Coping With Divorce: Dancing with your dark side

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No matter what husbands do -- whether verbal abuse, reckless spending habits, checking out into a perpetual man cave, substance abuse, infidelity, and even domestic violence -- women tend to blame themselves for what went wrong in marriage.

Everything in our society teaches us to blame ourselves.  Boys will be boys.  If they've acted badly, it must be our fault for not making them happy enough.  If a man isn't happy at home, then whatever he ends up doing is only our own fault.  

How perfect is perfect enough?

But, when it comes to the wife's responsibility, how perfect is perfect enough?  When everything wrong with a marriage ends up cycling back to the wife not being perfect enough, don't you think there's something a little strange about this line of reasoning?

I'm not suggesting that your divorce was all his fault, although in our male-centered society, most often, the woman does most of the work and takes most of the hits in trying to keep a marriage together.  Yet, women blame themselves, and hardly ever look objectively at what a husband's part has been.  Men are not required to be mature, responsible adults in our world.  But we are expected to be flawless.

However . . . ahem . . . this is a blog post about dealing with your dark side.  Since one of the most important first steps I take with clients is to work with them to stop blaming themselves, the dark side of our personalities is something I'm involved with every day.

Everyone has a dark side and it's normal, not wrong.

We all have a dark side, and where men often feel more permission to let their dark sides roam free, as women we tend to try to beat ours into submission.  For a woman, having a dark side at all is taboo, so even being rightfully angry causes us feelings of guilt and shame afterwards.

So we try to hide it.  We try to act better than we feel, because women aren't allowed to vent anger or to lash out.  (If you do, you're a bitch and are expected to feel ashamed of yourself.)  During and after divorce, we try to tamp all of these scary, uncomfortable emotions down because we just don't have time to let our entire lives go up in smoke by getting stuck in how we feel.

But what if we can take a cold, hard look at the shadow side of our personalities, and find out how those submerged, unloved, shameful parts of ourselves can be some of our greatest strengths.  What if we can use these newly discovered strengths as we deal with the present (if you're in the midst of your divorce or still suffering afterwards) and as we walk on into a beautiful future.

Play date with your dark side.

Let's playfully look at all of these dark sides of your personality, and get to know them a little better.  Yes, trust me, this will be fun.

Get a sheet of paper and divide it into two columns.

In the first column, make list of all those traits you have that your parents disapproved of and reprimanded you for, that your school mates teased you about, that your romantic partners needled you and shamed you about -- and, of course, don't leave out all the things that only you have bashed yourself for.

In the second column, find at least one positive aspect for every negative trait in the first column.

Come on, give yourself five minutes to try this!  

You'll find out how so many of the best things about you are the things everyone told you were "bad."  You'll also find out how some of the traits you don't like in yourself came about because you weren't allowed to be you, and -- rightfully -- you may be steaming mad inside about a few things.

This is such a powerful exercise because, as a divorced woman, you now have freedom to be yourself, perhaps for the first time in many years.  And, I want you to know and love yourself in all your glory instead of hiding and denying half of yourself because no one else approved of her.

Shadow-side deep dig:  Find the compassion no one else would give you.

Here's an example of how to do the play date with your dark side exercise.

What if one of the items in your first column is that you're quick-tempered?  What could be some positive aspects of that?  Could it be that you're so brilliant that you get irritated that everyone else seems to be so much slower or sloppier than you are?  Does it mean that you're just more passionate about things than most people?  Does it mean that you're not afraid to express yourself?  

Does it mean that you've been denying yourself so much of what you wanted in life that you're just angry all the time?  Is it that you feel insecure and scared and you feel that life has been so unfair?  

What is your dark side trying to tell you?  It's coming out because it wants to tell you something.  It wants your love and attention.  What is the message, and how can you let that message bless you?

Did others have something to gain from criticizing you about a part of yourself?  Did they want you to just shut up and stop causing trouble (and the trouble simply was that you wanted to be treated as a human being or that you wanted your desires to matter)?

Our darker, out-of-control tendencies are only trying to do what they can to relieve our deep pain and make us feel better by any means necessary, no matter what the expression of the dark side tends to be:  anger, self-deprecation, procrastination, depression, sarcasm, freezing people out . . . or, fill in the blank.

But how can I give myself a free pass on everything that's wrong with me?

Here's the thing:  You've already brow-beaten yourself about everything that's "wrong" with you.     If we go with the quick-tempered example above, you've probably told yourself, over and over again, how you always put your foot in your mouth, how you regret not holding your tongue, that you can't believe how much you hurt others when you let loose on them, and so forth.  Plus, it may be that many people in your life have also given you lots of grief over this negative trait.

And now that you're going through divorce, you're likely rehashing, time and time again, all of the ways that every single negative trait you have contributed to the end of your marriage.  If you're like most women, no matter what he did, you're blaming yourself (which is easy to do because he's been blaming you, and you've been buying this, hook, line, and sinker).

I'm not suggesting that you go breathing fire and scorching earth all over the countryside.  Of course, it's important to acknowledge when we make mistakes, and to be aware of how our actions impact others.  It's my experience, though, that women already do too much of this.  And, when we beat up on ourselves when we're already exhausted, unloved, and ignored by the people who matter to us most, blaming ourselves even more is not the path to a kinder, more loving, you.

The dark side holds your most precious gifts.

By accepting the gifts that are hidden inside these so-called negative traits, you're simply allowing yourself to see both sides of the story.  You're able to look at any particular aspect of your personality and decide whether you want to accept what everyone has told you, or whether a diamond is hidden inside that trait.  Maybe that part of you was inconvenient for others, but in fact, it carries an essential message about who you are and why you're here on Earth.

There is a gift for you inside each shadow element of your personality.  By denying or disapproving of these shadow/negative traits, you give up the ability to see the gifts in each one.

If you're angry, can you find a way to channel the incredible energy of the anger into something that works in your favor rather than acting in a way that alienates the persons you want to influence?

If you feel that others never do enough to reciprocate for all you do for them, can you change your expectations in such a way that you free up the emotions of feeling unloved to treat yourself with more love and care -- and cut back on doing for others in the vain hope that they will love you?

Your shadow wants to be friends.

Only if you allow yourself to look with interest and curiosity about the pieces that aren't working -- the parts that cast a shadow on your life -- can you see that they're not your eternal fate, and instead, they just need a little reshaping so that they guide you and work for you rather than against you.  

It's okay to have a dark side -- we all have them.  Your shadow side has so much to teach you, and it wants your life to be better and happier.  The darkest parts of your personality and life are trying to get you to pay attention.  They're pointing the way toward the exact, self-loving changes you can make to heal those areas of pain that have been driving your life and making you angry and sad.

If you try the play date with your dark side exercise, I'd love to hear what comes to light.  Just click the contact button in the navigation bar above : ) .