“It is the growing ability to allow the dark side of our personality to enter into our awareness that prevents a one-sided life in which only that which is presentable to the outside world is considered as a real part of ourselves.” The Dance of Life by Henri Nouwen, edited by Michael Ford
Walking into a dark, deserted house at midnight when the heavens are dark with clouds and you are alone and nervous, can be quite daunting – and more so if there is no means of dispelling the darkness by switching on a light.
When our feelings are dark and depressing, when we feel trapped by the dark side of our personalities, with angry, negative or destructive thoughts, we can feel like a haunted house with all its spider webs, shattered windows and doors banging at the mercy of icy draughts howling around the darkness.
When there seems to be no promise of light or warmth, the night attempts to convince us that it will never give way to dawn. But we know it will, because it has happened every day of our lives. We need to believe as well that, even though we are presently shrouded in disillusionment, depression or despair, tomorrow may well herald a new beginning.
Millions of inventions have enhanced our standards of living and co-existence with one another because people have taken on the challenge of dealing with darkness, lack of light, of warmth, transport, communication, good health, education, spiritual well-being, brotherly love, sound minds, admirable attributes and values.
Inventors have taken the bull by the horns and made problems and difficulties serve a worthwhile purpose, rather than allowing them to rampage through our lives causing despair.
We need to do likewise, take on the challenge of those parts of our personality that we feel are ugly and unhelpful. Maybe it would be more constructive to acknowledge them and work through them rather than denying or defending them.
We could accept their presence and try to honestly assess and discover what it is they tell us about ourselves. We could treat them as the means by which we get in touch with things that need to be changed, corrected and transformed into something more beneficial in our lives.
We can begin to see our darker sides as teachers in the wings, waiting for us to co-operate with them so that we may grow into more whole and complete persons.
For instance – instead of being bogged down by our impatience, we can perhaps notice that we need to pay more attention to caring for those who irritate us, or stopping before we express our frustration by thinking about what would bring greater peace to the situation. That, in the long run the argument will be forgotten but a friendship may have been lost. So our impatience becomes the means by which we learn to bide our time and become more gracious in our relationships – a trait we can now gratefully acknowledge and own as an important agent in our growth.
St. Paul of the New Testament, despaired of his thorn in the flesh and begged God to take it out of his life, but without success. In the end he had to accept it as a part of his essential self that God would use to keep him humble and teachable.
If we can see that the dark sides of our personalities can in fact be life-giving as we acknowledge them and learn from them, we will be more fully alive as we embrace them and use them to good effect. We will also be more transparent and better known to ourselves and others.