sole treasure I possess, and the greatest. Though infinitely small and fragile in comparison with the powers of darkness, it is still a light, my only light. This dream was a great illumination for me. Now I knew that No. 1 was the bearer of the light, and that No. 2 followed him like a shadow. (p 111)
From reading Jung’s discovery of the unconscious it becomes evident that he associated light with consciousness and shadow with the unconscious. His memoirs briefly allude to the shadow several times more after this dream is shared, but no additional definitions or principles are mentioned in detail. He fleshes out the concept more Aion, under the section titled “The Shadow” as well as in several others of his works. The main argument Jung seems to be making is that the shadow is lack of awareness. The shadow happens in the absence of light, which he equates to consciousness. Therefore the shadow is the unknown (or unconscious) and all that it includes.
While there are many advantages to using a visual metaphor to illustrate a psychic component, as will be shown below, using this image also offers challenges to the clarity and accessibility of the Jungian shadow. The term shadow itself can suggest something scary, intimidating, dark and suspicious. A modern dictionary definition of the shadow includes “a source of gloom or unhappiness” (Webster Merriam). The use of this term may imply negative traits only. For the first time reader, it can be very easy to conclude that the psychic shadow is exclusively composed of what is unwanted, shameful, rejected. By choosing this term Jung gave this concept a primarily spooky side and humans are afraid of shadowy things. Using the word shadow may impact the reader’s willingness to be open to this concept.
There is also the challenge that comes with using a mainly visual and image-oriented metaphor. This method of description may be easily accessible to those with vivid imaginations and simultaneously very difficult to grasp for people who are not visually or imaginally inclined. For the mathematically or musically inclined person, suggesting they incorporate their inner shadow may be as unintelligible as asking a poet how they would go about resolving an advanced mathematical equation.
There are other challenges still in the way Jung describes the nature of the psychic shadow. In the first paragraph of “The Shadow” in Aion (para 13-19), Jung identifies the shadow and archetype and as being one of more “accessible” psychic components of the collective unconscious. However, in the last paragraph, he claims that the shadow “represents first and foremost the personal unconscious”. A very attentive and patient reader will eventually deduct from this writing that the shadow can have both a personal and collective or archetypal nature. The shadow also includes the emotions that arise organically. When the shadow is not made conscious, these emotions are experienced without “moral judgment” in a more “primitive” manner. Jung argues that there are parts of the shadow that are easier to bring into consciousness than others. The parts of the shadow that are most difficult to integrate are usually unconsciously “projected” or assigned to others. The result of these unconscious projections is a non-realistic relationship with the outer world. According to Jung “the more projections are thrust in between the subject and the environment, the harder it is for the ego to see through its illusions.” (Essential Jung, p 92). On one hand, Jung describes the shadow as something very difficult to incorporate without “considerable moral effort” only to say, just a few paragraphs later that “with a little self criticism, one can see through the shadow” (Aion, p 91). He also says “the acceptance of the shadow-side of human nature verges on the impossible” (Modern Man in Search of Soul, p 44), being “the hardest of tasks, and one which is almost impossible to fulfill” (Essential Jung, p 195), which “requires much painstaking work extending over a long period” but which “with insight and good will” (Essential Jung, p 91) can be accepted and integrated into consciousness. This fluctuation from suggesting that the shadow can be brought into the light to warning about it being almost impossible to do adds to the confusion of the reader.
In “Modern Man in Search of Soul” Jung repeatedly stresses the difficulty in making the shadow conscious and the natural resistance that emerges in owning it. Despite the expected challenge of incorporating the shadow, Jung believes that this process is of vital importance to the process of becoming a whole and complete individual: “what is inferior or even worthless belongs to me as my shadow and gives me substance and mass. How can I be substantial if I fail to cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole; and inasmuch as I become conscious of my shadow I also remember that I am a human being like any other.” (p 35) As we can see in this quote and in other works, Jung repeatedly alludes to the “inferiorities” of the shadow. However, it is not always clear why he believes the shadow to have inferior aspects. At times Jung suggests that everything that is not lit up by the light of consciousness, that is unknown, is the shadow. At other times, he claims that the shadow is particularly that which is feared, intimidating or undesired by the conscious ego. Without repeated reading, this idea can become unclear. Is the shadow the entirety of the unconscious, or is it just what is negative and repressed, or is it both the positive and negative and the repressed? What about what is unknown and neutral? Is there a difference between the shadow and the unconscious? Not everything unknown is repressed or evaded. It is simply unknown and not yet emerged into consciousness.
Despite the difficult aspects of the shadow metaphor, there are also beautiful advantages to using this image. Jung was trying to bring into awareness something that was mostly unseen or unconscious, something for which, in his time, a concise descriptive term or vocabulary had not yet been developed. The more one learns about the way Jung defined the psychic shadow the more adequate his metaphorical term for it appears to be. Examined through a linguistic context, for example, the term shadow and the concept of the shadow are incredibly alike. The Webster Merriam dictionary defines the term shadow as “partial darkness or obscurity”. The same is true for the psychic shadow: it is elusory in itself, potentially dark and unfamiliar but its darkness is only partial and can be seen through. Jung suggests that becoming aware of the psychic shadow “involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real.” (Essential Jung, p 91). Alternatively, the shadow of an object moves as the light or the object which is casting it moves. So it is with the psychic shadow which changes its nature when brought into the light of awareness. Since the shadow is itself part of the psyche, both the light (conscious) and the shadow (unconscious) are impacted and transformed by their interaction. The dictionary definition of the shadow also mentions the “reflected” nature of the shadow as it is generally understood, the shadow being “an imperfect and faint representation, an imitation of something”. This perfectly alludes to the projections Jung defines as one of the ways the unconscious psychic shadow shows up in daily life.
Jung set about the very difficult task of exposing the human aspect that most humans naturally repress, ignore, neglect or resist. An additional critical observation that can be made about how Jung presented the shadow is that he seemed to present it in the context of opposites. There is an ever-present duality of light and shadow and of the conscious and unconscious in his work. Perhaps the Jungian shadow presented in a more neutral manner than evil is likely to make it more appealing, more encouraging to sit with. Jung already softens the concept of the shadow for us, much more so than Freud did. One is likely more willing to accept one has a shadow side than to admit they have evil inside. But is there even more room for that? So much of Jung’s work is based on holding the tension of opposites. But must there be opposites? Would the idea of complements, such as inn and yang, be more appealing to the conscious mind? A more modern approach to the nature of life invites considerations for a spectrum as opposed to duality. In modernity, gender awareness is explored more as a spectrum than a binary concept and good and bad become much more relative when seen through a deeper understanding of ethical issues.
Robert Bly brilliantly reflects the difficulty Jung himself encountered in fully explaining the contents of the shadow to his contemporaries in “A little book on the human shadow”. He also mentions the need for a more neutral and offers von Fronz’s more encompassing definition:
“Shadow” is one of Carl Jung’s most useful terms for a part of the human psyche. Its advantage is that it conveys a visual image—we might call the shadow “the dark, unlit, and repressed side of the ego complex,” the Jungian analyst Marie Louise von Franz says in Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales. “But this is only partly true,” she adds, lest we get caught in the negative connotation of the image. She tells of an occasion when Jung, impatient as always with Jungians, dismissed a nit-picking discussion of the concept by protesting, “This is all nonsense! The shadow is simply the whole unconscious.” The definition Von Franz settles on is neutral and lucid: “… in the first stage of approach to the unconscious, the shadow is simply a ‘mythological’ name for all that within me of which I cannot directly know.”
Jung’s writing offered the world the first in-depth introduction into the concept of the psychic shadow. The Jungian shadow is hard to define because it has in itself an ever-changing, fluid nature. An encounter with the shadow is fundamentally transformational both to the conscious and unconscious aspects of the psyche. Jung himself seemed to struggle at times to adequately depict all the layers and complexities of the shadow. Multiple readings and comprehensive research are needed to form a somewhat clear understanding of how he saw it. And indeed, the shadow is difficult to see, to understand and to describe to another, specifically because of its attributes. Jung warns about the many ways in which shadow work is evaded and insists on consciously and intentionally turning our face towards it. Jung’s use of a visual metaphor to describe the concept is both brilliant and at times unclear. As Susan Rowland puts it “to write about the psyche as a mystery entails both a failure of language and, for Jung, an artistic departure into the subtle realm of metaphors.” (p. 6) Jung’s writings on the shadow, though not always easy to understand, left worthy questions for his followers to uncover and decipher. Is the shadow good and bad? Or is it mainly bad? If it can change and transform itself as it interacts with consciousness then is its nature more likely neutral than dualistic? If at times the shadow can take over the conscious ego, then how can the two be successfully discerned between? Can we interact with the shadow without fearing it? These questions require further active exploration from today’s scholars and psychotherapists, specifically when taking into consideration their modern applications. In today’s world, the concept of the shadow is as relevant as ever, if not more. The shadow itself is a context that must be personally experienced to be fully understood. Ultimately, no amount of Jungian studies can replace the inner shadow work.
Bly, R. (2009). A Little Book on the Human Shadow. HarperOne.
Jung, C. G., Jaffé Aniela, Winston, R., & Winston, C. (1983). Memories, dreams and reflections. Flamingo.
Jung, C. G., & Storr, A. (2013). The essential Jung. Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (2017). Modern man in search of a soul. Martino Fine Books/Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich.
Rowland, S. (2010). C.G. Jung in the humanities: taking the souls path. New Orleans, La: Spring Journal Books.
(n.d.). Shadow. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/shadow
Jungian Psychology in Great Expectations Movie (1998)
This article explores the movie Great Expectations (1998) through the lens of depth psychology in general and of certain concepts of Jungian psychology in particular. The movie Great Expectations (1998) offers a modern time story similar to the one told in the well-known novel with the same name by Charles Dickens. This article focuses on the movie alone without discussing the similarity or deviation from Dickens’ novel. Set in the United States, the movie narrates the memories of Finnegan Bell and how each experience influences his development as an individual. The main Jungian themes identified in the movie are the protagonist’s journey of individuation, the encounter with different archetypal dynamics (the death mother, the anima, the inner child), the destructive influence of unaddressed complexes and a numinous encounter with the shadow. The movie’s strong use of strong visual elements such as the color green, the strategic use of water and the repeated image of the fish, provide a mirror of its symbolic contents.
