Friday, July 22, 2011
"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. This procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not very popular."
In Jung's opinion, generally, the world was going to hell on a speeding train, and when people asked him if human kind had any hope at all of surviving, he said, only if we do our shadow work. In Jung's analysis, every person has a shadow, a part of the psyche that she rejects. And acknowledging that part is what he's talking about when he talks about shadow work. To extrapolate, the only way to be a decent parent is to expose your shadow parent--your dark side of the mom; the opposite of everything you saw on TV growing up. Because when you look at it, own it, even, occasionally, embrace the mother fucker (I use that term literally here), it doesn't knock you on your ass the same way it does if you're trying to pretend it isn't there and it shows up anyway, as it is wont to do. The idea is that you start to have a relationship with it. You see your shadow, and instead of hating yourself for having one, and trying to pretend you never threw that craaaazy tantrum when your kid wouldn't go to sleep that one night, you say, yes, I did. And you just sit with it. You look at it.
Sitting with it is different from indulging in it, and this is an important distinction. I question myself on this point, because I don't want badmommyla to turn into a vehicle through which I expose my bad behavior and then continue on with it, writing one humiliating/amusing post after another about how I lost it in the grocery store, or forgot to feed my child one day, or whatever madcap adventures we might associate with "badmommyla". That's not what I mean to be doing. What I mean to be doing--why I write this blog--is to share my experiences so that others will feel less alone. It is my mission to increase awareness and reduce shame and guilt. Because I believe that free of those things, we are freer, and better, mothers.
Sitting with it means neither repressing nor indulging. It means accepting. It means accepting not only that you are not perfect, but that you actually might be a little screwed up. I fantasize that there are mothers out there who don't do things they regret. Either they behave perfectly, a la Stepford Wives, or they are so at peace with their own darkness that they just accept themselves completely. Whatever the case, it ain't me, babe, no, no, no, it ain't me, babe. And if you're reading this post, it probably ain't you, either. Thank God we have each other!
The shadow side of motherhood is vast and sometimes downright terrifying. At the very darkest end of the spectrum, we have mothers who kill their children; a little further towards the light, mothers who chronically abuse their children; mothers who abandon their children. In Jung's opinion, this kind of acting out is the surest symptom of repressing the shadow. So maybe some of these truly "bad" mothers are trying so hard to be June Cleaver that the pressure not to be honest about how overwhelmed they are, or how much they sometimes resent their children, just completely overtakes them. Psychotherapist Robert Johnson explains, "The refused and unacceptable characteristics do not go away; they... collect in the dark corners of the personality. When they have been hidden long enough, they take on a life of their own--the shadow life... If it accumulates more energy than our ego, it erupts as an overpowering rage."
This is why I write this blog. I want to expose my shadow--the shadow of motherhood in general--to the light and create space for others to do so, in the hope that if we can look and laugh, and sometimes cry, and be honest, together, the gnarly beast of all that we don't want to be might be defeated, or tamed, or, at the very least, witnessed. Because I believe, as Jung did, that we can grow through our shadows into more enlightened human beings and, naturally, more enlightened mothers.