I have heard people talk about our "darkness" a lot lately (vs our light, bright sides) and I found myself wondering, “What does it mean, exactly?” Turns out we live in an obliging world, as a few days later I was deep in it. The darkness. Post-election, a big fight with a dear loved one caused me to spiral down.
I’ve started to notice when I’m down, my mind has it’s favorite go-to drama stories. You're a loser. Your business is dumb. You're failing. You're clueless. You'll never get where you want to be. You don't have what it takes. You've messed everything up and totally missed the boat.
The darkness. Sadness, depression, anxiety, fear, guilt, shame - fundamental parts of our current cultural experience - or at least my experience anyway.
Fundamental, but not allowed. I see this in myself and in my clients all the time. We go to the dark places and almost right away we judge ourselves for it, more harshly than we would ever judge another human being.
Your brain doesn't work. You're broken. You'll always be sad. You'll always be anxious and behind and stuck in the muck. You suck at this [losing weight, living your dream, making money, finding a partner, being happy - pick your brain's particular poison].
That’s where the darkness really gets painful. And that’s where we get stuck in it. It’s like a magic formula. If you want "dark" feelings to stick around – judge yourself, bully yourself, and numb out with food, alcohol, tv, social media. Permanent black cloud? Check.
Culturally we glorify happiness, high energy, productivity, motivation, grit. All important and valid experiences, to be sure, but when we praise those to the level of disallowing their opposites, we set ourselves up to feel like we’re never enough. Because no one is going to feel positively all of the time – especially not in a culture like ours that is constantly bombarding us with messages about how we should look and what should have accomplished by now.
Asking ourselves to be positive, motivated, driven, high energy all the time isn’t working. And it’s not because you’re failing. It's because we as human beings will experience a full range of emotions, light and dark. And a big part of why the darkness is SO uncomfortable is the judgment we place on it.
So here is your permission slip. Allow yourself the darkness. Seek out a friend or coach if you need support to feel it. But allow yourself to feel it. Tell yourself that it is ok to be sad; it's ok to feel unmotivated, it's ok to be anxious. I get that you don't want to feel that way forever, but allowing it, releasing your judgments about it is the simplest way to move through it.
Self-kindness and self-compassion. It’s a whole other kind of magic. Just give it a try, and you’ll see what I mean. It may feel a little manic, the mean part of your brain angling with the kind part, but I know for me, just a little bit of kindness towards myself changes everything.
**PODCAST UPDATE** For those of you who’ve been asking about the details – the podcast is well under way and coming soon! Earlier this week I recorded another episode with the amazing thought leader and my dear friend Kit Murray Maloney of O’Actually.
In it, we talk self-care with a key twist – permission for pleasure – in ALL the ways, wink, wink. Pleasure is totally missing from the conversation around self-help and self-improvement, and well, not only is that lame, it’s slowing us down from getting what we want. I think this interview will be really empowering, and I’m so excited to share it with you v. v. v. soon!