Every time you ignore or repress a part of yourself, you do damage. Sometimes, ignoring and repressing your emotions or undesirable behaviors leads to a flare up or an outburst. What’s more, ignoring and repressing means you aren’t exploring and understanding, so those flare ups can be confusing and disconcerting. If you’re like most people, you’ve done or said something and only seconds later asked yourself, “Why the heck did I do that?! I should know better.” But, do you know better? Taking the time to examine the patterns around your undesirable behaviors will help you understand where they come from, why you interact with them the way you do, and how you can make peace with them.
With both the Lower Self and the Shadow, the pattern is to disown. The base level negative emotions that we associate with the Lower Self, like fear and anger, are less championed by society than their counterparts, like bravery and happiness. In fact, society tends to say, “Hey — I don’t want to see that [insert base level negative emotion]! Cover that up with a smile so we can all pretend it isn’t there!” We’re trained to pretend these emotions don’t exist and, when they become too obvious to ignore, to attribute them to something beyond just, you know, being human.
We see ourselves fall into a similar pattern when we interact with the Shadow. We reject those parts of our personality that we don’t like and disown them, often by projecting them onto others. “A procrastinator? Me?! YOU’RE A PROCRASTINATOR!” You know, something along those lines … The rest of us doesn’t want to accept that we have shadowy parts, and we tend to try to pretend that we just don’t have them at all!
Truth Bomb: You cannot live a full life if you deny the existence of any part of yourself.
There are many different ways we can assess the motivators of our actions. Try examining your behavior through a developmental lens. Maybe try out a situational interpretation. But we all know ignoring your behaviors and emotions certainly isn’t a practical solution. The first step towards accepting and embracing your lower self and the shadow is to begin to understand all parts of them. Let’s take a look at how our behaviors are rooted in our biology. In particular, we’ll take a look at three behaviors that often prompt that “Why did I do that?!” response: shutting down, procrastinating, and tuning out.
Do you have a hard time staying present when people yell at you? Or do you freeze when you hear certain noises?
In these moments, your body is taking you on an autopilot journey. That weird noise or your friend’s yells are seen by your body as a threat, triggering a takeover by your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). Your ANS is the part of you that is responsible for the automatic processes of your body. People often “shut down” because they are over-loaded with stress or they feel powerless. An ANS-induced shutting down is often the result of extreme or preverbal trauma.
What you can do about it: The first thing to know about “shutting down” is that you really can’t verbally or rationally explain why this behavior shows up. When this behavior presents itself in your life, you might not even have access to the traumatic memories that instilled this reflex. The easiest way to look at “shutting down” is to see it as a response initiated by the nervous system and not a response to a memory.
Can you find anything and everything to do besides what you most need to do? Do you wait until the last minute to begin important tasks?
Evidence shows that procrastination is partly due to a maladaptation in your prefrontal cortex. Your prefrontal cortex is responsible for your executive functioning and governs tasks such as planning. While procrastination has a behavioral component to it – which is the habitual reinforcement of last-minute behavior – telling a procrastinator to just DO what needs to be done is like telling a depressed person just to cheer up. This approach never truly works because procrastination – like depression – has as much to do with one’s physiology as it does with their psychology.
What you can do about it: One of the easiest things you can do to help counter-act your tendency to procrastinate is to break your task down into small, easily accomplished steps. To support your progress, you can remove all distractions from your work environment, set and keep a consistent schedule, and monitor your mood. Also read this great article from the NY Times about some of the not-so-terrible things about procrastination. Remember folks, love all of yourself.
Do you zone out when your partner is telling you something? Do you have trouble paying attention in meetings?
This is often about more than simple avoidance. It’s often about an adaptive process by which you tune out unchanging data. This means that if repetitive information keeps coming your way, you’re going to stop being aware of it. This can also happen if you steadily assume that the information you’re presented with is going to be repetitive, regardless of whether or not it actually is.
What you can do about it: Sometimes your inability to see the newness around you is more about you than about the unchanging nature of your relationships. My advice here is for you to challenge yourself to approach your life – and all the people in it – with a sense of curiosity. Look for what you have not seen before.
So cut yourself a break and get a little more intimate with your socially unacceptable and less-than-desirable behaviors and emotions. They’re here to stay. You two might as well start getting along.