Walking the Dark Night

 

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Three nightmares across nine fretful nights sleep. In one a character is shot several times as he runs down the road, the last shot bringing him down, I falling with him and reaching out to comfort. Another has me wearing a CPAP mask at a restaurant dining table, feeling shocked, vulnerable, humiliated and virtually emasculated.

The last dream has me being threatened and abused by three twenty-foot giants.

What to make of it all?

In the first dream the character being shot is an expression of myself suffering what Bill Shakespeare called “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” i.e. attacks against the psyche in this case. The fear may be that there will be one too many that I may not be able to soothe and get up from. This dream may have been triggered by watching a friend take several psychic blows that would have left me emotionally bleeding. There’s also a theme running through the “world psyche” at the moment where many people are taking the blows, with the collective-ego becoming increasingly more self-critical.

The current immoral insanity sweeping the nation and the White House is suffering profound psychic blows as well as we each watch the country we love being torn apart by fear, bigotry, ignorance, and hatred. Our shadow aspect that we’ve been hiding to both the world and ourselves is showing itself in all its repressed ugliness.

The second dream seems to echo the first and indeed came on the night following the first. This dream seemed to suggest humiliation and a feeling of emasculation. It continued a theme of feeling vulnerable and not being able to protect myself adequately. The mask itself also may have symbolized a fear of being found out, of not being able to successfully hide what I am feeling in my everyday life right now.

Seven days later the third nightmare intruded and interrupted my sleep. In this dream three imposing and quite frightening ‘giants’ attacked me and stood threateningly astride me as I fell. It felt that I wouldn’t be able to save myself from what was about to happen and then I awoke. Are my feelings overwhelming me? Is my negative inner dialog going to injure me? Who are these three antagonists I wonder? Then it hits me that they might represent my three biggest concerns as I grow older– 1) Body deterioration (not only reflecting all the aches and pains but the loss of attractiveness to the opposite sex); 2) Deteriorating usefulness; and 3) Contracting future.

There’s a lot to be learned from one’s darker dreams i.e. there’s light in our nightmares, though in this case there are few if any answers, but knowing in deeper detail what’s going on with me emotionally may give me an opening through which I can find the light.

 

The empire of the Shadow-self

 

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“I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you, which shall be the darkness of God.”

 –T.S Eliot

 

In the Game of Thrones the story line is about political intrigue and the shadow creatures in this fantasy melodrama are always extensions of the people portrayed. All the human emotions of lust, hate, anger, greed and betrayal are played out with only one goal, to survive and conquer. Of course this kind of human drama has no end (witness real life dramas of war and greed).

Just as the Game of Thrones is but a tale of the Shadow Empire of the ego-self so is the everyday day life of our selves. Why are we so fascinated by this darker side of humanity? Is it because we can see what is also in our self but do it in the safety of arms length?

I spend a lot of time talking about and working with the shadow aspects of myself. I do this because I’m fascinated by the shadow-self, its genesis and how it affects the everyday of my life.

I’ve learned that within me, as in all of us, resides both the light and the dark, aspects of what I approve of and identify with and those that I reject– the seemingly dark, hated, betrayed and unbearable characteristics of myself and my life.

The Shadow-self resides in the unconscious mind. I put them there so that they wouldn’t be, well, conscious.

Most of them I put there as a child– when I had limited resources and experiences to figure out what the traumas meant (a trauma can be as small as a hurt feeling) that were hurled at me or that surrounded me.

But these shadows don’t just reside peacefully within us they actually affect and inform our conscious actions.

They are why we have certain addictions, failures (both in relationships and careers), negative thoughts, judgments, and self-criticisms.

They are why we can’t seem to just “make it” or that we keep choosing the wrong mate or love interest, or continuously make the wrong choices. They represent all those dark impulses and desires, selfishness, hostility and greediness we sometimes experience within ourselves. They are what prevent us from loving and acknowledging ourselves. No matter how successful we become there is often a dark hooded figure that is quick to criticize and bring us down.

