Positivity versus Joy

People look to many different things to bring them joy – money, status, a beautiful place to live, the perfect partner, children, friends…. . However there is also generally a sense that a person’s way of being – who or how they are – has a greater influence on their happiness than the people or things around them. Many of us strive to find this joy inside ourselves, and equally we hope that those we love will experience this kind of joy and we want to support them in finding this for themselves – but how do we find this? In working towards joy being positive about ourselves and our lives sounds like a logical starting point and is encouraged by many different ideologies and schools of thought – surely choosing to think positive thoughts is going to bring us closer to joy….isn’t it? This article discusses why this isn’t necessarily the case, and how positivity can actually move us further away from experiencing the deep and lasting joy for which we are searching.

Joy

A core belief that I hold when working with the shadow is that true joy comes from knowing, accepting, loving and blessing all parts of ourselves. This means knowing and accepting the parts of us that are in deep grief, or filled with rage, frightened, hesitant, hateful or full of shame or guilt. It means welcoming these parts of ourselves in to our sacred realm and tenderly caring for them and listening to their needs and the powerful emotions that they carry. As we come to know and accept more and more of ourselves we find we are more able to sit back, relaxed in our own skin, knowing there is nothing in us that we fear, nothing we need to hide. Sitting in this place colours all our life experiences. It gives us a deep confidence whatever is happening around us and allows joy to arise even in the midst of life’s most difficult challenges. We lead ourselves through life from a foundation of joy. Throughout our life we can find joy bubbling up from this place in us, unforced and unbidden. When it comes there is no reaching, no trying, joy simply flows.

Positivity

On the other hand a rigid insistence on positivity at all times, constantly  striving for only the ‘positive’, requires a denial or repression of the ‘negative’ ‘unwanted’ aspects of ourselves – a pushing away or hiding of these unwelcome parts. This can be in complete opposition to the process of self acceptance described above. Other people can unwittingly encourage this in us through the espousing of certain oversimplified spiritual beliefs and practices and also through platitudes and well known phrases such as…..

♦ Can’t you just be happy? ♦ No one likes someone who’s angry all the time. ♦ You create more of what you focus on. ♦ What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. ♦ It’s all happening for a reason. ♦ Time heals. ♦ If you can’t think of anything nice to say don’t say anything at all. ♦ Cheer up – it might never happen. ♦ There’s no point in being sad. ♦ You look much prettier when you smile. ♦ Man up. ♦ Boys don’t cry. ♦ You have to be strong. ♦ I’m sure he/she loves you really. ♦ Can’t you just be more flexible? ♦ Just go with the flow. ♦ It will all look better in the morning. ♦ Life doesn’t give you things you can’t handle. ♦hYou’ve been through worse. ♦ Think about it from his/her point of view. ♦ I can’t believe they really meant to do that. ♦ That’s not a very constructive thing to say. ♦ You have to forgive or it will eat you up. ♦ You’re the only person who suffers if you hold on to this anger. ♦ You’re being very negative. ♦ Negative emotions give you cancer.

On top of the pain you are already experiencing you are now experiencing the pain of not being allowed to be yourself. Of being told your feelings are inappropriate, invalid. You now carry the shame of being ‘wrong’ somehow in the way you are dealing with your upset, and the guilt of upsetting others with your ‘negative’, ‘unhelpful’ responses.