The movie Great Expectations was released in 1998, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, produced by Deborah Lee, and features Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Robert De Niro as lead actors. The movie follows the life of an orphan boy, Finnegan Bell, his affection for a woman from a different social class and his journey towards fame, success, and wealth. Young Finn likes to draw. His journey begins when he has a scary chance encounter with an escaped convict whom he helps out without telling anyone. The richest woman in the gulf, Ms. Dinsmoor, pays Finn’s caregivers to have him spend time with her young niece Estella. As time passes, Finn and Estella become teenagers and share a kiss. Their paths separate for seven years until an attorney shows up offering Finn the opportunity and money to go to New York and be the artist in a solo show. He goes to New York, begins to paint and sees Estella again, intensifying his chemistry with her. Finn’s show is a wild success but Estella leaves to marry. Finn is heartbroken. The same night, he is visited by the convict he helped escape as a boy -Lustig- who congratulates him on his success. He once again helps him escape “old associates” who are chasing him but Lustig gets stabbed and dies in Finn’s arms. With his last breath, he confesses that he is the man who secretly financed his trip to New York and the success of his show. Finn continues to pursue his art until one day he goes to visit Paradiso Perduto -the place he and Estella grew up- only to synchronistically run into her. She apologizes for the past and the movie ends on a hopeful and romantic note.
Main Depth Psychology Features
While the movie follows a storyline inspired by the famous novel by Charles Dickens, it tells a modern and adapted story which at times affords itself the freedom to deviate from the original. Examining Finn’s life through a depth psychological perspective reveals several Jungian core concepts such as Finn’s ego and persona development, his libido surge in the face of anima projection around Estella, Ms. Dinsmooor’s death-mother complex around men, Lustig’s original shadow-like appearance and his sacrifice later in life. It’s also worth noting, the movie’s strong visually symbolic elements such as the color green, the strategic use of water, and the repeated symbol of the fish.
Looking at the movie as a whole it seems to reflect Finn’s journey towards a more whole and more balanced individual. The very first line of the movie is Finn’s narration:
“There either is or is not a way things are. (…) I’m not going to tell the story the way that it happened. I’m going to tell it the way I remember it.”
This opening hints at Finn’s awareness that his perception of physical reality is heavily influenced by his psychic reality. In the Transcendent Function, Jung describes artists as being gifted in accessing the unconscious. According to him, “the very advantage that such individuals enjoy consists precisely in the permeability of the partition separating the conscious and the unconscious.” (1969, par. 134) The movie ends with Finn returning to this childhood realm: “one day I went home” suggesting a return to the self, a more whole and integrated self.
A Numinous Encounter with the Shadow
As he follows and draws the fish in the water in the opening scene, Finn comes across a man completely submerged in water (unconscious). This man scares him, questions him and threatens him. It is clear that Lustig is the representation of the shadow. He is presented on the news as an escaped convict, morally wrong and cast away by society. He is a death row fugitive. He is hidden or hiding and he also threatens Finn with death. Jung describes a meeting with the shadow self in a very similar fashion: “The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality.” (Jung & Storr, 2013, p. 91)
Finn’s narration seems to describe his encounter with Lustig with an element of numinosity.
“Perhaps you’ve had an experience like that, in childhood, and told no one. Perhaps you’ve had that brush with a world so large that you seldom or never saw it again”.
While Finn retelling of the encounter exposes a numinous element, it is not revealed until the end of the movie that Lustig was equally if not more impacted by it.
The Archetype of the Child
The movie begins with Finn’s child’s play. A free and happy Finn walks in shallow water, playing with his coloring pencils and his drawing notebook. He is surrounded by nature and teeming life- fish in the water, free-flying birds, representing powerful symbolism for the unconscious. He lives a simple and beautiful life and he likes to draw. He draws fish. Carl Jung describes the ease with which children are in touch with their unconscious through their child play in his book “Memories, Dreams, Reflections.”
Jung highlighted in his work several attributes of the archetype of the child that can be also seen in this movie. For example, Jung believed that “the child is potential future. Hence the occurrence of the child motif in the psychology of the individual signifies as a rule and anticipation of future developments.” (Jung & Kerényi, 1985) After Finn accepts Ragno’s offer to come to New York and have a paid art show, he revisits, accesses and expresses the inner child part of him. Finn shares:
“And I could still draw, nothing had lessened it, as much as had abused it, as much as I’d abandoned it. It was a gift and it was still mine, and everything else was less real.”
Finn, the child, is also presented as the savior and redeemer. The symbol of the fish is repeated throughout the movie. Finn draws the fish as a child. He catches the fish as a young man. He and Joe have a secret language around “how to smoke a swordfish”. The fish is depicted on the lid of his crayon box, on the cover of his notebook in New York as we well as on the cover of the notebook Lustig keeps. Also, upon arriving at Paradiso Perduto for the very first time, Finn uncovers a tile with his foot on the ground that reveals two fish in an ellipse. This is reminiscent of the story of Christ who feeds the multitude with the loaves and two fish provided by a boy. “The symbolism shows Christ and those who believe in him as fishes” (Jung, 2014, p. 186). Finn helps Lustig every time they meet. He not only keeps the secret of their encounter but he brings more than he is asked. He brings the right tool to remove the shackles. He also brings pills and booze to numb the pain and he brings food.
Even though Dinsmoor represents him as “a scared little mouse scurrying her lawn”, Finn is courageous in showing up at night to help the shadowy figure of the man in the orange suit. Later, when Lustig visits him at his apartment in New York, Finn lets him in and eventually helps him escape the “old associates” who are chasing him, only to then hold him as he dies in his arms. The sacrifice he consciously makes for Finn ends up giving meaning and purpose to his life. Through his chance encounter with Finn, Lustig is somehow in time transformed from an escaped prisoner to a benefactor.
Lustig whose childlike qualities are hidden to him seems to be projecting his bright inner child shadow onto Finn. He becomes obsessed with his drawings, talks of him with admiration and gratitude. Lustig keeps Finn’s drawing notebook and is so inspired by it that he chooses to dedicate his life to financially support Finn’s success as an artist. Sadly, his projection prevents him from discovering his own inner child. “Closer examination of the dark characteristics–that is, the inferiorities constituting the shadow–reveals that they have an emotional nature, a kind of autonomy, and accordingly an obsessive or, better, possessive quality.” P91
Throughout the movie, Finn alternates between periods of time when the conscious mind is in control and times when the unconscious is at play. This point to the compensatory function of the psyche and the interplay Jung describes in the Transcendent Function. For example, after Estella leaves abroad for the first time, following their first kiss, a broken-hearted Finn goes through a period of maturing. He stops drawing and painting and lives a simple and physical life.
“I put aside fantasy and the wealthy and the heavenly girl who did not want me. None of it would happen to me again. I had seen through it. I elected to grow up. ”
As he narrates this period of his life, Finn is shown on a boat, fishing and spearing a large fish as opposed to drawing and painting it. This reminds of the hero archetype who slays the animals. Jung talks about the symbolism of large marine animals that “in psychological terms, they would probably symbolize the original total unconsciousness, out of which the individual ego can rise and begin to develop toward maturity.” (Jung, Henderson, Franz, Jaffé, & Jacobi, 2013). In Jungian terms, this period of his life can be called ego development. Finn becomes more confident, more self-empowered.
“Whose business was it what I did with my life? Who’d gotten my life in order? Me. I was in control. And everything I wanted, I had.”
After Finn arrives in New York it is becoming evident that he is missing the persona of the sophisticated artist. He goes to the restaurant where Estella invites him, but has to borrow a dinner jacket to be allowed in. The attendant has to follow up and remind him to return it. Finn seems to forget himself. When he is asked how he prices his work, he doesn’t have an answer. He admits he’s never sold a painting. When Ragno asks him if he needs anything else. He adjusts by requesting additional publicity. He arranges an interview with a reporter. During the interview, he fabricates parts of his story in order to make his life more dramatic and impressive. He is building a persona or a false ego for the first time. He has never had to do this before in his simple fisherman life with Joe. Now he is turning himself into the New York artist with a traumatic past:
“I was born again.”
The movie also seems to point to this symbolical fake re-birth through the visual representation of pregnant belly art expo during Finn’s first visit to the gallery he ends up painting for. This new mask does not hold up as he is clumsy during social encounters and loses his patience with Joe during his opening.
Estella as the Anima
Estella appears unexpectedly in Finn’s life. Their meetings often seem to have an archetypal aspect through their either magical, numinous quality or through a more sensuous feel. The anima and the creative side of Finn’s inner child seem to be bound in the scene of their first encounter. Later in the movie, as Finn begins to draw again and attempts to access the part of him that he has neglected and abandoned, Estella also magically reappears. Finn is in an overgrown garden teeming with life, watching a ladybug, when he sees Estella for the first time. Throughout the movie, she wears different shades of green when meeting him which represent “in folklore a symbol of hope. (Jung, Henderson, Franz, Jaffé, & Jacobi, 2013)” They seem to repeatedly meet in the presence of water (a symbol of the unconscious). Right from the beginning, Finn is warned by Nora Dinsmoor about the potential helplessness and heartbreak he will experience as a result of his feelings for Estella, and her predictions come true. All of these elements can be associated this the anima. “The anima is more likely to be intoxicating and to take over us unwittingly. It’s hard to resist the lure of the anima (in the form of enticing desires and the promise of seemingly blissful happiness)” (Le Grice, 2016, p. 50)
Estella plays the archetypal role of the alluring, unattainable and ever desirable subject perfectly. She repeats this role throughout the movie in a pattern: discounts Finn, seduces him, disappears. “In one aspect, the anima represents the promise of the fulfillment of desire, an escape from the pain of ego-consciousness into the bliss of romantic union, which is a reenactment of the mother-infant relationship. Hence the hypnotic allure of the Femme Fatale anima figure.” (Le Grice, 2016, p. 53) She discounts Finn at first by calling him “the gardener” and by dramatically tossing his portrait of her. She then entices him to the water fountain and surprises him with a kiss. When they grow older she invites herself to his place, sensuously teases him and then leaves abruptly. In New York, she kisses him again at a water fountain, tells him she thought she saw a much “bigger” version of him and then uses him as a pawn in her ploy to get her boyfriend to marry her. She has been trained to break hearts and as Dinsmoor confesses later, and she repeatedly uses Finn as a practice subject.
A strong archetypal charge emerges the moment she shows up in his hotel room. She symbolically wakes Finn up from slumber and tells him it’s time to paint her. There is a surge of libido (psychic energy) in Finn and he goes on a drawing frenzy. When she once again leaves him abruptly, he chases her barefoot and for the first time challenges her with a question:
“What is it like not to feel anything?”
Estella appears to be an internal conflict about Finn’s question herself. Her teary eyes in the cab show an emotional side for the very first time. She is in pain.
