If you are in a human body and you are not the Dalai Lama, it is very possible that you have experienced an intense negative reaction to someone at some point in your life. In some cases, the feeling is so strong that you might feel guilty for having it. It’s as if there is an evil twin inside of you, trying to break through your chest and wrap its hands around this other person’s neck and shake them up a bit. Or worse.
I am familiar with this phenomenon, especially during times when I am in a growth spurt and facing my shadow is an essential part of that process. There is no escaping it.
That is the shadow energy in all of us. The Shadow consists of unnamed and disowned parts of us that were deemed unacceptable by society. It is not OK to be lazy, greedy, jealous, competitive or even to have a high sex drive. Yet, as we are all pieces of the mosaic of life, these traits, feelings, and tendencies all exist inside us – in varying degrees, hiding in the crevices of our psyche.
When we have such a strong negative emotional reaction to someone it is a great opportunity for our personal growth. This just means that a window into our shadow box has been opened and it is still up to us what we do with this information. Now, we have an opportunity to accept and love a part of us that we were taught to reject. I certainly have had more than a handful of experiences where I felt guilty for the feelings I had about the other person that plagued me.
At times, I was irritated by them so much that it was hard to hide my feelings. Prickly words would come out of my mouth unconsciously or I’d find myself engaging in passive-aggressive behaviors in order to get back at this person and to relieve my psychic tension, to no avail. The solution wasn’t about changing them, it was about developing the courage to look at a shadow side of me and freeing up the energy for it to express itself authentically by accepting it.
Eventually, originating from Byron Katie’s “The Work”, I came up with a simple exercise that helps me work through the feelings that come up and set the stage for me to take back the projection from that person. I do this for two reasons:
a) I want to get to know, accept and love all of me (a lifelong process).
b) I know the power of the Shadow and its ability to destroy relationships and lives when it gets ignored.
Here it goes:
1) Go ahead, judge them
Come up with one short sentence that can express your grief about this person. Example: “He is selfish”.
2) Explore alternative statements
Turn the sentence around and say each of these statements to yourself (out loud is even better):
“I am selfish”
“I used to be selfish”
“I wish I was selfish”
“I could be selfish”.
Hold each statement until you are able to feel the truth of them in your body/mind consciousness.
3) Flex Your Heart Muscles
The third step is for opening the heart and flexing the compassion muscle. This is also when we arrive at new truths and decisions for ourselves and access the compassion behind our irritation.
Behind every behavior is one intention: to feel good. This is universal. Applying this question to the selfish friend situation, your new interpretation and inner dialogue could look like this:
He believes that, unless he puts himself first, his needs do not get met. He wants to make sure that his needs are taken care of. I don’t know him well enough to understand where his behavior comes from. People do what they do in order to feel good, loved, and enough. Maybe by taking care of himself to the extent that he does, he feels like he is relieving others from the responsibility of making him happy. Maybe there is wisdom for me to learn here. Maybe what I consider selfish is his normal. I am willing to see a deeper truth”.