However the people who make these comments aren’t intending to be cruel. They are simply sharing their own manual for living life. They have no experience of emotions being helpful in anyway. They just don’t see the point in them. The problem here is that the value of emotions isn’t something that can be explained intellectually – it has to be experienced. The invitation ‘Why not just be happy?’ is hard to argue with – it certainly sounds like a very good idea! Why would you take the risk of experiencing these painful emotions if you have no prior experience of what is to be gained by allowing them?
Yet unfortunately these phrases that sound so benign, even caring, are subtly (or not so subtly) asking the person to move away from what they are feeling in that moment and suggesting that it is not ok or welcome for them to be experiencing this. How can we possibly feel joy if we are getting the message that parts of us are unacceptable and we have to keep them hidden? We are being told to hide our distress away, and in doing we lose the opportunity of ever finding the comfort and support which could bring us relief. Resigning ourselves to this can create inner despair and hopelessness. Relentless positivity requires a deadness to our true selves, a repression of the emotions that are our very life force. Our smile – although beautiful, will have a hollowness behind it, and we will regularly need to find a place to hide, since being around others in this way is exhausting and impossible to sustain. Behind this lovely smile which others may enjoy and encourage an ugly battle is going on, where parts of us are being banished, gagged, strangled and silenced. This is very painful for our true self. A dream that many people have described having is one where they become aware they have killed someone and they are trying to hide the body. One interpretation of such a dream is that we have killed a part of ourselves and we are trying to keep it hidden. In our waking life we may develop the sense of wearing a mask and yet not really understand where this feeling comes from, as hiding our true selves has become second nature and we are no longer consciously aware we are doing it.

An insistence on positivity comes from a place of fear

It is important to recognise here that relentless positivity comes from a place of fear – fear of powerful emotions and the energy they contain. There can, of course, be validity in this fear – emotions can certainly be overwhelming, even damaging if they are not held and met effectively. However the insistence on positivity needs to be recognised for what it is – a negative response to intense emotions, driven by fear. It is a running away from what is true and alive because it threatens to overwhelm us and there is no one around us who can help us to contain it. It is a coping strategy for dealing with aspects of ourselves that we believe are not loved or welcome. It is a contorted, desperate straining for the light because we do not know how to be with the darkness.

The challenges and gifts in accepting ourselves

It takes a brave parent to raise a child and to welcome all their emotions. It takes a brave person to be in a relationship where all emotions are welcome. Yet the riches of such a way of life are profound, and the vitality and joy that naturally flow from this far outshine the fragile ‘light’ of positivity and the brittle unsustainable nature of such an outlook.

If you try, yet struggle, to be positive in your life it may be that this way of handling emotions was a coping mechanism that served you well as you were growing up, or got you through a particularly challenging time in your life, but perhaps now you are outgrowing it. When you reach a point where life is safe enough you may wish to weigh up the risks of exploring these ‘negative’ sides of yourself and to see if you want to take the challenge of exploring these hidden thoughts and feelings. This opens up the possibility of discovering the joy that can be released along with the grief and the pain.
The fact that joy comes from accepting the ‘negative’ parts of ourselves is one of the many paradoxes that we work with in Shadow Work. This is why arguments such as ‘You create what more of what you focus on’ along with other statements listed above, whilst having some validity in some situations, simply don’t express the complex way in which human beings work.

Being with the ‘negative’ feelings in others

In Shadow Work we believe that the Sovereign part of us is the place where this self love lies and there is a link to further information about this Sovereign part of us at the end of this article. If we do not love ourselves we cannot possibly fully love another. Not because we do not want to, but because it is impossible to offer someone something that we are not capable of giving to ourselves. If we cannot accept our own places of shame/weakness/anger/ hatred/grief/fear we cannot accept these in another. And if we don’t accept these parts of someone else then we are not fully loving them. Our love is conditional and shallow and the other person will sense our judgement and feel pain at having these parts of themselves denied.

We can sometimes push other’s feeling away totally instinctively without realising we’re doing it, or it may be because we just don’t know what else to say. Sometimes we simply can’t bear to sit and witness someone else’s pain and we may find ourselves offering them one of the platitudes above in the hope that we can move swiftly away from such difficult thoughts and feelings. If you’d like to try a different way of being with people who are experiencing ‘negative’ emotions one place to start is simply to show that you are comfortable with the place they are in and willing to allow it. If someone is telling you about something painful that’s going on you can try simply saying ‘That sounds really upsetting.’ Or ‘I can see why that would make you really angry.’ Or ‘I’m so sorry that happened.’ or ‘You really can’t see any good in life at the moment can you?’ Try to show them as best you can that you get what they’re experiencing in this moment, and you have no need for them to be feeling anything different. It is tremendously powerful just to let another person know you are willing to be with their ‘negative’ emotions. That you don’t fear these and don’t feel the need to push them away. But of course, the most important place to start practicing this acceptance and allowing is with yourself – and this is the biggest challenge of all – and for most of us a life long journey.