Finn is often desperately looking for Estella. He seems to be in an archetypal possession, driven mad by Estella’s news of her engagement. At the conclusion of his show, Finn once again goes seeking her, inebriated, finally courageous enough to confess his feelings. He yells:
”Anything that might be special in me is you”
which points to his anima projection onto Estella. Jung teaches about projections that they “lead to an autoerotic or autistic condition in which one dreams a world whose reality remains forever unattainable. The resultant sentiment d’incomplétude and the still worse feeling of sterility are in their turn explained by projection as the malevolence of the environment, and by means of this vicious circle the isolation is intensified.” (Jung & Storr, 2013, p. 92)
Finally, Finn’s desire to be on the same social plane as Estella is a catalyst to his personal investment in his art and his success. In a way, his longing for Estella leads him to embrace his gift for painting and gives a deeper meaning to his life.“The anima possesses the potential to lead us into disaster or misadventure but also guide us (often through the carnage) to the discovery of a greater life meaning.”(Le Grice, 2016, p. 53)
Dinsmoor’s Death Mother Complex
Complexes have been defined as a subpersonality that takes us over. The Death Mother is “is the primary symbol and force of the wounded feminine principle” (Harris & Harris, 2014) and she is often associated with the myth of Medusa. Medusa lives in a cave and she turns to stone any man that lays eyes on her. Dinsmoor lives at Paradiso Perduto (Lost Paradise), a decaying mansion with statues of children in the garden. There are no adults other than Finn ever shown with Dinsmoor. She offers money in exchange for Finn’s time, knowing their precarious financial situation. She slips the money under the door the first time Finn visits her place, without ever being seen. She, herself, has been emotionally frozen for the past 30 years after being abandoned at the altar by her groom.
“Her room smelled of dead flowers and cat piss.”
When Finn asks her what she feeds her cat she replies: other cats.
Her anger towards men is evident from the beginning when she orders young Finn to dance for her. She gets angry when he doesn’t know how to. “I’d like for you to dance. That’s why you’re here. To entertain me.” From Dinsmoor’s first encounter with Finn, she is a mocking persecutor who seems to forget that he is just a boy. Her thinly veiled disdain for men reveals her habitual perspective and pattern of behavior. She mocks him when he apologizes for not knowing any dances. “You can’t or you won’t!?” She gets mad at a mere child whom she has paid to entertain her.
Dinsmoor she sees herself as a victim of men, which she no longer sees as human but animal:
“What kind of creature takes such a thing, such a gift, a trust? Who does this? A man does this, so men must pay.”
She calls Finn a “scared little mouse” and uses him as practice for Estella’s man-hurting training program. Dinsmoor raises Estella to see men as dangerous, not be trusted. She teaches Estella to create a cold and intangible persona and to manipulate and use men to her benefit.
“Estella will make men weep. She’ll break them. I taught her well. When she returns, she’ll cut through them like a hot knife through butter.”
In this way, she freezes Estella’s ability to have meaningful and loving relationships with men. “Death Mother costs women their chance to grow in a balanced way, to confront their inner and outer reality, and to have compassion for themselves that is born of the knowledge gained from their own torments and struggles.” (Harris & Harris, 2014, p118)
Depth psychology teaches that all complexes have an archetypal core as well as a hook. Dinsmore seems to know this as she mentions it several times. “The hook is in deep, isn’t it dear?”. Finn and Estella seem to get wrapped up in Dinsmoor’s death mother complex. She is the puppeteer who controls their interactions. The movie reflects this visually in a brilliant way through the evolving dance of Finn and Estella under the mad like instructions of the aging Dinsmoor who commands “smile, smile, smile. Fine, don’t smile.” Dinsmoor and Finn repeat the pattern of the broken heart.
“You know what this is? This is my heart, and it’s broken. Can you feel it?”
Jung describes the tragic aspect of our unawareness of the repeated patterns in a complex. “It is often tragic to see how blatantly a man bungles his own life and the lives of others yet remains totally incapable of seeing how much the whole tragedy originates in himself, and how he continually feeds it and keeps it going.” (Jung & Storr, 2013, p. 92) Dinsmoor eventually seems to become aware of her doing when she screams a panicked “what have I done?” after Finn takes her hand and puts it on his heart as she did in the very beginning. Through this powerful and deliberate gesture, he reveals to her that she succeeded in inflicting a similar wound in him that had been troubling her for years.
“Her sick obsessions were now mine.”
In conclusion, this article analyzes the movie Great Expectations through a Jungian psychological perspective. The main Jungian themes identified in the movie are the journey of individuation, the encounter with the shadow, the archetypal motifs of the inner child, the death mother, and the anima. Alfonso Cuaron’s film is a visually vibrant production that shows forethought and intentionality. The director brilliantly weaves symbolically rich elements that offer continuity and depth. These elements include the color green, the representation of fish and the presence of water.
Cuaron, A. (Director). (1998). Great expectations [Motion picture]. United States: Twentieth Century Fox.
Harris, M. M., & Harris, B. (2014). Into the Heart of the Feminine: Facing the death mother archetype to reclaim love, strength, and vitality. Asheville, NC: Daphne Publications.
Jung, C. G. (1968). The collected works of C.G. Jung: The Transcendent Function (Vol. 8) (H. Read & M. Fordham, Eds.; G. Adler & R. F. Hull, Trans.). London: Routledge & K. Paul.
Jung, C. G., & Kerényi, K. (1985). Science of Mythology: Essays on the myth of the divine child and the mysteries of Eleusis: The Psychology of the Child Archetype. London: Ark Paperbacks.
Jung, C. G., Henderson, J. L., Franz, M. V., Jaffé, A., & Jacobi, J. (2013). Man and his symbols: Fear of The Unconscious. Bowdon, Cheshire, England: Stellar Classics.
Jung, C. G., Jaffé, A., Winston, R., & Winston, C. (2013). Memories, Dreams, and Reflections. S.L.: Stellar Classics.
Jung, C. G., & Storr, A. (2013). The Essential Jung. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (2014). Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 (Part 2): Aion: Researches Into the Phenomenology of the Self. Princeton University Press.
Le Grice, K. (2016). Archetypal reflections: Insights and ideas from Jungian psychology. London: Muswell Hill Press.
Whitmont, E. C. (1969). The symbolic quest. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
One of the things I come back to again and again in my coaching practice is self-compassion.
In a culture in which success is valued above well being, most of us end up putting an enormous amount of pressure of performance on ourselves. Performance at any cost. Self acceptance is for many foreign, unattainable or even offensive. This is inhuman. Rejection starts from within when we refuse to be compassionate with ourselves. And we often project it onto others.
When we do this to ourselves we inevitably do it to the people we love and those we work or live with. We put pressure on ourselves and we put pressure on them. What results is emotional pain which leads to numbness (depression, apathy), anxiety, hopelessness and an acute feeling of insufficiency. Nothing is enough. Life is not enough. Others are not enough and we are not enough. This is an illusion, and it’s an illusion we can transcend.
We can learn to recognize our intrinsic value and preciousness outside of any conditions whatsoever. We can learn unconditional positive self-regard and self-care. When we do this, when we show up fully for our humanity, even when it’s difficult, even when it’s uncomfortable, we free ourselves from the manufactured societal pressure that murders our vitality and we create meaningful and generative connections.
An affirmation which I often offer my clients is:
“I am enough as I am”.
I usually get a lot of backlash for this. It’s so hard for us to imagine that we are worthy of peace, joy and rest as we are, that the continuous striving, trying, doing isn’t really adding anything to our value.
Self acceptance doesn’t happen overnight. It needs to be practiced. Repeatedly. It needs our patience and our willingness to be uncomfortable sometimes. It will feel awkward and untrue at first. That’s normal. Stay the course! The journey to self-compassion is gradual and sometimes it advances in very small increments.
There is work to be done. In our culture, in ourselves. There is a balance between doing too much and complacency. There is room for both. We can experience and integrate both become more whole as we do that.
This article explores the effects of emotional intelligence in business interactions. The two main goals of the research were to grasp as much as possible about emotional intelligence and the core skills involved with it and to understand the influence that developing these skills can have on an individual’s work environment. While, in general, Emotional Quotient (EQ) is challenging to measure and test, several studies were found that successfully recorded its impact in the professional world. The evidence collected from the manuals, articles and studies suggests that indeed Emotional Intelligence (EI) is not only a skill that can be sharpened in time but EI skills can actively contribute to four key areas of influence in the professional setting: better business relationships, increased efficacy of business teams, improved leadership development and higher adaptability to change. It was also apparent from the literature studied that EI is becoming a required core competency in the business world. Even though the field of EI is, in general, gaining more and more interest from researching institutions, there are many aspects of EI that need further exploration and understanding.
Aspects and Influence of Emotional Intelligence in Business Environments
Emotional intelligence is a rising interest and topic in modern business literature. The root of the word emotion is motere, the Latin verb “to move,” suggesting that emotion triggers an impulse to act (Huy, 1999). In the most simple way, EI is our ability to understand and influence ourselves and others (White, 2015). Based on the literature explored for this research, it becomes evident that EI is a core business competency that can be continuously enhanced and that has a major influence in an individual’s ability to adapt to change, perform well in teams and develop leadership skills.
The first step of the research was to grasp as much as possible about emotional intelligence and the core skills involved with it. To quote Daniel Goleman, a pioneer in the study and understanding of EI, “Emotional Intelligence is the ability to sense, understand, value and effectively apply the power of emotions as a source of human energy, information, trust, creativity and influence” (2004). Goleman divides emotional intelligence skills into interpersonal skills, intrapersonal skills, and empathy. These are briefly defined here: interpersonal skills are the competencies necessary to successfully navigate interactions and relationships with other people; “Interpersonal competence… involves the ability to engage effectively in complex interpersonal interaction and to use and understand people effectively” (Erozkan, 2013); and intrapersonal skills, on the other hand, refer more to the inner world of the individual. Lastly, “empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions, or experience of others” (Gentry). These elements of EI describe one’s ability to observe, identify and understand the emotional states they experience. Some of the aspects of intra-personal skills include self-awareness, self-regulation, and motivation (Appendix A). Empathy means understanding others, appreciating and accepting their diversity and approaching them from an attitude of servitude. These EI abilities are valuable, not only in personal relationships but also in interactions with business partners, clients, and coworkers. Just by examining the basic definition of EI and the core facets involved with it, it is apparent that the use of emotional intelligence in business skills can make an impact not only on an individual’s personal work performance but also on that of their company and team.
Is Emotional Intelligence something that can be enhanced?