 

“Between the conception
 And the creation
 Between the emotion
 And the response
Falls the Shadow.”

—T. S. Elliott

 

None of us want to climb down into this cesspool of dread, sorrow, and childhood fears. It’s why we created the underground sump of the unwanted in the first place i.e. to stop the hurt!

Our ego-selves are designed to figure things out then decide that which will make things better, run smoother, and lessen the pain and hurt vs. that which makes things harder– one is accepted while the other is rejected and all of this is designed to enhance ones ability to survive.

It’s the ego-self that determines when something is real, but sometimes this “reality” is a negative decision about the self such as, “I’m no good” or “I have no talent”, or “I don’t deserve happiness” or “I’m weak and vulnerable, not pretty/handsome, not smart…” and so on and on.

Once the “reality” is locked in place anything that refutes it is then rejected as “not real”. It’s why it’s so hard to change ones self-concept or to accept another persons acknowledgment.

Essentially, the ego-self becomes attached to these so-called “realities of the self” and it is this attachment that leads the ego-self to go it alone and shun any real help because no one can ever know the ego-self and its reality and needs better than the ego-self.

In this way the ego-self cuts itself off from others and from the spirit and soul.

It’s interesting that Alcoholics anonymous refers to the word EGO as an acronym for “Easing God Out” because that’s exactly what the ego-self does, it divides us from our soul and our inner spirit and too often this is to our detriment.

One of my greatest longings, and I suspect yours as well, is to find the true essence of myself i.e. who am I really? It’s got to be better than this! When I fantasize I’m always the hero of my story, I’m always magnificent and awesome (though humbly so). But why can’t I see me that way in my everyday life? Why can’t I identify with a “me” beyond my negative beliefs of self, my self-judgments and criticisms, my hopes and experiences, my anger, desires, impulses, imagined needs and expectations (from self and others)? Why is it so hard to find and embrace this self?

I suggest that it is because we’ve buried it and barricaded it behind all the shadow material that we’ve stuffed into the unconscious sump and refuse to deal with. We’ve given the shadow-self and its lackey, the ego-self, power over how we feel and over what we do by over protecting ourselves.

Bottom line, our nature is both light and dark and the rejection of one over the other through denial or opposition (control or destruction of) only leads to self-destructive behaviors. The ego-self is designed to protect us from the world outside, but often it does this by sacrificing the inside, the very thing it is designed to protect.

Life can be lived without denying the shadow but by choosing the light, choosing to live your life in the light. You can only do that if you know what the dark is, where the absence of the light resides.

Shadow Work on an old problem: A Jekyll and Hyde story

 

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I’ve been doing some Shadow Work this week based on a dream I had earlier. At first the dream seemed rather innocuous e.g. people from the past, a woman psychologist looking for my reports from yesteryear that I can’t find then tagging along as I try to find a parking space so that we can get a cup of coffee at a roadside café but take too long and by the time we get there its closing up. I plead for two cups but the man behind the counter will only give me an old coffee can filled with coffee that the psych and I are to share out on the curb. I drink from the can and it is bitter to the taste. I feel embarrassed and a screw-up. The man behind the counter grins sardonically and moves on with his clean up. I feel defeated once again.

As I get into the interpretation I note my “screw-ups” references and yet she stays with me. At first glance I wondered if this vignette represented my wife and I but as I looked closer and realized that references to the past might be symbolic of one of my shadow aspects i.e. frequently worrying about rejection and being hypersensitive to potential rejection I began to see a deeper meaning to this dream. It’s as though I spend a lot of time secretly trying to be rejected and when it doesn’t happen I take it as a sign of acceptance. There’s also this idea that the shadow aspects of myself are a reflection of my real self and not just an aspect of the total. It’s as though I’ve mistaken my Shadow-self for my real self and thus deserve rejection. I mean that’s what you’re supposed to do with your unwanted and negative aspects i.e. reject them, right? If the shadow self, the screw up, is who I really I am then it deserves rejection.