 

For further information about Shadow Work and the support available please visit: ShiatsuAndShadowWorkBristol.co.uk

Further reading:

Are you Leading From Fear Or From Joy?

A talk about the Sovereign archetype

The Myth of Positivity

 

How can we communicate with authenticity and depth?

There are certain situations in our life that call for us to dig deep and talk about what is really important to us. When the stakes are high it is important that we communicate effectively, if we are misunderstood in these important moments it can cause much pain and confusion. When we wish to build trust in a relationship, or when we want to be sure we are really heard, things go much better if we can communicate what we want to say fully and authentically. In reality this is no small thing to achieve and it requires both courage and vulnerability.

When we share ourselves fully we are stepping in to the unknown and we cannot predict the consequences. Communication becomes much more about expressing ourselves and what we are thinking and feeling, and less about trying to achieve a particular outcome or hoping to get our needs met by the other person. However, what we stand to gain is increased intimacy and deeper understanding – both of ourselves and the other. This deeper trust and understanding increases the chances that we will be able to work together towards ‘win win’ solutions where we can both feel happy with the outcome.


In Shadow Work we find people often communicate only half of what is really going on for them. If we are to truly communicate then we need to share all of who we are, not just selected parts of ourselves. The parts that tend to get left out in communication are the things that may make us vulnerable to the other, or cause us some shame or discomfort. Yet these are the very parts of ourselves that we need to share if we wish the other person to open their heart to us and really hear what we want to say. It is necessary to share these things if we want true communication to flow.

We also tend to avoid saying things we fear might compromise our relationship and cause the other person to leave us or judge us. Yet, if we wish to communicate with full authenticity we need to be able to accept that the relationship may change or end, otherwise we will always be compromised to some extent in our communication and there will always be certain thoughts, feelings or ideas that are ‘off limits’ in our conversations. In Shadow Work terms we would say that these have been put in to shadow. Paradoxically, once something is hidden away in shadow like this it has the potential to cause way more damage and destruction than if it is acknowledged openly.

 

In The Authentic Communication model that I use with couples, clients and groups we break communication down in to 5 different sections:

The Facts What actually happened

Our Judgements What we think or believe about what happened

Our Feelings How we feel about what happened

Our Boundary What is not ok for us

Our Want What we want from the other person

 

Now let’s look at using this model in more detail.

Some of us find it relatively easy to tell another person what we don’t like about their behaviour, and to let them know the judgements we have of them. For example:


‘You’re ALWAYS late home from work – you’re so THOUGHTLESS.’


What we are leaving out in this however is how we feel in response to their behaviour. Our genuine deep feeling, such as sadness, anger or fear. We are also forgetting to say what we actually want from the person, in place of the behaviour that we don’t like. It might be better to say:


‘I feel frightened when you’re late home. I fear that we’re growing apart. I’d like you to come home earlier so we can spend the evening together.’

However it can take a lot of courage to say what we fear. We may not want to have our fears confirmed. We may have a sense that speaking our fears makes them more likely to come true. Or we may worry that our fears will be seen as childish or silly.

It can also feel very vulnerable to ask for what we want, so without realising it many of us leave this out too. Yet this can leave the other person floundering, they only hear what they have done ‘wrong’ and yet are left with no idea what the ‘right’ thing to do would be. If we want to communicate effectively we need to let go of the hope that someone else will magically know what is right for us, and we need to communicate what we want clearly. We also need to accept that we may not get what we want. However it’s still important to communicate this so that the other person can know us better.

Another difficulty with communication can come in muddling up what has actually happened with our judgements of it. This too can leave the other person feeling confused. For example, if my friend was an hour late to meet me yesterday, and I got very annoyed waiting for her, I might say:


‘You’re so late, you really don’t value our friendship do you? I bet you were with your new boyfriend, you think he’s more important than me. You’re just not a good friend to me anymore and I need a good friend right now that I can trust.’