The next step in the research was to identify whether EI can indeed be called a “skill” that can be sharpened and enhanced, or if it is a stationary trait that one is born with to a certain degree. While one’s intellectual intelligence quotient (IQ) is proven to be static (it cannot be increased or decreased), someone’s EQ can be developed and perfected throughout their life (Chamorro-Premuzic, 2014). According to Goleman, EQ can at times be more important than IQ: “Many people with IQs of 160 work for people with IQs of 100 if the former has poor intrapersonal intelligence and the latter have a high one” (Goleman, 2004). It seems that certain individuals are born with higher sensitivity and awareness of emotions than others, but that all have the ability to increase our EI with practice. This means EI is teachable and therefore can become an accessory, not only to those who are innately born with it but also to all those who wish to develop it (Bradberry, 2009). Through practice and continuous self-monitoring, any person can become more and more emotionally intelligent. According to Cardon, “common approaches to improving emotional intelligence include reflecting on emotions and behavior, keeping a journal, and practicing interpersonal skills in social situations” (2018).
Once the question of EI enhancement was answered the research focused on better understanding exactly how EI influences interactions in the professional setting. Each of the competencies associated with EI was examined in an attempt to understand how they may be applied at work and what effect they may have on work performance. While the areas of EI’s influence are varied, the research narrowed in on four aspects of EI influence in business: relationships, teamwork, leadership, and adaptation to change. Each one of them is addressed below.
Emotional Intelligence and Business Relationships
Successful businesses can rarely exist without effective relationships. Forming meaningful, long term business affiliations and partnerships are often at the core of professional growth and prosperity. Loyalty, trust, and transparency are necessary to form powerful professional alliances. As Wilson describes, “trust is the most basic element of social contact—the great intangible at the heart of truly long-term success” (2015). EI strengthens and improves business relationships organically through the strategic and consistent use of personal, interpersonal and empathic skills. Swanson describes how “two of the critical EI skills, intrapersonal and interpersonal, are the foundation upon which the entrepreneur will begin to form relationships. The ability to establish and maintain personal and business relationships is essential to entrepreneurial success” (2018). Looking at interpersonal skills, Bandelli names four ways in which such skills can impact the way people relate at work:
The four socio-affective competencies include: a) establishing rapport in the process of building a sustaining relationship of mutual trust, harmony, and interpersonal understanding; b) promoting acceptance of differences; tolerating, approving of, and having a favorable reception towards other people or situations that are different from what one is accustomed to; c) developing trust and the willingness of an individual to be open to the actions of another party based on the expectations that the other party will perform a particular action important to the trustor; and d) cultivating charismatic influence and the use of non-coercive influence to direct and coordinate the activities and actions of others in order to accomplish organizational objectives.
Intra-personal or personal skills benefit relationships by reducing exaggerated reactions and demonstrate adaptability. They increase an individual’s ability to recognize, understand and manage their emotions and reactions and create personal motivation. An individual who is emotionally intelligent is able to demonstrate initiative, optimism, commitment and drive, which in turn can create goodwill and enthusiasm in business dialogues. Lastly, EI facilitates good business relationships through empathy. Empathy means understanding others and what they are feeling and also demonstrating this understanding to them through verbal and nonverbal cues. When mutual understanding is present, inclusion and tolerance become more accessible. For this reason, empathy aids with conflict resolution, connection, and awareness. Consistently using empathy and empathic listening in interpersonal communication, an individual in a work environment can increase a sense of familiarity, confidence, and reassurance in their professional interactions.
Emotional Intelligence in Effective Business Teams
Next, the influence of EI on teamwork will be examined. Based on the Harvard University study conducted by Hillary Anger Elfenbein, it seems that there are two major ways EI can influence teamwork. The first is that the EI of one particular team member can be enough to improve the results of the team as a whole (2006). A team that is wisely utilizing the higher EI of one of their team members can have better relationships with other teams, better relationships with the organization they are part of or with the client they serve. Second, higher EI across all members of a team can increase that team’s efficiency, strengthen team culture and improve conflict resolution and creativity. Elfenbein writes that “a team may be more effective if its members have greater emotional intelligence, which is an individual resource that each person can use in their work… It is reasonable to expect an emotionally intelligent team to have healthy and effective emotional dynamics, and to use emotion productively in order to conduct their work with each other” (2006).
Many companies invest large amounts of resources in better understanding of the dynamics that allow for the creation and maintenance of good teams. In turn, productive teams contribute enormously in the growth and stability of a business. Learning to recognize and select members with high EI can make a tremendous difference in the performance of teams. “High-performing teams aren’t the result of a happy accident, research shows. They achieve superior levels of participation, cooperation, and collaboration because their members trust one another, share a strong sense of group identity, and have confidence in their effectiveness as a team. In other words, such teams possess high levels of group emotional intelligence (EI)” (Ross, 2014)
Emotional Intelligence and Leadership
As far as the influence of EI on leadership goes, research suggests that the higher the EQ of a leader, the more effective they are. Goleman states that, “people with well-developed emotional skills are also more likely to be content and effective in their lives, mastering the habits of mind that foster their own productivity; people who cannot marshal some control over their emotional life fight inner battles that sabotage their ability for focused work and clear thought” (2004). Each of the four skills that are part of EI contributes to a leader’s increase in efficacy. The intrapersonal skills of self-awareness, self-regulation, and motivation play a major role in a leader’s ability to manage their emotional stability and approach decisions from a centered place. By using these skills leaders can avoid emotional hijacking, remain focused and receptive to their employees. Self-awareness, for example, can help a manager identify how their mood may be affecting their decisions and make appropriate changes. Self-regulation can also be helpful in stressful situations. To self manage means to be able to control emotional reactions and to pass them through the filter of reason. A person who remains in control of themselves even in tense situations is a person who usually instills trust and respect in those around them. “People with high social self-efficacy use more effective ways to solve problems because they have self-confidence about their ability to handle chaotic situations,” Erozkan suggests (2013). Self-awareness also assists in improving an understanding of others. It can allow a leader to turn a challenging work situation into an engaging learning opportunity for all those involved. By developing their interpersonal skills, leaders are also able to adequately observe, identify and respond to other people’s wants and needs. This allows them to defuse tense situations and resolve unnecessary conflict. “Successful interpersonal problem solving,” Erozkan writes, “requires the capacity to define an interpersonal problem, to generate possible solutions, and to make a rationally founded choice among solutions that lead to the desired goal” (2013). For example, a manager who notices the office culture is becoming negative or complacent may choose to employ their emotional intelligence skills and steer and encourage a new attitude. Nelson agrees that “a positive mood can help to prevent social misunderstandings, and can enable diverse persons to relate to one another more effectively than can a neutral mood” (2016). To be able to pick up on such emotional cues from their staff, a manager would use their empathy, listening and conflict resolutions skills.
The Influence of Emotional Intelligence on Adaptability to Change in Business Settings
Change within an organization can create emotional stress, anxiety, and uncertainty. Some people enjoy having variety in their lives and can thrive on change, while others are highly challenged by change. Companies are always trying to find ways to announce and introduce major changes in ways that will make it more acceptable and more palatable to their employees, partners, and publics. Here, again, implementing change through the use of EI can have a major positive influence. EI can assist change management both through the application of intrapersonal skills of the individual and through the use of emotionally intelligent management. Because personal EI has at its core self-awareness and self-regulation, it facilitates individual adaptation to change. Also, EI companies can use interpersonal skills to manage and influence the overall morale. As Erozkan writes, “people in an interpersonal relationship tend to influence each other, share their thoughts and feelings, and engage in activities together. Because of this interdependence, most things that change or impact one member of the relationship will have some level of impact on the other member” (Erozkan, 2014). An organization that effectively utilizes and encourages EI in its culture will experience a smoother transition process and will encounter less resistance from its employees. Companies that behave in an emotionally intelligent way are more likely to recognize the emotional component of change implementation and adjust for it accordingly. “In many instances, however,” Selivanoff highlights, “the initial input into decision making could be the emotional component, leading to subsequent intellectual processes where people seek an intellectual reason to support the change and finally announce their acceptance of it. By recognizing this pattern, we can now devise more effective ways to lead change—for example, by presenting the change incrementally or in a series of small, workable steps” (Selivanoff, 2018).
To summarize, EI is a personal and interpersonal skill that can be developed and enhanced with practice. The personal aspects of EI are centered around self-monitoring, self-control, and self-motivation. The social aspects of EI are focused on leadership, conflict management and team building among others. The topic of EI influence in the workplace is complex and varied but undeniable when it comes to building better work relationships, offering leadership and facilitating change. Bina agrees that EI “helps the employees to increase their emotional self-awareness, emotional expression, creativity, increase tolerance, increase trust and integrity, improve relations within and across the organization and thereby increase the performance of each employee and the organization as a whole“ (Bina, 2014).
While theories that support and emphasize the importance of using EI in a business environment were found, many questions remain regarding the best way to increase EI in the individual. Should EI be taught in school? Should it be taught in the workplace? Or should the core of this important competency begin development in the family system, where an individual experiences his first interpersonal relationships?
Despite the voluminous discussion of EI in business writings, “a global deficit in understanding and managing emotions remains. Only 36 percent of the people we tested are able to accurately identify their emotions as they happen” (Bradberry, 2009). While the benefits are undeniable, the execution remains up to the individual employee, leader or organization. To develop EI one must practice it, and to practice it consistently requires a plan for implementation and repetition. Future studies and programs that can facilitate the application of emotionally intelligent behaviors in the workplace are needed.
Bandelli, A. C. (n.d.). Facilitating communication and effective interpersonal relationships at work: A theoretical model of socio-affective competence. Retrieved from http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/etd/129/
Bina, J., & Peter, A. J. (2014, March). Impact of Emotional Intelligence on Work Life Balance – A … Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/309740810_Impact_of_Emotional_Intelligence_on_Work_Life_Balance_-_A_Global_Perspective
Bradberry, T., & Greaves, J. (2009). Emotional intelligence 2.0. San Diego: Talent Smart.
Cardon, P. W. (2018). Business communication: developing leaders for a networked world. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.
Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2014). Can You Really Improve Your Emotional Intelligence? Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/05/can-you-really-improve-your-em
Elfenbein, H. A. (2006). Team Emotional Intelligence: What it can mean and how it can impact performance. In V. Druskat, F. Sala, & G. Mount (Eds.), The link between emotional intelligence and effective performance (pp. 165-184). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
You know you’re pushing yourself too hard and you begin exhibiting chronic stress symptoms: overwhelm, exhaustion, emotional volatility, absent mindedness, constant internal pressure and unavaialbility to your loved ones.
1. You’re overwhelmed – physically, emotionally and mentally.
Feeling of having too much on the plate. Exhaustion is a default feeling. Self-neglect is present. Juggling everything loses joy and playfulness and becomes stressful, difficult and no longer enjoyable. Energetically Drained.
2. You’re more emotional than usual – anything can stir an emotional reaction in you.
Emotional Volatility. A red light can almost make you want to cry, the stubborn bottle cap is about to make you throw the entire thing away and the annoying co-worker has never been so close to getting a piece of your mind.
