How to Love Your Dark Side
This post originally appeared on Shine, a free daily text to help you thrive.
I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m sensitive. Like, we’re talking so sensitive that I can get stressed out from watching The Great British Bake Off because I see the stress in the competitors’ faces as they race to put a Victoria sponge cake in the oven.
I’ve had people in my life give me flack for being so sensitive, and often I’m self-conscious that I’ll come off as weak or unable to handle what obstacles come my way. That’s why I consider sensitivity my “dark side.”
Embrace the Dark Side
Our dark sides are the emotions and qualities about ourselves that we wish would go away. It’s less about what makes us seem evil, and more about what we’re embarrassed of—what feels wrong to us. For me, it’s my sensitivity, but for others it could be their anger, competitiveness or apathy.
It’s easy to want to run away from the worst parts of ourselves or to ignore them completely. But just as fighting your less-than-ideal emotions does more harm than good, so does not embracing your dark side.
Not owning who we are—good and bad—is harmful to our health. In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that participants who accept, rather than judge, their mental experiences may attain better psychological health. The reason: Accepting our emotional imperfections makes them feel less detrimental and all-consuming. You might not be 100 percent happy about them, but, with acceptance, you can learn to manage how they affect you.
The Flip Side of Your Dark Side
A key to embracing your dark side: knowing that every dark side has a light side. When we accept the traits we might not love, that’s when that light side can shine through.
“Every aspect of ourselves has a gift. Every emotion and every trait we possess helps show us the way to enlightenment, to oneness,” explains life coach Debbie Ford in her book The Dark Side of the Light Chasers.
Know that every dark side has a light side.
When I embrace my sensitivity, I see that it gives me one of my greatest skills: my empathy. Being sensitive means that I’m empathetic to friends who are having a hard time and need advice. Being sensitive makes me a better creative writer, because I can imagine realistic characters and be sensitive to how they’d react in situations. Basically, my sensitivity makes up some of my favorite parts of myself.
Perhaps your anxiety makes you cautious, which in return makes you the most prepared out of your friend group. Maybe you’re extremely judgmental, but that helps you from associating with people who weren’t right for you anyway. When we reflect on our dark sides, we can always see a bit of light that exists.
How to Pinpoint Your Dark Side
In her book, Ford gives exercises to help you recognize what your specific dark side may be—and its “light side” counterpart.
To find your dark side, imagine a reporter wrote a newspaper article about you. Think: What five things do you hope the reporter wouldn’t say about you, and what five things would you be OK with the reporter saying?
After deciding your 10 qualities, she asks readers to reflect on each statement. Are the first five you wrote down things you see as “wrong”? Are the second five you wrote down things you see as “right”? Ford says to write down how you judge each of the 10 statements. Then, consider: Where did those judgments come from? Why do you have them?
If the newspaper exercise seems too much, you can also ask yourself about which traits you see in others that you dislike. Why? Do you do those same things?
When exploring your judgments and what you see as “wrong,” you’ll hopefully begin to see a connecting theme in what you wish to suppress and hide about yourself. Once you’ve spotted your darkness, you can take the next step to seeing the light.
How to See the Light
Once you’ve recognized your dark side, Ford suggests making a list of all the times that your disliked emotion has been helpful to you. Once you have five to 10 solid examples, take the time to reflect over them and to notice patterns and similarities between examples. Like I did with my sensitivity, try to find the good in the dark.
Once you pinpoint your dark and light side, it’s helpful to know what triggers them. If you tend to be selfish, when does that happen? Are you triggered by threats to your resources, like seeing a friend devote time to their newest bestie? When you are confronted with your triggers, how do you react? Are there ways to react in a positive way? By asking yourself these questions and more, you can learn how to navigate tricky situations that confront you with your triggers.
Once you recognize your triggers, this also helps you communicate to loved ones how you might react in a certain situation. With my sensitivity, for example, I let people close to me know it’s often how I react in situations. I don’t apologize for it—I simply make others aware so they can better navigate our relationship. When we better understand ourselves, it only makes it easier on our loved ones to better love us.
When we embrace our imperfections, we’re embracing being human.
Just as the Pixar movie Inside Out reminded us that a healthy life includes joy and sadness, sometimes we need anger or disgust to communicate our true feelings and to get the support we need.
When we embrace our imperfections, we’re embracing being human. I’m learning to be proud of my sensitivity. After all, good things don’t have to be perfect. And now I know that our worst parts are also some of our best parts.