I am a dyed-in-the-wool optimist. Ask anyone: you can always rely on me for a solid pep talk, or to find the silver lining on a bad situation. I believe people are intrinsically good, and I strive for ‘goodness’ myself –maintaining a policy of peaceful nonviolence in my actions and speech, extending forgiveness and compassion wherever possible, practicing mindfulness and consciousness, avoiding extremes in favor of moderation, and generally trying to be a positive influence. Some days it takes more effort than others, but on the whole, I’ve been living my life with the idea that light and love can conquer all.
But I am terrified of my own shadow.
By ‘shadow,’ I mean my dark side. She who finds moderation tiresome and craves the extremes, who lacks the strength or will to stick to the straight-and-narrow. She who has lost hope and faith in humanity and doesn’t see the point in playing nice. She who sometimes behaves unprofessionally, unladylike, or unethically, who picks fights, holds worthless grudges, and wants revenge. She who is angry, jealous, selfish, petty, spiteful, impatient, cruel, and even violent.
I put a lot of energy towards keeping her tightly under control. The optimist in me believes that if I just close my eyes and try hard enough, I can pretend that that side of me doesn’t exist. I’ve gotten pretty good at talking myself down before I do anything I might regret. When dark thoughts or behaviors start emerging, I rush to check myself – Now, now, I know you’re hurt/upset/grumpy, but is this the way to handle it? Does it do any good to lash out? Is it worth hurting someone, or getting into trouble? This is partially in my nature, but also a reflection of how I was raised.
On the surface, this doesn’t even seem like a bad thing. Everyone has a code of ethics that they try to live up to, and if mine means I try to do less harm, well…what’s the problem?
But what I am learning is that being afraid of my dark side doesn’t actually make her go away. In fact, by not allowing myself to express the shadow as well as the light, I’m not actually doing myself any good. Those feelings don’t have anywhere to go, so they build up in my subconscious until one day, something triggers me, and I wind up doing or saying something completely out-of-character. She takes over, and when that happens – watch out. Someone’s going to get hurt. Sometimes she even turns it back on me.
So I’ve decided to try to stop fearing my dark side, and start loving her.
It’s still a work-in-progress at this stage in my journey, but I’ve started changing my relationship to my dark side by seeking out appropriate outlets for the emotions, thoughts, and impulses that I’ve been afraid to express.
For instance, take violence. (Yup, I’m going right for the jugular.) Normally, I avoid it at all costs, outside of the context of a good rousing game of Super Smash Brothers. I don’t like weapons, I don’t watch violent or gory movies, I don’t particularly enjoy heavy metal. I am distraught by the amount of violence there is in the world – who isn’t? – and how it just seems to be getting worse.
Then, in search of a new fitness activity, I started learning some basic Thai kickboxing techniques. And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as my instructor had me doing punching drills, I felt a violent energy bubble up from my gut and spill out in sweat. With each jab, cross, and hook, I sensed the opening of pockets of anger and hurt from old wounds that I typically avoid touching. I imagined I was striking back at people or situations that have made me feel somehow less-than or who have crossed my boundaries.
My Dark Side showed up and said Oh hell yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.
At first, it startled me. I wasn’t expecting such a visceral emotional reaction to my new choice in exercise. But it felt so good to make a fist and hit things with it as hard as I could (“things” being the padded mitts my instructor was wearing). And then do it again. And again. I’ve done all kinds of strength training in my life, but never have I felt stronger than when I landed a few solid THUMPS on the mitts. It is nothing short of liberating to awaken the inner warrior and channel that feeling into a physical expression.
Women, after all, are not the aggressive sex – or so we’ve been told. There is extra cultural pressure on us to keep calm and carry on, to be the peacemakers and peacekeepers, and to not “lower ourselves” to such “crude” behavior. It’s those testosterone-driven men who crave violence and physicality, amiright? (If you can’t tell, that’s sarcasm.) This is, I think, part of why women’s sports still don’t get as much attention and respect as men’s. It may be one thing if a woman works out to lose weight and be more attractive, says society, but actual athleticism is still men’s turf. Hence the need for a site like Strong is Our Sexy.
This is how I #OwnMyStrong.
I’m still more of a lover than a fighter, and probably always will be. But I’m learning to appreciate, and even welcome, my expressive Dark Side and all the gifts she brings to the table, and not to live in fear of losing control of her.