If you’ve worked with me at all, you’ve probably heard me use this phrase, “Trade in the performance of “good” for the practice of true. “Good” is in quotation marks because “good” behaviour rarely is truly good, meaning it’s not coming from a true place within. As Mark Twain put it, “good in the worst sense of the word”.
The performance of “good” is what makes shadow work so important. Our shadow contains all the true feelings and desires that we’ve never been free to express. We live our life “over top” our deepest, hidden feelings and desires, and create a persona for public consumption.
So why do we do this? Where does it all get started? It starts with multiple messages from multiple sources that we dare not be our self. We must be more than who we are. Or less than who we are, if being more of who we actually are is deemed socially unacceptable. There will be consequences for expressing our unique, variegated, unpredictable, one-of-a-kind nature. Most often the consequences involve humiliation, punishment, or “gentle” redirection toward what is regarded as “good” behaviour or “better” behaviour. “Be a good boy or good girl” replaces “be yourself”.
If too much of this is done too often and for too long, we learn to distrust our genuine modes of self-expression, our true self. Maybe our true nature possesses the joy of a puppy dog and we naturally want to greet everybody on the street with warmth and conversation. But signals from our parents teach us to rein it in. It’s not safe. Maybe we have ideas about the colours we want to use to paint a picture, but the teacher redirects us to a more “realistic” portrayal of reality. Maybe we had hateful feelings toward a parent and those feelings were met with a backhand. We are moulded, often in the name of love, into being acceptable, quiet, contained, caring, empathic, sensitive. (It can also work the other way, where we are molded into being emotionally distant and cut-off, but that’s a different post).
At the end of this socialization process we’re given the stamp of approval and left to live our own life. But is it? Your own life, I mean. Really? We may discover in the process of therapy or simply in the course of life that it’s not our life we’re living, but their life—our parents, extended family, the educational system, our coaches, the Sunday school teacher. And now we’re doing it all over again as an adult.
Usually, the signs that we’ve sacrificed true for good include: boredom, a flat affect, and exhaustion. Boredom because we’ve been steered away from our true desires to the point that many of us have lost the capacity/courage to feel any desire that belongs to us if there’s any chance that we’ll be humiliated. A flat affect because we’ve learned to dampen our feeling response to life in case said feeling might render us out of control, and reap the impending consequences. Exhaustion because life has become too trying—trying to be good, or trying to be something we’re not is end exhausting.
The journey back to true involves dismantling the ego structure that we’ve developed to be loved and accepted, or negatively stated, not to be punished or humiliated. So what to do?
Rather than run from the fatigue let it take you down all the way. Drop, drop, drop until you feel powerless and too exhausted to keep up the performance. In this state, allow feelings of rage, hatred, sexuality, humiliation and desire to rise up. Let the shadow surface. Hold each one of these banished feelings with tenderness as if it was a child that you need to love back into life. Sit with boredom until it sickens you. Feel how the boredom is teaching you to reclaim your desire. Allow your flat affect to go all the way, feel into absolute flatness, which is death. Ask yourself if flattening yourself to please authorities from your past (now projected onto present authorities), is worth being dead for? I’m serious. Is your allegiance to consensus reality your choice? Give up “good” for what is true.
What is true is that you are unique, sovereign, self-determined. You are not a bit player in somebody else’s script. This is your life to live how you choose. What’s true is that you arrived here on the planet in this body to express yourself and deliver the gift of yourself to the world that can only be know by you being you and nobody else.