On vacation, I started my second book by Charles Cumming and I was surprised & delighted that Alec Milius was the central character yet again. One of the main ways I exact pleasure from reading is to fall in love with the characters’ strengths & weaknesses over time. I believe that’s why the poorly written novels about Lisbeth Salander (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) have captured the global imagination. She is one of the finest three-dimensional characters in print or film.
This is the same reason I’m lucky, it’s easy to care about the people I work with. I’m a part of someone’s innermost struggles that very few people get to see.
Knowing & caring about yourself, others or even characters in novels means accepting the dark side of who we & they are. Alec is so competitive he is glad when he sees his only friend Saul is deeply troubled because “…I am not the only one of us in decline.” Lisbeth is so profoundly angry & silent it is impossible to truly know her.
The beginning of personal growth is to understand & become self-aware about your own dark side. In my introduction to new clients I share that one mistake therapists can make is to be either too hand holding or too challenging. I reveal most of my mistakes will be on the challenging side (this is modeling my own ability to know my dark side.)
Asking people (or yourself) to be more aware of their dark side can be a tricky business. I’m fond of the three dimensionality of being human, we never stop making mistakes. If you work at self-awareness then you are able to reduce the spillage onto others, every decade.
So what does personal growth require besides owning your dark side? You have to keep one foot in the familiar comfort of “I’m a good person” and the other foot in the unfamiliar, uncomfortable “I’m also a jerk sometimes.” It is difficult to recognize you are narcissistic, emotionally manipulative or ___________.
I really like people because I understand we carry both sides of who we are to the grave, that’s authentic. It’s a question of reining it in to either stop hurting yourself (exaggerated guilt, codependency, or unmanaged stress) or others ( the aforementioned narcissistic etc). Awareness means recognizing hard things about yourself & then it can happen less often.
Ultimately all relationships require accepting the other person’s dark side. (It’s why babies are so darn cute before they evolve into teens).
Only fearless honesty about your own dark side can replace therapy. It’s a powerful part of personal growth to own up to the pinch of pain when you recognize something ugly about yourself. Couples work is fascinating because each partner can help the other learn about themselves (if there’s not too much hatred piled up).
Understanding ourselves, relationships, film (The Dark Knight), books and our own lives, becomes richer when appreciating both the yin & yang. So decide for your own well-being: I’m not going to be so vain, masochistic, unfair, indulged, neglectful, frantic or a roller coaster of emotions etc. etc…..