3. You’re constantly forgetting things
Mental bandwidth is maxed. Things are starting to slip from grasp of awareness. Functioning in autopilot.
4. You’re not appreciating your growth
Success is not enjoyed. Moving on to the next thing before celebrating the completed forward movement. Growth is taken for granted. Gratitude is scarce. Internal pressure causes overdrive.
5. You’re neglecting your loved ones
Functioning in a mind space, forgetting presence and a connection to the body. Time is never enough. Down time involves numbing activities (tv binge, alcohol, tuning out).
As an emotional health life coach and I am often exposed to inspirational quotes and encouragements shared publicly by other people in the life coaching industry. One of the popular ideas that I come across is that “You have to push yourself outside of your comfort zone in order to grow”. This thought has been so popularized and regurgitated that most people accept it as being the truth without questioning it.
The idea implies that you must go about making an effort to create growth in your life, that you won’t otherwise grow unless you put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Very few take a moment to questions this, to ask: “Is this true?”.
I have noticed that people who embrace this idea without questioning it create intense internal pressure and suffering for themselves. I see a lot of exhaustion and self-sabotage in people who believe THEY HAVE TO push themselves to see progress in their lives. Most often than not, such persons refuse to allow themselves comfort. Sometimes out of shame, other times out of a sense of lack of worthiness. Continuous lack of comfort creates exhausted, overwhelmed, zombie-like people. Burnout people are more often emotionally injured by their uncomfortable circumstances than they are expanded by them. To me, the statement is incomplete and extremist. It misses out on the possibility that growth can also happen in comfort, in peace and support.
Refusing to allow ourselves comfort makes us emotionally and spiritually bankrupt and desperate for being comforted through methods that harm us in the long run.
The supporters of this idea also argue that you wouldn’t try new rewarding things unless you dared to be uncomfortable. I disagree- the way I see it, we are wonderfully capable of reaching for new experiences when we are at peace, comfortable and confident. To further this point I think it’s incredibly important to make a distinction between growth and intensity. I can see how always being outside of your comfort zone can create intensity- like jumping off a cliff with a paraglider would.
But just because you’re having an intense experience doesn’t mean that you’ve created growth. Abuse is often intense but almost never expanding.
Comfort isn’t supposed to be intense, on the contrary, it’s gentle. Growth can be both intense and gentle/gradual. Both must be acknowledged. The issue with seeking intensity thinking that it alone can provide growth is that people miss out on the opportunity to experience peaceful, gentle growth. Another issue in equating intensity with growth is that intensity can actually be harmful and create trauma- like a paraglider who hit the mountain wall. This is one of the major dangers of embracing this idea without further examination: many people seeking growth end up harming themselves unnecessarily. The fear we experience outside of our comfort zone is an important signal that we might not be safe, that it is time to protect ourselves. When we ignore our fear for the sake of some potential future growth we can harm ourselves unnecessarily, we can lower our boundaries at a time when they need to remain strong and we may enter in agreements we really can’t honor.
Another premise the idea that pushing oneself outside of their comfort zone is a necessity is based on the belief that comfort brings complacency, that we get lazy when we’re comfortable. That, once again, isn’t always the case. For some, their comfort zone allows them the emotional resources to examine fears and transform them gradually, in a safe setting. In comfort, we can also explore, test, apply and implement new expanding behaviors. Some of this “comfortably seeking” is simply unavailable for people who would normally experience debilitating panic, self-doubt, and uncertainty. For such individuals, being outside their comfort zone can create the opposite of growth- stagnation. Our four most common reactions to fear are FIGHT, FLIGHT, FREEZE or FACADE. None of these are known for being particularly conducive to growth.
Also. the idea that “we have to” intervene in the natural course of life to have growth creates a controlling attitude to life, an attitude that doesn’t allow for trust or faith that life will manage our growth without us HAVING TO meddle in it. With such an attitude it’s easy to buy into the illusion that growth is always noticeable to us. Or, if the growth we think we’re seeing is not matching our expectations of how much we should be growing then we have somehow failed at mastering our own growth- “Well, I guess, I didn’t push myself enough”.
Should growth be a human calculated choice? Do we even know ourselves enough to be able to predict the amount of growth we should be experiencing?
Could it be that life organically offers us all kinds of opportunities for growth? I believe that our human make-up offers an organic PULL towards growth, a calling that comes naturally, as opposed to the man-made so-called growth creating PUSH. With this perspective, I often find myself grieving our unconscious resistance to the benefits of ORGANIC growth, and our attachment to orchestrating the growth that we imagine we need.
So please take sometime to know yourself before you adopt the comfort zone pushing method of growth. Take your own makeup into consideration when deciding you need to be dragged into something that feels scary. For some people, always pushing/hustling/grinding can indeed be expanding. For others, it simply makes them burn through their emotional resources. Not everybody has the same emotional resilience to discomfort.
Some of us truly function better in peace…what is best for you?!?
Questions to take home:
have you paid attention to what makes you grow? Was it gradual and consistent care or was constant pushing?
what are the side effects/price you pay for always pushing yourself? can you notice?
can you trust that whatever your life offers it includes organic growth? can you surrender and let life grow you?
Is it okay to re-negotiate an agreement?
When is it okay to re-negotiate an agreement?
Are you still trustworthy if you request alterations in your agreements?
It’s okay to ask for what you want when an agreement no longer works for you. Honoring agreements for the sake of honoring agreements doesn’t serve anyone. It creates resentments and relational fatigue. It is more important to be committed to the well-being of the both parties involved than to the commitment itself.
We become comfortable asking for changes to be made to an agreement when we are also receptive to others when they need to change something about their promise.
Dear friend who is struggling right now,
I know you are overwhelmed and scared and lonely. I know you are questioning your worth, your enoughness and your lovability. I know you are frustrated with what you see as yet another thing you are failing at.
Please take a moment to be gentle, patient and kind with yourself. You are doing so much better than you think.
You are not broken. You are not defective. You are whole and beautiful and complete. I know it doesn’t look like that at all, but I also know, that down deep inside, you can feel that this is the truth.
Please take a deep breath with me. Fill your lungs, all the way, hold that for a few seconds and then slowly let go. Let’s do it again. Feel your body receive the gift of oxygen. Feel your shoulders release down just a bit.
This too shall pass. And as it does it will transform and you will transform with it. Everything good takes time to change. Look at how winter slowly transforms into spring. Look at how hungry caterpillars turn into beautiful butterflies. Gradually, this will become the launching foundation for a renewed and powerful direction for your life.
In a few years you will remember this time as the season in which you learned just how resilient, how resourceful and how protected you are.
You are growing, and it’s painful and intimidating as hell, but I promise, it gets easier. Stay present, stay in tune with yourself, keep asking for support. You are not alone! Call onto the guidance of your ancestors, of all the people who have been in situation in which you are now. Their spirit will support you and guide you, just like you will help those that come after you.
Spend as much time in nature as you can. Let mountains have your back. Let water transfer it’s wisdom of million years into you. Let the ground remind you that everything is impermanent, including this sorrow.
And even if you may not know me, know of me, even if you may not see me or hear me, know that I am always holding you in my heart, rooting for you, encouraging you and loving you. I am always ready to remind you of your wisdom, your power and your awareness.
The Still Loving Voice Inside!
Today I caught myself feeling really grateful for the small black plastic trashcan in my bathroom. This made me smile. I have never before been so mindful of the good in my life as to appreciate a trashcan. To a part of me this felt like a sort of graduation. I have been actively working on my ability to feel appreciative for everything that I am allowed to have and experience. I feel strongly called to take nothing and no one for granted. I want to fully see and feel all that has taken shape in my life. I call this the purposeful appreciation practice. Purposeful Appreciation Practice (or more affectionately called The Bliss Bubble Technique 🙂 involves making time to experience and embody appreciation for all the things and beings that positively impact a comfortable and enjoyable life experience, no matter how small the impact may be. You may ask: well, how do I know if something makes a positive impact. Here are the questions I use to help me with this:
Does this allow me to do or be something I enjoy?
Does this simplify my life in any way?
Does this facilitate something meaningful to me?
That this help or support me in any way?
Does this contribute to my well-being in any way?
This act of purposefully scanning our lives for things that we enjoy having is an empowering and reassuring practice. Observing and acknowledging the presence of what works well in our lives infuses us with the realization that we are already taken care of, provided for and met by life with so much of what we need. There are times when we get scared or worried about something and we lose perspective of our overall situation. This practice balances our mind and creates a tangible reassurance, based on what is often observable. Most importantly this practice allows us to SHIFT FOCUS. When we are overwhelmed by some aspect of our lives we tend to become obsessed with it. We can’t think clearly anymore because we cannot see anything else. Choosing to look for and cultivate appreciation relaxes our bodies, our minds and our nervous system and allows us to reset ourselves.
There are two levels you can do this on: internal and external.
Look at what is around you. Choose to acknowledge things that are contributing to your joy and comfort. What around you makes you smile? What around you pleases your eye? What around you feels comfortable? What around you feels safe? Some of us are sometimes challenged to see the good in our lives. If we have been suffering, our pain can blind us to the good that is there. You can visually scan your surroundings or think about the things you know you have but are not immediately in front of you: your car, your job, your sky set in the closet. When I do this I take each item at a time and imagine what my life would be without it. There are times after an appreciation session when I decide to donate items that I notice bring me no joy and are simply clutter. There are times when after 20 minutes of appreciation I start crying realizing how much I have been given and how much I have to enjoy.
If you have been feeling down for a while and things have been chaotic in your life you may have a home that is messy and you may be challenged to see the beauty and the joy of the things around you. in that case I suggest going for a walk in nature: a park, the beach/lake or forest. Many times observing the blue sky and a bird flying can completely change your perspective. Whatever your circumstance is and wherever you may find yourself there will be something to find appreciation for. Keep seeking until you find it.
Consider doing the same with what is inside of you. Take a moment and scan all of the mechanics that are happening inside of you: physical, emotional, spiritual. Are you able to breathe, digest, sense, think, feel? Our heart beats for us, our blood travels throughout our body nurturing it and cleaning it. Our emotions arise and make themselves known to us. Our mind is always available to help us understand and find solutions. Our subconscious works and communicates with us through dreams and synchronicity. Loving humans were created to exist on this planet at the same time with us and be our companions in this life experience as friends, mentors, partners, children, neighbors. There is so much happening at the same time to allows us to be well.
See if you can really take in the layers and the richness our lives have been given in every moment. Notice how it feels to allow yourself to receive life’s bounty. How is your breathing when you notice what is good in your life? How does your body feel when you focus on what’s working in your life? Practice this mindfulness. Let is seep into every cell of your body. Acknowledge how loved you are!
