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  Jane Miller


Articles -- The path to wholeness

Emotional outbursts or thoughtless comments can so often ruin our chances of a promotion, mess up a relationship or just plain get in the way of our happiness. When these things happen, you sometimes look back and ask "Where did that come from? That's not like me at all!"

Well, in fact, it IS like you. It's a part of yourself that you have denied and disowned - probably a long time ago. When parents or teachers disapprove of characteristics like selfishness or aggression, we at first hide these, but eventually we may entirely disown these feelings. And if you deny an emotion completely, it will find a way to express in round-about ways, sabotaging your success and relationships.

For example, a person who has disowned selfishness may sacrifice everything for her family; but at some point it all gets to be too much and she starts to have outbursts of anger, saying "Why do I have to do everything?!!" She sees her martyrdom as something imposed from outside, but it is the result of her own decision to ignore the selfish part of herself. That part is trying to tell her (wisely) that it's important for her to take care of herself. Since she has not listened to this voice, it forces its way through in angry outbursts.

Our disowned parts are not bad. Every part of oneself has a role to play and is important in the right context. It's only when we deny and disown a part of ourselves that it begins to act out inappropriately. But it's just trying to get our attention.

Identifying disowned characteristics
In "The Dark Side of the Light Chasers", Debbie Ford describes how to reintegrate our disowned parts through what she calls "Shadow Work".

You first need to identify your disowned characteristics. One way to do this is to notice the traits you see in other people that evoke a strong emotional reaction. A friend was describing someone she knew and said, "He's such a bragger! I can't stand people like that!" After some probing, she remembered that when she was young, she used to sing and dance for her relatives, and her mother would admonish her saying "Don't be such a show off!" Now, as an adult, she never really let her talents shine.

Looking at your family can also give you hints about the characteristics you have disowned. In my family, it was important to be strong and dependable. Weakness and irresponsibility were unacceptable. My dad never missed a day's work in his life (except when hospitalized). For many years, I followed this pattern. I remember teaching a three-hour class with a terrible head-cold and disguised the fact so well that none of the students noticed.

Another technique is to write down "I am..." and follow with every characteristic you can think of. For example, "I am stupid" / "I am cowardly" / "I am greedy". As you do this, notice which statements you vehemently deny. Those are your disowned traits!

Find the gift
The next step is to find the 'gift' in each of your disowned characteristics. For example, traits like selfishness and weakness may alert us to the need to take care of ourselves. Bragging allows us to display and celebrate our talents.

Whenever you notice a characteristic you don't like, bring it out and look for its gift. Is it trying to protect you? Is it asking for better balance in your life? Then, work with that feeling to find an appropriate form of expression.

Regaining wholeness
Most of us resist negative thoughts and emotions. But if you suppress them, they will build up and eventually escape in inappropriate ways. They may even cause health issues.

A more productive way to deal with negative thoughts and feelings is to turn our full attention to them, listen to what they are trying to say and address their concerns with curiosity, patience and gratitude.

It's as if we have a world of personalities inside our head. They all have good intentions, wanting to help us achieve happiness. When we welcome their input, we will regain peace and we can make choices based on a much broader perspective.

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