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  • Danusia Atkinson

What can I learn from someone I hate?

Updated: Dec 21, 2022

Why paying attention to strong negative responses can help us understand ourselves and our experiences.

Have you ever met someone who has driven you crazy? Perhaps someone you work with, even a friend of yours might do something that just causes you to see red. There may be a particular celebrity that you can’t stand, a politician or even on occasion someone you love may do something that makes you furious.

I am not thinking about examples of abuse or unacceptable behaviour- more examples of when your feelings take you by surprise, perhaps a flash of rage or guilt or something you can’t move past.

Carl Jung theorised that we all have a Shadow Self- this shadow self is the part of ourselves that contains all the parts of ourselves that we don’t like, or we believe others may not like. We distance ourselves from these parts of ourselves, unwilling or unable to own them and often then project them onto others. It is difficult to own some of the parts of ourselves that we may not like and especially those that we fear are not socially acceptable.

If we can be curious and think about our reactions to others, it may give us a clue as to what those shadow feelings may be. If we can acknowledge them and begin to integrate them into our personality, we can find strength in them. For example, people often tell me about how upset they are about another person’s selfish behaviour, if we explore this together, it may be that they believe that to be assertive is a selfish act and they themselves struggle to say what they want and need- this leaves them feeling pushed around by others and perhaps furious or guilty about their anger. If both the guilt and anger form part of the shadow, it may feel incredibly difficult for the person to access their own assertiveness but with support in identifying those shadow feelings and thinking about their origin, the person may be able to access their assertiveness in a different and more satisfying way.

Where does the shadow come from?

The shadow often comes from our earlier experiences and from the people around us. As humans, we all want to fit in, to be socially accepted and accepted by those we love. Perhaps we may have been given the message, consciously or unconsciously, that some feelings or traits are not acceptable- these may have been sent to the shadow in order to allow us to continue to feel safe and connected to others. It may have been important to do so then but perhaps as we change, we limit ourselves and our potential by keeping feelings in the shadow. We prevent ourselves from being able to access our feelings, being able to express our true selves and may live with a very critical inner voice.

Parenting and the shadow

If you are a parent, Philippa Perry’s book “The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read” deals with the shadow side when it’s triggered by a child. She suggests that when one feels any difficult emotion in response to their child, it can be thought of as a warning. The intense emotion the parent may feel may be a feeling that they used as a child to defend themselves from what they were feeling.

Someone once told me that they found their child’s chatting extremely irritating- the child would chat incessantly during the rush to leave the house for school in the morning and the parent would often find it challenging to not shout or be bad-tempered. With some curiosity, we thought about this reaction. The parent remembered that their mother was fond of saying “ empty vessels make the most noise”. For them, this meant that those who spoke the loudest were often the ones who had the least knowledge- "only stupid people chat" was the message and the anger or shame at this had been pushed into the shadow. Perhaps the parent’s reaction was fear of their child being thought of as stupid by others or even anger or shame at the message given to them if they were chatty as a child. With this improved understanding, the parent was able to think more clearly about their response to their child and make different decisions about how to react.

How do we deal with the shadow?

We look for triggers, often experiences or people that cause an intense reaction in us. Perhaps this feeling might be anger, guilt, shame or a feeling that causes us to engage in self-destructive, avoidant or obsessive behaviour. As we explore these, we can wonder if there are any themes or patterns to these responses- this can help us start to explore the shadow. Talking these feelings through with a therapist is a great place to start thinking about our shadow side in a safe and non-judgmental space. If we can accept a shadow side, we can use this knowledge to inform our decisions, our behaviour and our relationships.

You can contact me for counselling, online or in person in Sevenoaks, Kent via the contact me section of this website. To find out more about the therapy that I offer, please look at the rest of my website.

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