Now, for my friend to hear this is quite a lot! She may well respond defensively and communication could break down between us.
It would help for me to separate out what actually happened from my judgements of the situation. So, the only fact I know is that she arrived an hour after the time we arranged. The rest are all my judgements and it’s much clearer if I state them as that. Once I’ve had time to think about it I might say this instead:


‘I’d like to talk to you about the time you arrived today if that’s ok. My understanding was that we arranged to meet at 8 and you arrived at 9, am I right about that? While I was waiting for you I began to get the idea that you might be taking some extra time with your new boyfriend rather than getting here on time. I thought that maybe you don’t value our friendship so much now, and I actually thought – you’re not being a very good friend to me at the moment!’


It can also be helpful is to tell the other person that we know our judgements are not necessarily true. They’re just our guesses. They’re the sense we’re making of what has happened. Below I go on to say this and state my feeling (angry), my boundary (what I wasn’t ok with) and what I would like from her in future.


‘I know none of that is necessarily true, It’s just what started going round in my head while I was waiting, but the result of this was that I started to feel quite angry. It really wasn’t ok with me that you arrived so late. I’d really appreciate it if you could turn up on time when we meet as that would help me to believe you value our friendship – and right now I’d really like to feel secure in our friendship.’

All of this may still be hard to hear, but my friend can at least have some understanding of where I am coming from. I am sharing my vulnerability around our friendship and I’ve said clearly what I want from her and why. She is much more likely to be able to hear me and to enter in to a constructive dialogue with me. She is quite likely to share what is really going on for her (which may bear no relationship to what I was imagining!). This then paves the way to further genuine communication between us.

So in Shadow Work we try to break our communication down in to:

1) What Actually Happened.


2) Our Judgements/opinions/thoughts/ideas around what happened.


3) Our Feeling about what happened.


4) Our Boundary – what wasn’t/isn’t ok with us.

5) What we Want from the other person.

It takes a lot of practice to communicate effectively in this new way. I’ll talk more about using this model in future blogs..

What is the point of sadness?

Sadness is something many of us try to avoid feeling. However, as with all the pure emotions, we believe it plays an important role in life. The purpose of sadness is to help us release the pain of our loss so that we are free to find new connections and to risk love again. After identifying our loss and allowing our grief  to flow we are free to find a joyful or more meaningful way of remembering, and with time to move forward in our life to form fresh connections.

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Releasing our sadness grounds us and brings a life giving fluidity.  Rather than rigidly ignoring our pain and sorrow and soldiering ever onwards, sadness helps us slow down and soften to the flow of our life. It allows space for us to sit with the realities of life and of human relationships.

When we cry our tears release toxins which otherwise gets stored in our body and can cause pain and ill health. When tears flow freely they leave us feeling lighter, and bring healing by allowing us to let go. They help us mourn and then move to a place where we can eventually find a joyful or more meaningful way to remember, to honour that which we have lost, and stay connected in a rich rewarding way, rather than painful, way. In Shadow Work we believe that we are all deeply loving, deeply connected beings and will always remain connected to that which we have lost. 1512275_517505665039319_27714160_nHowever we have a choice as to whether to remain connected painfully or joyfully.

Sadness softens us and re-awakens a sense of trust in the flow of time, and in the possibility of healing. This can eventually bring a gentleness and acceptance to the loss so that with time we can transform what has been lost in to a memory that enriches our life. If our sadness does not get a chance to flow then we will maintain a painful or dysfunctional connection to that which we have lost, and we’ll be unable to fully re-engage with life.

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We believe that if we fully grieve the loss we leave space for a new, more joyful way of remembering to be found, where the good in the connection can be remembered and celebrated. This is particularly important for complicated grief when one can be left with many negative, confusing and painful memories of the person or connection that was lost.

g1024px-Rome_WWStory_angel_in_griefFor example:

•Loss of a loved one to suicide.

