On acknowledging the darkness within...


I recently held the last of my women’s circle workshops before we set off on our travels; the theme was self-worth. Every circle, I like to offer up a selection of Goddess cards as something fun before we start: I ask the attendees to pick the one whose image most resonates with them, and often it delivers an insightful message that is relevant to that particular moment. My choice was Lilith, the Middle-Eastern goddess of abundance, fertility and fecundity but also of death and transformation. Lilith “challenges us to look upon our dark side and incorporate it into our wholeness so that great beauty can blossom forth”. This goddess was particularly pertinent because I have been thinking a lot recently about my dark or 'shadow' side – the hidden bits of my character that lie behind the mask I choose to show others. I didn’t come across this willingly of course; as usual it was revealed to me by my children. After being the brunt of a particularly relentless run of bad attitude, rudeness and being ignored, plus countless futile attempts on my part to mediate between pointless bickering and them being horrible to one other, I had exploded. All because my middle one wouldn't finish her homework reading. It was the straw that broke the already very fractured camel's back. So far so normal. But this time it wasn't a normal explosion. It was an enormous one. So huge that it took me ages to recover physically and mentally because something felt very deeply wrong. So wrong that I had to go and create some time out to reflect upon and journal about what had happened. Why had I lost it so badly?

The answer was that it had become a power struggle. My middle child refusing to read had left me totally and utterly powerless. I felt out of control and wanted it back. So I did the only thing that an adult can do in these situations other than become physically violent: I resorted to a superior command of the English language. I manipulated my advantage into verbal abuse and said some really mean things. In a really mean voice. A hissing, nasty, vicious one. I was hurting and didn't like that feeling so I wanted to spread the load. I wanted her to hurt too.

And whilst journalling about all this, I realised that I was a bully. And even worse, I was a mother that had bullied her children. This realisation brought up a host of painful emotions: shame, regret, fear and grief. I was ashamed of myself as an adult: I should have known better, and I was ashamed of myself as a mother: I should have been the children's moral rock and instead I had behaved far worse than them. I regretted that I could not undo what I had said, and I feared that it might have scarred them permanently. I was also very sad: in trying so hard to be a ‘good’ mother, I had lost control and ended up being the very opposite.

I spent quite a while afterwards feeling really bad about myself: for being a totally rubbish mother and even worse, for not revealing it. Not because I wanted to hide the fact but because there is no real way to discuss these things: exactly how do you bring it up and with whom? There is the always the fear of moral outlaw and the lurking spectre of social services. Being a bad mother must be the world's biggest taboo - and I hated that no-one knew just how bad I was. I felt like a fraud.

And then I came across a brilliant passage in my current book, The Shaman’s Last Apprentice. He was describing the medicinal plant Ayahuasca as “a tool to help you find yourself, to know yourself, by destroying the image of who you think you are, and illuminating the truth.” This stopped me in my tracks and got me thinking about my recent outburst as an opportunity to face the person I AM rather than the person I thought I was. It wasn't easy.

We all hold an image of who we think we are. And this can often become confused with who we think we would like to be. We wear various masks to disguise the discrepancies and can get so good at denying those parts of ourselves that don’t fit the chosen ideal that we can almost get to a point where we feel they don’t exist. Until, that is, they are thrown up in our faces by an unconscious trigger. Being faced with the extent of my desire to cause hurt through emotional and verbal cruelty was a shock. Firstly because we are taught that it is not ‘nice’ to be cruel and secondly because it is hugely taboo to even bring up the fact that a mother might not follow the impossible archetype of forever-patient, forever-loving, forever-forgiving, nurturing and kind. But we are not robots. We are human. And humans express a range of emotions that are not always socially acceptable and don’t always conform to archetype.

But even if it isn't easy and is in fact deeply uncomfortable, it is crucially important to acknowledge the full extent of our personalities – our darkness AND our light - because this is what makes us unique. As the shaman of the book says later: “it takes discipline, and a strong and courageous person to accept who they are. Many people do not have the courage to see themselves, because they have unconsciously accepted the images and stereotypes created by society. They have forgotten to honour their unique potential, and particular strengths and weaknesses, fearing that deep part of themselves that we keep hidden from each other.”

Indeed, it is the fear of our dark side that keeps us from embracing it. But “if" as they say, "you don’t own your story, it owns you”. So I am working on owning the darkness within - the part of me that is cruel and vicious, manipulative and bullying - so that it doesn't erupt in me in the unconscious, uncontrollable way it did. I'm not sure I'm quite there yet. But since “trying to incorporate it into my wholeness” as the goddess Lilith encourages, I have felt less triggered by the same scenarios and have been able to act more like an adult and the mother archetype. I'm not sure I'm quite at the "great beauty can blossom forth" stage but my behaviour has actually been more patient, nurturing and kind.

The kids still trigger me of course. And I still shout. But I am getting there. And whenever I feel bad about myself I remember that we are all works-in-progress. And that, thankfully, children don’t hold a grudge.

What are the parts of you that you keep hidden from others? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below. If this post resonated with you, please do share it with other social media and feel free to sign up to receive posts by e-mail by clicking subscribe! Don’t forget you can also follow me on facebook, twitterinstagram & bloglovin.