Often True Appreciation Affirmations
Take a moment and read the statements below. Notice how often you may be taking some of these things for granted. Notice how it feels to pause and acknowledge these things without which our lives would be much much harder.
I acknowledge that I feel safe in this moment.
It feels great to breathe freely.
I appreciate being able to feel to my body.
I really enjoy having a home.
I am glad my heart beats for me without any effort of my own.
I enjoy every time I am able to rest.
I’m thankful that I am able to feel love.
Why is this practice important?
When we realize and acknowledge how much we have going for us it becomes a bit easier to tackle challenging times. It builds emotional resilience. When we take life and everything good for granted we will be pummeled by the smallest inconvenience. We often have so much going for us and yet we spend so little time enjoy it. When we make time to take in and appreciate the generous support that life offers us and we won’t be so demoralized by unavoidable and necessary challenges.
I am pasting the following article I wrote from Compost & Cava, an online resource for green living and environmentally conscious choices. I encourage you to take a moment and peruse her articles. She has inspired me to deepen my commitment to green living and heighten my awareness of the impact of my choice on nature.
3 Reasons We Are Afraid to Care
I have to admit that when my compost-loving, spunky brunette friend asked me to share my thoughts about the times when humans are afraid to care, my immediate thought was… But are we? Are we indeed afraid to care? Yes, it’s true, many of us are. But not all of us. There are also many of us who aren’t afraid to care. This article is for those who may have a twinge of fear ping into their hearts anytime they contemplate making an emotional investment. Because that’s what caring implies: an investment of mental, emotional and physical energy into a nurturing relationship. In this article, I will specifically address the fear of caring for our planet, and how this fear stems from deeper love avoidant characteristics.
1. Because we don’t believe we can make a difference
Fear of failure can be an intimidating emotion. And let’s face it, caring about our environment can seem daunting. After all, you’re one person, and you’re not sure your actions can really impact the wellbeing of our planet enough to make a difference. It’s like one single cell in my body worrying about my overall health… it may seem as a monumental, too big to tackle, impossible type of mission. But is it? If cancer can spread so can health. If pollution can increase, so can preservation and conservation. One single person who decides to live more sustainably, honor our planet, and share that passion with others can be the cause of a movement of monumental proportions. If you add up the members of only 5 of the top environmental agencies in the world you’ll get over 13 million members combined… that’s a lot of cells!
When we fear that our impact may be too small we forget that we don’t have to do it alone. Learning to connect with others who share our passion can be an organic by-product of supporting a cause. The more we spread our caring nature, the more the environment will be cared for.
2. Because we think it’s less painful not to care
Most love stories have certain moments of loss, grief, and heartache in them. To care is to open your heart, to be vulnerable, to put your defenses down and allow connection, connection with yourself, with another being or with nature itself. That’s why I believe that many of us are not really afraid to care, we’re afraid to get hurt, and we think that caring will eventually bring us heartache.
Maybe you’re afraid that caring about our climate and environment will cause you to be sad at seeing all the ways in which we are wasteful and disrespectful to nature. Maybe you’re afraid of the disappointment you may feel when you see that others could not care less. And I’m not going to deny that love doesn’t have the potential for loss, sadness and grief, whether it’s love for Mother Nature or for anything else. It does, but so does indifference.
People who don’t care about anything or anyone are often very miserable, lonely, disconnected people. Not caring does not protect against hurt. Disconnecting from others or from nature for long periods of time is more harmful than it is protective. A person who has stopped caring becomes in time a numb person and numbness is the highest form of pain. Resilience is often a much a more sustainable long term solution to the potential disappointment and hurt that can come with caring. Avoidance is not.
3. Because we don’t even take care of ourselves
Here’s a question to consider: How can we take care of our planet when we neglect ourselves?
In my work with emotional health coaching clients one of the most common comments I hear is: “I want to take care of myself but I don’t know how. How do I love myself? How do I establish and maintain a self-care routine?”
My clients remind me that most of us haven’t been taught how to patiently and lovingly listen to the cues our physical and emotional bodies offer us and respond from a compassionate and nurturing place. If we don’t know how to care for ourselves in a healthy and sustainable way, how could we do that for our planet?
Environmental care starts at home, with personal care. And personal care takes patience, curiosity and quality time. It takes the willingness to ask ourselves: “What are my needs today and how can I meet those needs in a way that doesn’t harm others?” It takes practice. If there is one thing that I have seen change lives more than anything is the simple act of beginning and maintaining a habit of conscious self care.
Whether you don’t believe you can make enough impact to be worth trying, or you’re afraid you may be disappointed in the process, or you’re simply too neglected and spread thin to care about the planet, I encourage you to look at your situation more deeply. Maybe you’re in the process of healing and you are slowly expanding your ability to care again. Maybe we’ve been ready for a while and still finding your courage. Or maybe you’re already leading a community of caring humans into a meaningful mission. Whatever your situation may be, just know that for every moment of doubt you can call upon faith; for every fear, you can summon your courage, and for all the places in which you’ve been neglected there is healing nurture available. It may take a little practice, but when you don’t stop trying, it always gets better.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that most of us would love to be good enough for everybody all the time. And we probably all have examples of times we were told we were a disappointment or when we couldn’t seem to be good enough for certain people no matter how hard we tried.
In this article I’d like to invite you to look at 3 things:
- The illusive nature of this idea of good enough.
- The power of accepting that there will inevitably be times when we won’t measure up to our expectations of ourselves or to other people’s expectations of us
- And the reality that we are still totally lovable even when feel like we have fallen short.
So let’s start with some questions. What does it even mean to be good enough? Good enough for whom? Good enough in what way? Who decides if I’m good enough or not? My spouse? My boss? Myself? You’ll probably say, well it really depends on the situation and people involved.
Most of the time when we are worrying about being good enough we are usually seeking approval and validation- we want to feel reassured that we are worthy of the love, respect and admiration we desire.
Wanting to be good parents to our children, good partners in our relationships or good team members at work means that we want to matter. Most of us think that we matter to others when we are meeting their needs or expectations, when we make them happy. But wait, our needs and expectations change all the time and they sometimes even come in conflict with each other. Sometimes I’m not good enough for myself much less me AND everybody else.
On top of that we are taught that being needy isn’t desirable (though we all are both needy and wanty) and that we should be ashamed of ourselves for our natural human neediness. It’s not trendy to be needy, it’s not cool, is definitely not ideal. But is sure is human, isn’t it.
So then we fake it– “fake it till you make it”we fake being ok when we’re not, we say yes when we really want to say no and we take care of others when we are already running on empty. The “fake it till you make it” syndrome is a very lonely and very painful choice and I call it, more accurately- fake it till you break it because it seems that no matter what we do and how well we fake it eventually we end up breaking our hearts or someone else’s heart, we break up or split up our relationships or we break our bodies. Plus, nobody wants to receive fake stuff. We all know fake purses, fake love and fake news never last.
So why then do we spend enormous amounts of energy trying to achieve something doesn’t even exist? Why do we exhaust ourselves seeking something that is unattainable? We know we can’t meet everybody’s expectations all the time. We know that others can’t meet our expectations all the time either because they’re human too. Can we all agree that human beings are at best only temporarily good enough?! Can that be ok?
When we expect to be good enough all the time, we are in fact asking ourselves to be more than human. To be human is to have bad days, to be susceptible to weakness, to sensitivity, to pain. How have we become so allergic to our humanity? How can we hope that others will accept us for who we are if we are not willing to accept ourselves or when we’re constantly trying to change others into who we want them to be? To be able to struggle less and less with the times we think we are failing or others are failing us we must be willing to increase our emotional resilience to disappointment. To be ok with less than ideal, to be ok with not enough means to be ok with the times we can’t be quite as good as we want to be.
Being good enough all the time is an illusion. It doesn’t exist. That’s really good news, y’all. It’s okay to show up, do our best and forgive the rest. We are still worthy of love, respect and admiration even when we feel unworthy of it all.
When we let go of this perception of ourselves that we have to be perfect all the time to matter, that we have to make everybody happy to be likable, we organically have more peace, more fulfillment and more energy in our lives.
So next time you may FEEL like you’re falling short, see if you can remind yourself, that YOU still MATTER, you are important and you are lovable.
Video: Beyond Good Enough
Speed, efficiency, energy, power. We all desire them. But they are not always innate, for most of us they are practices that must be learned and developed. And because life comes in opposites and paradoxes, many of us have began to recognize that
power is not possible without powering down.
Continuous expenditure of energy without RENEWAL is not possible. Speed without slowing down is not sustainable. Nature shows us this all the time. Days are followed by night. Spring cannot happen without winter. All of the natural world exemplifies this duality and alternation.
So why are so reluctant to slow down? Why do we fall into the temptation to push ourselves to the point of breaking?
It takes 10 weeks for a bone fracture to heal. How long does it take to heal a broken spirit?
Can our tiredness, our exhaustion, our lack of focus, our depression, be a generous invitation into rest, into repause, into regeneration? Particularly after some of our greatest loses (accidents, heart breaks) a period of restoration is organic and supportive.
Ask yourself: What level of breakage will it be necessary for me to allow myself to slow down?
What will it take for me to give myself permission to rest? And when I do, what will I learn? What will I notice? What will I love?
At the beginning of this year as part of my resolution making process, I decided to stop blaming others for my unhappiness. In particular, I gave up “man bashing”. You probably know what I’m talking about- man bashing is that thing women do when they get together and go about finding faults in the opposite sex. And I’m not trying to bash women for bashing men here- I get it- it feels good to find a culprit and take him through the court trial where our best friends are the jury. For a second- it gives a sense of power, false power. But just like glazed doughnuts give you a brief 30 seconds of pleasure, the real cost of that comfort is way too high to choose it every day. See, for me, this unspoken cultural standard of punishing our loved ones by exposing their perceived faults to our friends, is a highly effective relationship damaging technique that I no longer want to apply to my life. The problem with finding fault with others is that, in time, you get good at finding fault in general and then eventually that becomes a way of living- looking for someone to blame.
And the problem with spending time looking for someone to blame is that you’re not spending time looking for someone to thank, or to love.
So my girlfriends and I made an agreement- that any time we meet, instead of bad mouthing our significant others, we actually spend time nurturing and supporting each other. Simple concept, I know, but the thing is it that this little agreement is changing our lives. When something is off in our romantic relationships we now look at it as “there is a misunderstanding in my relationship”. Our girlfriend group has an engineer, a savvy business woman, and two coaches. So we combine our different personality types, our empathic abilities with the analytical and pragmatic ones and we attempt “understanding the misunderstanding”. With that, we go about looking at the situation through the eyes of all involved, we combine our knowledge of relationship dynamics and sometimes apparently foreign language of the men we love, and we comfort and nurture each other. Together, we grieve the hurt that the misunderstanding is causing. This practice is changing not only the way we relate to our men but also the way we relate to each other.
