Back to (Shadow) School

Lately it feels like the life lessons are coming thick and fast. Like someone is perpetually holding up a life size mirror exposing all the uncomfortable truths I’ve tried to hide from without even realising it. 

A number of things have been converging to result in this situation. Firstly, the Inside Out series we have been going through at Tribe with its focus on neuroplasticity and rewiring our brains; then there’s the Richard Rohr book “Falling Upward” that is blowing my mind with its insights and the timeliness of its advice every time I pick it up. More generally in life there have been situations that have provoked a strong emotional response and I’ve had to analyse why I have reacted so vehemently …. I guess it isn’t surprising that all this has produced a heady cocktail of self-analysis!

Rohr has introduced the concept to me of a ‘persona’ and ‘shadow self’ which has revolutionised my thinking. He says that the ‘persona’ is the stage mask you diligently construct in the first half of your life and try desperately to live up to. The ‘shadow (real) self’ then is ‘what you refuse to see about yourself, and what you do not want others to see’. In order to transition to the ‘second stage’ of life you have to let go of your persona and live more and more out of your shadow self. If you choose to hold onto the persona (‘what most people want from you and reward you for, and what you choose to identify with’) you will end up becoming ‘imprisoned within yourself’. Ultimately, we can try then to see beyond even our own shadow then to our “True Self’ which is ‘who you are “hidden [with Christ] in God”‘.

This may all just sound like a bunch of weird concepts, but I have found it amazing in articulating exactly what I’m working through right now- trying to let go of caring so much about what others think about me, letting myself be seen to be struggling (rather than running away or retreating to keep my ‘in control’/’perfect mother’ persona intact), not punishing myself for ‘failing’ with the kids, and taking responsibility for my own faith journey and not just being a parasite on Dave’s!

Earlier in the week we had a really hard day, and I think the reason was that the realisations I had last week regarding pouring myself into tangible goals so I could still feel as if I was succeeding as a mother, meant that I couldn’t even fall back on my usual ‘crutches’ in making myself feel validated again. From my usual framework, I achieved a lot (in terms of washing, cleaning and baking), but the relational failings really hit me this time. I cracked it at Eli for overreacting to Hudson and pushing him into a door frame, but could see the hypocrisy of myself losing it (overreacting) at the same time. Having these insights, however, didn’t fill me with joy at the exposure of the game but caused great sadness and despair at my persistent lack. The next night I read “there will always be some degree of sadness, humiliation, and disappointment resulting from shadow work, so it’s best to learn to recognize it and not obsess over it. It is the false self that is sad and humbled, because its game is over.” I love that Rohr gives me a framework to understand and make sense of this part of the journey!

Another of Rohr’s insights is that the shadow self is at play every time one has a strong emotional response to something. Either I am a very emotional person, or my persona is in the process of completely falling to bits! Now I have been asking myself what the root cause of the reaction is, and usually it is related to my attempts (and failure) to control or a reaction to others being seemingly unencumbered by others’ view of them. Rohr says that he prays for at least one good  disappointment or humiliation a day so as to keep the shadow self firmly in view and to keep him humble. Motherhood definitely provides that quota!
Anyway, the positive side of all of this is that I have been able to recover more quickly from brain snaps and poor parenting decisions and hopefully be a very real example to the kids of facing your faults and weaknesses head on instead of burying them and suffering anxiety as a result. 
Also, as I look back through photos of the past few weeks, these internal struggles aren’t what shines through, but the positive and meaningful moments of connection with Dave, Eli and Hudson. We have gone on numerous trips to Savers, baked together, set up our Christmas tree, listened to Christmas carols non stop, I’ve watched the boys have countless cute conversations, they have made up games together, and Dave and I have started playing a computer game together again as well!

Mum and Dad have just moved out of our family home of 24 years and the process has brought up some good memories of our time spent there. Their new house and proximal walking distance location to parks and shops is incredible, too, which makes me so excited as to the memories we will create there! 

Life is far more than the sum of struggling moments. Even if they seem to stand out like a black stain on a white dress. Meaningful connections, being vulnerable, saying sorry, creating memories, sharing experiences- this is the messiness that makes our reality so worth living.

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