I am haunted by these continuous thoughts that I’m a screw-up and that they try to convince me that I am my shadow and have led me to believe this is true (though I lamely deny the fact). It’s like what happens in the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde after the good Doctor has taken the potion to make him Hyde so often that he becomes the evil Mr. Hyde. My constant “drinking” of the negative thoughts have led me to think that they are true and I become the Hyde part of myself. But a deeper part of me accessed through the dream suggests that I not believe everything that I think.

The dream seems to be telling me about a lifelong inner dialog that needs changing i.e. sometimes I screw up but am not a screw up. I also need to look closer at this narrative that pulls rejection into my life. Perhaps its time for a different narrative and time to ‘clean up’ (as the man in the café is doing) the story I’ve been telling myself. I need to acknowledge the shadow’s presence (that can be a bitter realization as with the coffee in the can) when it shows up but don’t take it on as though it were true or all that I am.

For those of you who might like to do some Shadow Work yourself these links may be of some help:

https://www.alwayswellwithin.com/blog/2014/07/06/embrace-your-shadow-side

http://suzanneheyn.com/shadow-work-embracing-the-dark-side/

 

Dealing with the emotional and psychological after-effects of violence

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On occasion I receive dreams from those who have had family members or boyfriends/girlfriends that have been murdered. Many share seeing them again in their dreams. In some cases the departed will morph into something else. In one case the visiting dead turned into a snake that when in an attempt to catch it the snake slithered away into a hole. In this case it may have been a metaphor for those who had perpetrated the murder having not been caught and the dreamer trying to deal with the betrayal of both the “perp” and the authorities.

Some dreamers experience great helplessness (feeling tied up or trapped) or overwhelm (tsunami waves and/or flooding) as part of the dream. Some escape the symbolic trauma by climbing stairs or mountains toward a higher perspective while others fly free across a meadow or run away from threatening people or monsters.

Others have wondered if the extreme grief they’ve suffered has in someway damaged the soul.

Mostly the dream material of such traumas is about the mind trying to make sense of the loss and to then deal with it i.e. to make peace with it.

I believe that our souls accept trauma long before our conscious minds are able to wrap themselves around it, though the pain can be experienced as being so deep and profound that it feels as though your very essence, your being, the soul of yourself has been irreparably damaged.

Though the mind is valiantly trying to grasp and deal with the trauma experienced by the violent death of a loved one it can rarely do this alone. What often happens is the mind enters a never-ending spiral with no escape or resolution. Some dreamers experience this never-ending spiral as a vortex in a storm-tossed sea with them or the ship they’re on being pulled down into the darkness below. Some see themselves at the edge of a bottomless abyss.

Such dreams may reflect the dreamer’s difficulty in trying to resolve a great inner conflict generated by loss. This can take the form of anxieties of losing themselves or in facing the hard emotional reality of their own death. These dreams are part of the healing process but sometimes one can get stuck in the process without moving to the next level of dealing with the grief.

The experience of losing someone through a violent death can be similar to the experience of someone with post-traumatic stress (PTSD) with the reliving of the event in dreams or flashbacks, repetitive nightmares, and anxiety symptoms. This can also happen with those who have been physically attacked, witnessed great violence, and/or have been raped. All of these experiences destroy the sense of safety and personal integrity of ones life. They are a violation of the soul.

If these dreams persist over time it might be useful to the dreamer to seek a helper, a guide in the healing process, someone trained in helping others deal with grief.

Organizations such as Goodtherapy.com * can sometimes be useful.

Learning to deal with ones grief in a productive way can be helpful as well and to that end this link to ActiveBeat * as well as the following article in Psychology Today: Grief-isnt-something-get-over* might also be useful.

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* I am not an advocate of these sites and only offer them as examples of resources without endorsing them. You will have to determine whether or not they are useful to you.