The Shadow

Life can be a little unrelenting at times.  I have not written in awhile as I have been processing things about my life that can be hard to face.  Some days when I look in the mirror, I see a criminal.  I see all the things society sees in people of color.  But when I look myself in my eyes I see me.  As primates eye contact can be a two way street, it can both signal trust and aggression.  When I look into the mirror now, I try to make sure to look myself in the eyes until I can see me, the whole me.

I have had a lifetime of not being fully seen.  And I have had a lifetime of hiding, afraid of letting the world know who I authentically am. It can be very vulnerable to be seen and for many of us we would rather die than have our deepest pain be shown.  But damn that Brene Brown has got to me. She is a researcher on courage, shame, vulnerability, and empathy. Her work is profound and will take you down a rabbit hole of healing.  Her Ted talk on vulnerability is heart wrenchingly healing for those of us who struggle with allowing our weaknesses to show.  It has 34 million hits as of today indicating that this is a problem for many of us in our culture.

I was recently in a custody battle with my daughter's mother and man was that intense. Custody battles are nasty, they attempt to cast light on ones deepest vulnerabilities and then use it to prove that one side is better fit to parent than the other.   Lots of dirty laundry is aired.  As part of the process, I had to undergo psychological testing including rorschach testing. I found the testing in my case to be surprisingly accurate.  After the case was closed we were court ordered six months co-parent counseling.

In our session last night, I came to realize that neither of us was seeing the other as a whole person, rather we were seeing each others shadow and fighting with that.  The shadow is that part of ourselves that we try to hide from others and frequently ourselves.  Conflicts, are usually not resolvable until both sides can see the whole of the other, the light and the dark.  The old Star Wars trilogy deeply models that for both the individual and society as a whole.  Lovers are often the people we trust enough to show our whole selves, but that process can run into trouble if we don't have the tools and maturity to work with it.  We didn't, we were too young and inexperienced to see what was happening at the time.   But here we are and unpacking the past has been painful.

I think of President Trump's behavior as a good example of deep shadow.  Deep down inside he likely has very poor self esteem and likely had extreme early childhood abuse.  I can see it in him because I can see it in myself.  And I do think he has become a macrocosm of healing as everything he represents is brought into the light.  So I have empathy for him and his followers while understanding that we also don't have to stand for it.  All toddlers need firm boundaries...

Ok, I am just stalling now by trying to drag Trump into this.  I was abused by two women around the ages of 4-5 and it has set the tone  of my life in so many vast and incomprehensible ways that I am only now thirty plus years later realizing.  It is odd to see it on paper (or on screen in this case).  Men don't talk about the abuse and especially when it is perpetrated by a female. The statistics say 1 in 6 men, but I suspect it may be higher based on cultural norms of not talking about it and the sheer number of male perpetrators (who have likely been abused themselves).  It has affected me in that my unconscious default mode is to be untrusting of women.  Especially those who love me.  It has affected all of my love relationships and continues to affect my marriage.   My wife by the way has been amazing as have several of my ex girlfriends in helping with my healing and getting me to the place where I can write about it.  The writer Junot Diaz recently wrote a piece in the New Yorker about his childhood abuse, I froze when I read it.  It was the first time I saw a piece of myself in print.  My wife sent it to me. Ok it was the second time, the first was by the same writer in an interview with Christa Tippett on race and how the slave trade continues to impact society today, also sent to me by my wife.  Sometimes God sends you an angel to borrow for a bit.  It is Diaz's work that inspires me to speak about what happened to me today.  I am beginning to take off my mask and allow myself to be seen, imperfections and all.

My unconscious distrust of women has deeply hurt many in my life and particularly my child's mother and my current wife (and likely most of my ex girlfriends).  My current marriage has for the first time provided a safe place and space for me to really look at these pieces.  As I begin to pick up the pieces of the past and fit them back together, I hope others will be inspired to do the same.  It is not an easy process, but it is a very rewarding one.  One that has strengthened my resolve and ability to be with patients through very tough times and sometimes as a result we heal.   May we be able to see the whole of each other in all our behavior good and bad.  May we be able to look ourselves in the eyes and see the brilliance of God reflected back.  May we all be seen.