•losing a partner when they have an affair.

•Loss of a loved one when you feel responsible for your parting.

•Loss of a loved one when you feel responsible for their death.

•Loss of your country due to civil war.

It’s important that all the negative emotions, the pain and anger and mixed feelings are fully explored and released so that, with time, it is possible to remember what was meaningful, important or even joyful to us about these connections.

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Sadness revitalises and rejuvenates us, connecting us deeply to ourselves, and to our emotions. Nothing has to be ‘done’ for this to happen. The emotion, (and there may be a mixture of emotions as we said earlier, not just sadness), simply needs to be allowed to flow. Although this is ‘simple’ it is not necessarily easy and many of us carry unprocessed grief from losses we have sustained in our life. We will talk further about this in our next two blogs:

What happens if we repress our sadness?

http://exploringtheshadow.co.uk/2014/03/26/what-happens-if-we-dont-get-the-opportunity-to-feel-our-sadness-fully/

-When sadness seems overwhelming…

http://exploringtheshadow.co.uk/2014/03/18/what-can-we-do-if-our-sadness-is-overwhelming-or-too-frightening-to-feel/.

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25032_337836914562_2126862_nb - Copy“To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”

Exerpt from “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver, from American Primitive.

“Learning to accept yourself and others. To accept that what you have lost is well and truly lost forever, and that sadness is now your trusted companion. To be courageous, humble, loving and forgiving is no small task. But this is what you are to undertake if you are to find your way out of the prison of depression and never to return to it.”

Dorothy Rowe – on depression

To watch a DVD about the Lover Archetype, which is the Archetype which we relate to sadness and grief, follow this link:

https://www.facebook.com/1725807960987844/videos/1727016790866961/?theater

Celebrating Anger

lioness with cubs

 

In our culture anger tends to get a pretty bad press. Indeed, repressed or out of control anger can cause harm both physically and emotionally and can permanently damage relationships. There are obvious and important reasons for these types of anger to be feared, we must not overlook these or take them lightly. However, we want to start this blog by celebrating healthy anger. We believe pure anger, like any other emotion, is a force for good, and has deep wisdom behind it.

• Anger gives us the drive and passion to stand up for ourself.

• Anger helps us to know when a boundary has been crossed.

• Anger gives us the strength to say ‘ No ‘ ‘ Stop ‘ or ‘ This isn’t right for me.’

• Anger is a vital force within us. It keeps us alive and growing.

• Anger empowers us and helps us face our fear.

• Healthy anger gives us the self power with which we can hold others, and ourselves, to account.

• Anger gives us the courage to walk towards difficult conversations.

• The power of anger gives us the strength to speak the truth.

• Anger is strong and clear and can bring the manipulative and deceptive behaviour of others out in to the light.

• Anger takes action, and can break the paralysing cycle of fear and analysis that can otherwise cause us to sit back and become passive victims of circumstance.


“Anger is a river. It wants to be released into the vaster ocean. It wants to move naturally. When we repress it with premature forgiveness, block it with false positivity, repress it in the name of pseudo-peace, we just dam(n) our natural flow. The river then turns inward, against the self, or explodes outwardly, against innocents. Better we express it when it is in our awareness- not in a way that is destructive to humanity- but in a way that is authentic and that restores the integrity of our being. Anger isn’t the enemy. Misplaced anger is. Let the river flow……” ~Jeff Brown~

“Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” ~Aristotle~

“When they get angry, they bring about a change.” ~ Malcolm X~

“The only people mad at you for speaking the truth are those living a lie. Keep speaking it.” ~Author unknown.~

Hopefully this blog has started you thinking about the positive attributes of anger and how it may be of value in our lives. In our next blog we explore the relationship between anger and love…

To watch a talk about the Warrior archetype and anger please go to

https://http://www.facebook.com/1725807960987844/videos/1727011660867474/?theater

If you’d like to explore your anger one to one or in a Shadow Work group please see our websites:

http://www.shiatsuandshadowworkbristol.co.uk

https://hughnewton.com