As we let go of blame and chose to focus on understanding, a deeper connection and healing is organically taking place.
Our pact to stop blaming has been so powerful, so imPACTful in our lives. Whether we’re single, married or dating, each one of us is transforming into a more profound and solid person. Our perspectives of ourselves and of each other are constantly expanding while our relationships are improving. The changes are astounding. Every single time we choose to replace blame with curiosity, entitlement with gratitude and frustration with patience our partners respond with closeness and intimacy. Sometimes we can’t believe how immediate and responsive the results are.
Of course, we’re not perfect at it. We drift. We lose perspective. We forget. But when one of us slips back towards the old way of accusing, judging and executing punishment, we gently steer her back towards nurturing the hurt underneath the anger. We call each other out. We call on each other. We reach for as opposed to pull away from.
How about you? What works for you? What is the pact you and your friends have made that is making life a little bit easier? I’d love to hear! Email me your story at email@example.com and I would love to feature it in a video or on the Emotional Health Coaching blog.
Suggested Further Reading: The Queen’s Code by Allison Armstrong
I have been learning about stillness from animals. They are so comfortable enjoying a moment. No expectation. No “to do”. No end goal. Just being. Content. Still. Present. Watching them fills me with awe…It seems they have a superpower of being comfortable by themselves, no neediness, no phone, no numbing, no distractions. Being present with them, watching them reminds me of my own superpower of being. It seems as if humans will do just about anything to avoid accessing this superpower of being, including me. For us, being alone, doing nothing is often a curse. It’s painful, uncomfortable, something that must be covered, filled, changed. Yet, somehow, underneath my addiction to being busy, to “doing”, there is a deep and powerful calm. I know this peace! I remember it…I too once knew how to just be, I still do. I want to make that my practice again... Photo by me 🙂
The way I see it emotional shedding is the organic process through which our emotional body lets go of repressed emotions.
There are times when things are ok and we are able to slow down. And then all of a sudden, we seem to become very sensitive and emotional without any apparent reason. Then right after we’ve cried o have been kind to ourselves through our sadness we feel lighter than before. I call this emotional shedding- which means your emotional body finally has time to catch up with us. It’s like when we finally take that vacation we’ve been postponing for years and then we get sick as soon as we get there. It’s as if the stress that has been accumulating in our body is finally ready to come out and it’s showing up as sickness.
Emotionally we operate in similar ways. We walk around with a lot of unfelt grief or sadness. We may suffer a big loss and feel forced to tend to the repercussions of the loss: a funeral, medical bills, homelessness…we don’t have time to allow themselves to open up and let ourselves feel our pain. This goes for the smaller losses as well, especially for those of us who are addicted to “busy”. When we don’t make a habit of emotional house cleaning we accumulate this emotional dirt in the unswept corners of our hearts. And then when we slow down it’s like the automated self cleaning function of our heart turns on and we start feeling these older carried pains.
I’m going to give you another example: you’re being chased by the tiger in the forest so you run like hell, you scrape yourself on branches, you hurt yourself jumping over rocks and you finally get to your cave thinking you are all set. But as you get a chance to stop and rest you finally discover all your hurts and begin to feel the pain of the scrapes and bruises you accumulated in the process.
Different people have different ways of healing– some are able to feel their sadness and hurt right away. Others power through it, get done what they need to do and then they crash. Personally I have noticed that if I don’t mind my wounds they end up minding me. If I don’t take time to tend to my emotional pain my self healing heart turns on and surprises me with grief at times when I least expect it. How about you? Have you been surprised by bouts of sadness or sensitivity that are seemingly out of the blue? How do you take care of yourself when your in emotional shedding? Feel free to share below and make sure to be patient, loving and kind when you notice yourself emotionally shedding.
Working with a life coach is a highly personal experience that involves quality one-on-one time and deep meaningful inquiry. Most people who choose a life coach are not only looking for someone to partner with to relieve and heal emotional pain but also someone who can teach them how to do that for themselves. It’s a more intimate process than reading a book or doing an online course, and that’s why, when clients and coaches are matched well, profound life changes take place organically.
So, who goes to a life coach?
It’s often people who seek a deeper understanding of their situation and challenges—individuals who have perhaps already tried a method or two on their own and were left with gaps still unaddressed. Through one-on-one life coaching such persons can access a more individualized approach to their emotional healing and, together with their coach, can co-create a process that is both effective and feels genuine. Such a program is often customized with the guidance of the client during the coaching sessions and built to respect and consider that individual’s ways of thinking and feeling, as well as allow the appropriate amount of time for progress to take place.
Contrary to popular belief, seeing a coach is not about being given advice; it’s about learning to give oneself advice that can be trusted. The best coaches combine their powerful self-inquiry tools with their clients’ personal life experiences to build new nurturing patterns, release sabotaging behaviors, and implement long-term fulfilling strategies. At first, the coach will act as an accountability partner for the ongoing emotional work, but in time, the coach will be needed less frequently as the client will become continually more confident from within.
Here are 7 of the most common ways working with a life coach impacts individuals:
- Improved self-acceptance and self-compassion. Most people tend to put a lot of pressure and expectations on themselves. Life coaching encourages a gentler attitude toward the aspects of being a less-than-perfect human being while finding ways to facilitate progress.
- Expanded perspective. Advice from a friend or family member tends to offer information filtered through personal attachment. Coaches are trained to remain uninvolved and can more effectively expand their client’s perspective. Soliciting a second opinion about an important aspect of life from a professional coach can offer the reassurance needed or a brand new way of seeing the situation that wouldn’t have been otherwise considered.
- Identification and best use of strengths and weaknesses. Few people are aware of all the intricate aspects of their own personalities and character. Self-assessment skills built in life-coaching sessions allow individuals to discover versions of themselves they are not yet aware of—it’s like running a personal audit.
- Awareness of emotional needs and the support necessary to have them met. Just like most buildings require scaffolding during a renovation, most people also need a structured coach for the additional support necessary as they go about creating progress in their emotional lives. Some of the most successful people in leadership and business work with coaches on a regular basis to help fine-tune and support them through their growth.
- Reduction of self-sabotaging behaviors. Emotional health achieved through life coaching helps people move from “emotions are hell” toward “emotions are supportive.” Coaches combine clients’ self-awareness with implementation strategies to create healthy new habits.
- Reduced anxiety and depression. Many life coaches act as partners in healing, assisting clients to minimize stress and design personalized and comprehensive stress-management programs.
- Healthier relationship development. Having clear boundaries with others, and raising emotional resilience and emotional intelligence are important benefits of working with a life coach.
Life coaching enables regular people to become their own built-in, take-along inner therapist—whom they can access wherever they are and no matter what is happening. This offers lifelong benefits of self-reliance and self-empowerment.
This article was published in Natural Awakenings Low-country Edition.
NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health resources organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.
Visit www.nami.org for more info.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is the lead federal agency for research on mental disorders. NIMH is one of the 27 Institutes and Centers that make up the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s medical research agency. NIH is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Find out more at www.nimh.nih.gov
People who give too much tend to create value for themselves through what they have to offer to the world. The more they offer to the world and the better appreciated that is, the more valuable they feel, the more worthy of love and affection they feel. Unfortunately that carries into their everyday life where overwhelm and exhaustion begin show up, especially when they constantly focus more on other people’s needs while neglecting their own’ Over-givers are very attached to the outcome of their giving. If they’ve offered your gift or service and it’s not well-received or well appreciated, they feel resentful , lonely and unappreciated. At the same time over-givers have a very hard time receiving. They often feel uncomfortable if they can’t offer something in return. Whatever you offer them, they feel the need to reciprocate right away or find something of equal value to offer you in exchange.
What are some symptoms of overgiving?
- Burnt Out. Exhaustion. Extreme Tiredness. Overwhelm.
- Disdain and judgement for people who are needy or acting helpless
- Resistance to receiving- feeling uncomfortable and unworthy of having their needs being made a priority. Feeling obligated to reciprocate or like they “owe” something
- Resentment when assistance, help or thoughtfulness is not reciprocated
What do people get from overgiving?
- Attachment and a Sense of Being Needed/Indispensable: by extreme caregiving, overgivers create a sense of dependency in their partners.
“If I serve you then you will want to keep me around. I want to make myself as indispensable as possible. The more you need me the less likely it is you will leave me.”
- Personal Value- “As an overgiver I create my value by giving. The more I give the more valuable I feel. The less I have to give the more worthless I feel.”
- Superiority and righteousness compared to those who give less: y anticipating needs, taking care of others and giving them what I think they need I get to be a superhero. I am more than those who don’t give.”
What is the real price of overgiving?
- Strained relationships. Disappointments. Expectations. Loneliness. Isolation
- Sets people for being in one sided relationships.
- Sets people up for being emotionally bankrupt because when I only give and am uncomfortable receiving, I will eventually run out of energy and self respect and lash out in resentment and anger.
Causes. Why do we overgive?
- I haven’t found my value so I have to create it by giving too much
- My relationship with myself is shame based so if I focus on you I don’t have to focus on myself
- I don’t know yet that I am already valuable as a human being
- I have become a human doing and think that only by doing am I worthy of love, respect and dignity.
Ways to transition into a healthier relationships dynamic:
- personal self assessment, self observation, self adjusting
- being helpful to self. What would be helpful to you?
I am giving you the privilege of having a well cared for mom. A centered mom. A financially secure mom.”
Obstacles to letting go of overgiving:
- feeling guilty, selfish
- feeling not deserving of rest and care
- worrying that others will be upset and accepting
Boundaries help us experience the world and our connection to other people in a in a safe way. You can imagine your boundaries as internal warriors that allow or don’t allow intruders to come in. The stronger our warriors are the more protected we are. Two ways you can strengthen your ability to honor yourself and what feels safe for you is to:
1) delay responding to an invitation when you’re not sure whether it’s something you want to do, offer or engage in
2) offer compassion and understanding when someone takes your boundary setting personally, instead of trying to change yourself to please them
We allow what we believe we deserve. Poor boundaries reveal unconscious beliefs about our lack of worthiness. If we weren’t allowed to protect ourselves against the shaming of others as children we will grow up to believe we don’t deserve to keep ourselves protected from the emotional aggression of others.
Emotional Health Homework on the topic of Boundaries:
- What are some personal boundaries you struggle to set every day?
- How do you experience your boundaries to be currently? How would you like them to be?
