Everyone has duality – the ‘acceptable’ side we show the world, and the shadow self, a seemingly dark, confronting part of us we’d rather ignore. But working with your duality is an essential part of growth, writes Amal Awad.
Those of us familiar with self-help concepts may already be acquainted with ‘mirror work’. It doesn’t have to be literal, but for many it would involve actually standing in front of a mirror in order to face and decipher your true self.
For others, it’s purely a mental exercise, like having an intuitive conversation with yourself, though without self-censorship or judgment. (Incidentally, not aloud, in a public place, where people around you become part of your story.)
It might sound a little kooky or absurd, but if you’re comfortable plunging your tuning fork into the subconscious, it makes a whole lot of sense. You’ll hit some interesting notes, and may well be amazed by what you discover. In fact, hopefully, you’ll become more self-aware, and contentedly so.
It’s harder than it sounds, because your ‘true self’ exists in duality, and for most of us, we prefer to follow one version of a story. We don’t all want the extended version. Yet, like the yin and yang, we all have two primary, complementary sides: the one we project to the world (and ourselves), and the one we keep hidden.
Like a long lost friend we had a falling out with years ago, we pretend our shadow self doesn’t exist. Or, more likely, she or he remains embedded in our childhoods, where we were first weaned off natural behaviours and led into learnt ones.
Inner child syndrome, anyone?
Somehow, that disenfranchised part of ourselves is difficult to confront, even though so much of whom we truly are, of what makes us extraordinary and unique, resides within that inner child. Getting to know that part of you, and to let it rise to the surface, is one of the most difficult parts of self-development.
Your thoughts are food for your brain; your mental currency
Standing in front of a mirror alone, and unencumbered by the judgment of others, we don’t always want to see the truth of ourselves. The dark, tortured parts that yearn for things we’ve been taught to dislike; the socially acceptable, pious, genteel elements that make us ‘good’.
Who will make us feel better about the stuff we think makes us feel less than whole, somehow broken, lacking courage? And what do we do with the parts that make us admit we’re not living our lives the way we truly desire, because doing so will be too much of a challenge?
It comes down to the other part of mirror work, where you have to talk to yourself with the sort of compassion, kindness and love you’d frequently afford others, but rarely yourself.
Sound easy? It’s not – particularly saying them aloud in front of a mirror. I struggled. In fact, I tend not to use an actual mirror – though I am an unabashed advocate of affirmations.
This is, essentially, because they work. Consider the pains we go to in order to care for our bodies, losing weight by shedding junk from our diet and strengthening it through exercise. The mind is no different. Your thoughts are food for your brain – they’re your mental currency, and they form not only how you live your life, but what you allow into it.
It’s hardly surprising that negative, disempowered and envious people are fuelled by negative thinking. Conversely, the more positive, shiny types you meet don’t seem so concerned with everyone else. They’re self-aware and comfortable with their vulnerability.
Those stories from our past aren’t who we are, they’re just experiences that shape who we become
The mistake people make when talking about affirmative thoughts is that they expect a life of perfection. Obviously, that’s just never going to happen. Even the most capable captains face stormy seas.
In real world terms, your boats get rocked by the people you surround yourself with, the job you don’t like very much, or the fear of failure that whispers damaging ideas into your ears. And that inner child will creep in on you once in a while, taking you by surprise, and making you think about things you long ago repressed.
They tell us we’re not good enough, and that we have to make sure everyone else is happy, putting aside our own wellbeing. Somehow, we fall into the trap of thinking that an unsettled life is a bad one.
It’s not, it’s just the way this crazy universe is wired. We will have good times and bad, but the one constant in all of it is you, and how you carry yourself forward. And those stories from our past don’t matter. They’re not who we are, they’re just experiences that shape who we become.
Some of the most successful people I’ve met have very healthy relationships with themselves. They’re not bound by feelings of unworthiness, nor do they get bogged down by the problems of others. It’s one thing to be a supportive friend or relative to someone in need, it’s entirely another to be their garbage can, in which they dump all their crap.
Still, for all this talk of being comfortable enough with your duality, I know how difficult it can be. But it’s completely necessary if you seek a life of truth and meaning. More importantly, it’s a significant part of your journey if you want to be the main character in your story, no matter how convoluted the plot, rather than the supporting one who gets the best lines but no reward.