- What are some things you have experienced due to strong or weak personal boundaries?
- When in the past have you forsaken yourself for maintaining a relationship with someone else?
End of Year Emotional Health can seem very out of reach, especially since holiday season tends to be an intense time of the year for some of us. The end of the year is generally an emotional time of the year. Here’s why:
- It’s the end of something. Nature is desolate. The weather is more dull than usual. You tend to be more aware of the passing of another year of your life and well as be faced with the expectations and desires for the following year.
- If you’ve suffered any kind of loss recently, your heart may be tender. When our heart is tender, holiday time will be particularly challenging, an emotional marathon sort of speak. It’s like trying to run on crutches, particularly if you’re used to running away from your emotions during the year. It exhausting and you may feel guilty for not being happier. You may feel inadequate and undesirable.
- At this time of the year we tend to both crave connection and fear connection. we may be faced with the fear of not being good enough to be in the company of someone else
- Because usually the holidays are a time gifts are exchanged, it may be a particularly challenging time for those who are afraid to receive.
Is it possible to manage the difficulty of the holidays? Only if you are willing to.
If you are willing to offer yourself an easier time during the holidays and create more end of year emotional health here are a few tips that might help:
- Preparation is key: just like there is a hurricane disaster relief plan, there can be a holiday disaster relief plan. Consider “donating” time and resources for your “relief”.
- Make several holiday allies– these are people you can reach to for support when you get overwhelmed
- Manage your expectations of how things should be. When you stay present and allow things to be what they are, you save yourself a lot of stress.
- Limit exposure to the elements: practice strong boundaries, know what triggers you and consider avoiding exposing yourself by staying away from potentially harmful situations or people.
- Stock up with supporting options: healthy snacks, healthy drinks, music, movies and peaceful surroundings.
- Have a worst case scenario plan. It can be reassuring to know that you have a plan B in case you get overwhelmed. Talk to your life coach ahead of time and get them to agree to make themselves available to you over the phone if need be. Also have the numbers of several crisis hot lines available.
- Count your blessings– be grateful for what you DO have. What can you notice around you that you’d be sad if it was missing? That’s what you’re grateful for.
- Give it over to your higher power: more than anything the holidays are about connecting with a higher source, a guiding star or a spirit we can hand our messy lives to, when we can no longer hold them. Consider surrendering your weight to be carried by “the spirit” of the holidays.
- Let your heart GROW IN SIZE by giving a hug, a meal or a ride to someone who has it worse than you. Consider sending a word of encouragement to someone else.
- Lastly, once the new year begins consider training yourself to connect with your emotions in a healthier throughout the year. End of year emotional health really depends on how much we have practiced it during the rest of the year.
In reality our happiness does not depend what we do, but what we are. What would you like to be?
Most people think that feelings such as fear, sadness, anger and shame are negative emotions. This classification creates an immediate resistance inside of us when one of these emotions arises. We already know that resisting our feelings does not support our emotional health. Embracing our emotions is what gives us a sense of balance and strength. Let’s focus for a moment on how to relate to these emotions.
Have you noticed how pleasant emotions help us be more present? Such as a feeling of awe as we watch a beautiful sunset or a feeling of connection when we’re in love?- We are automatically more alive energetically and spiritually during such moments and we become very focused and present with what is happening.
Unpleasant emotions have a different role: they make us act. The more intense an unpleasant feeling is the more likely it is that we will take action. For me it was during an intense time of unhappiness that I seeked out my first life coach. I know many people who made the greatest discoveries or acts of courage during their most troubling times.
So what can you do next time your old pal anger shows up?
- Fist tune into your body…where it is showing up? Your forehead, your facial expression, your posture, your voice? Notice you’re angry.
- Then take a deep breath and say it out loud. I’m angry. You may even share it with people around you: “I’m noticing that I’m feeling angry at this moment.”
- As you notice your anger see if you can ask this question: what are you here to show me?
- Get quiet and really listen!
I personally use this process on a regular basis and have found it incredibly powerful in communicating with the inner wisdom of my feelings. Sometimes my sadness tells me that the way I’m looking at things in that particular moment is not serving me or that I’m missing a big part of the perspective. Sometimes my anger tells me I have a need for respect and being valued. My fear helps me pay more attention and seek safety. My shame protects me from coming out of integrity. They might not be my favorite feelings but they are incredibly important, necessary and valuable to my life. To me they are positive feelings because of how I use their messages. What makes any emotion negative is what we do to ourselves in order to avoid it.
Motherer (a personal experience on how parenting your romantic partner can kill intimacy)
written by guest blogger Melanie Coles
My name is Melanie, and I’m a motherer.
This is something I’ve recently come to realize and admit about myself. Yep, I’m just a big, smothering, overbearing mother when it comes to romantic relationships.
You’re hungry-let me make you something to eat. You don’t feel well-let me get you a blanket and stroke your head. You had a bad day-let me hold you and make it better. When does being a caring partner turn into becoming someone’s mom? If this is something you find yourself contemplating, this may be a warning sign that you’re parenting your romantic partner.
A motherer is someone who only feels significant when they have someone to take care of, someone who needs them, someone who can’t possibly make it on their own without their guidance and careful supervision. Unwittingly, a motherer seeks to bind a partner to herself by making them dependent on her for food, for shelter, for advice, for approval, for every decision in their life. At first, this can be seen as being supportive, but eventually it becomes cloying and detrimental to both parties involved.
Do you really want to see your partner as a child that needs to be coddled? Do they really want to see their partner as a mother whose expectations they’re trying to live up to?
“How did I become a motherer?” one might ask. Well, I believe I learned this trait from my own mother, who is the quintessential caregiver. Always putting everyone else’s needs before her own to make sure everyone is content. How we behave in life often mirrors what we learn from our parents, which is what they’ve learned from their parents, etc, etc. I feel most significant when I’m taking care of other people.
However, a partner doesn’t always need someone to take care of them, they need someone to be an equal to them. As I’ve heartbreakingly come to realize, a child will eventually rebel and leave their parent once they’ve become “grown”, just as a “needy” partner in this type of relationship will eventually become self-sufficient and yearn to set off on their own and explore, leaving their lover behind. It’s important for me to be aware of this trait in myself so I can learn to recognize when I’m stepping over the line between caring partner and smothering mother. Remember, no one wants to date his or her parent (and if they do, then you’ve got bigger problems).
Have you noticed how often feelings and emotions are compared to elements of nature and weather? Here are some examples:
He ERUPTED into a long tirade.
My heart is FROZEN.
She STORMED into the room. Her voice THUNDERED.
The wind raged outside. The man RAGED inside.
I was FLOODED with love.
His forgiveness WASHED me of my guilt.
Would it be possible for insecurity to be good for you?
As long as we’re human we will be insecure to a degree. I believe that instead of trying to get rid of it, we can use it to propel us. more “How to Manage Insecurity”
What if I told you that self sabotage is actually a way you take care of yourself? Maybe not the best way you can take care of yourself, but certainly one way you can. Let’s take a deeper look. more “Self Sabotage”
Understanding The Inner Critic
Self criticism is often the unconscious and self-inflicted continuation of the judging and punishing behavior of our childhood care givers. more “Dealing with self criticism”
What is a spiritual practice?
The first time you begin examining your life is the beginning of your spiritual practice. You will notice a need to do it again and to deepen your exploration each time. A spiritual practice involves anything that has to do with the spiritual aspect of your life-all that is unseen, all that is felt at a core level, the intangible, the unexplainable. more “What is a Spiritual Practice?”
Our feelings are a precious and powerful life navigation system. When we listen to our emotions we can more easily recognize what we need, what we are called to and what we need to let go of. more “What is emotional numbness and how to get in touch with your emotions”
“You’re not good enough”- how many times a day does the judge in our minds want to point that out?
As human beings fear is something we will constantly be experiencing. We at some point we all fear that we may not be good enough for something in our lives. How we react to our fear determines how we live our lives. more “Understanding the fear of “Not Good Enough””
What does it mean to you to feel heard? How do you experience yourself when you are in the company of someone you feel heard by? more “Listening Skills. How to be a good listener.”
Could it be that emotions choose us as opposed to us choosing them? Does anyone decide to fall in love or out of love, does anyone reach for sadness or grief?
We have all seen the ultra popular advice of “love yourself”. It’s so easy to say that to someone. But many of us have no idea what that even means. We have rarely been given the model of self-love or been taught by example. And that’s because self neglect is often more common than self-love is. For many of us the idea that we “should” be loving ourselves more can have the opposite effect. It can create even more internal pressure or expectations. We might feel guilty or defective. “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I love myself more?”
Chances are, there’s nothing wrong with you. YOU CAN love yourself. In this article I address exactly that – how to love yourself – the small and consistent actions towards nurturing our well-being.
But first, what does it even mean to love yourself?
The most important answer to this question is the one you will give. It may be a different answer for every person.
For me self-love means unconditional positive self-regard– which means that no matter what I do and how I judge my actions I will never abandon myself and I will treat myself with love, respect and patience. Self love is to care for ALL aspects of ourselves: emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally.
How to Love Yourself in 3 Simple Steps
The road to unconditional positive self-regard though is not a short one. Self love requires that we become familiar with ourselves first, that we accept ourselves second and then we gradually nurture ourselves into better people.
When you don’t know yourself, loving yourself can feel as unnatural as loving a stranger. Self love requires spending time in solitude. How can we accept ourselves, love ourselves, if we don’t know ourselves? And how do we know ourselves if we don’t spend time with ourselves? At the beginning of any romantic relationship we go out on dates, we have long conversations and we ask questions. We inquire about the other person’s beliefs and values, we invite them to different experiences, we watch them and make mental notes about what is important to them and how they behave. The more time we spend with the other person the more we have the opportunity to know them. The same needs to happen when it comes to the relationship we have with ourselves.
When we love something we take care of it. Love usually happens where there is no fear. We can’t take care of something if we’re scared of it, something unknown. The way past our fears is to get to know what is behind them. We trust things we know, things we have spent time with. This is why it is vital to get to KNOW OURSELVES!
The more time we spend with ourselves, the more we understand our needs, our fears and our emotions in general. The better we know ourselves, the better we can make decisions that serve us and support us. When is the last time you asked yourself the questions you would ask someone who you just met?
How to Love Yourself Affirmations:
I now recognize, acknowledge and accept that I am a precious and significant being, worthy of utmost care, love and respect and I vow to treat myself as such to the best of my ability. When I notice myself acting and speaking to myself in a less than honoring way I promise to stop and reach out to another loving being and request their assistance in returning to love.
I am willing to love and accept myself fully and I take daily steps in that direction.
I love and accept myself no matter what judgments my mind makes about me.