Why It’s Important To Understand Your Dark Side

When you were little, were you afraid of the dark? Most of us were. And I doubt we ever thought to question this fear. We were almost naturally taught to be afraid of the dark, because the dark is full of unknown things that might hurt us.

But what usually happened when you turned the light on? You learned the unknown things were not so scary. And they were not so unknown. They were just part of the environment.

We learned to associate darkness with scary and unknown, and we learned it’s better not to speak with our dark thoughts and emotions. Turning the light on our emotional shadow is a lot more challenging than flicking a physical light switch on, so we avoid it. Superficiality is easier. But this darkness of our soul has a life of its own that thrives whether or not we choose to acknowledge it.  It’s there, and it’s powerful.

Understanding Darkness

This fear of our emotional complexity grew as we grew, and with time became our shadow. It’s a hidden part in us that influences our choices more often than we are aware.

In truth, much effort goes into repressing and hiding it from ourselves and others. It’s our dark side — the parts we are ashamed of and afraid to show. But through denial, we fail to see that in the obscurity of darkness also lies our strengths.

As a result of past experiences, we have decided to negate and hide this dark side without exploring it further. And so in return it keeps us from truly expressing ourselves.

In many ways, hiding our shadow can be considered the highest form of betrayal. By concealing this part of us, we are saying we don’t deserve to show our complete selves, thereby betraying ourselves. In return, secrecy, manipulation, and pretending take over large parts of our lives, out of fear of being ‘exposed’ and rejected for the part of ourself we are hiding.

As mentioned, our shadow can show itself as weakness or strength. Becoming aware of our complete self, however, grants us the opportunity to express strength. Ignoring these qualities, however, will always produce a damaging result.

The more we repress these dark corners of our being, the more we face disorder in our personality. This can manifest as addiction, anxiety, intentionally failed relationships or jobs, or other behaviours that cause destruction to ourselves and others.

To become aware of our shadow is to shed light on our earliest wounds and to give ourselves a chance for healing and transformation. But as long as we choose to close our eyes to this, the wounds will continue to decay while emitting poison into our lives.

To Deepen Our Spirituality, We Must Pass Through the Shadow

Any spiritual work must entail exposure and understanding of our shadow. Solely focusing on finding our light keeps us away from places of shame, guilt, jealousy, greed, competition, lust, and aggression. But it is these very emotions that must be worked through first before coming near our lighter sides.

Even certain spiritual practices like meditation can become difficult when we try to ignore our shadow self. Its repression shows up when we shut our eyes, and we’re left with only our thoughts.

As with all strong emotions, what we don’t want to look at always keeps us contracted and in rejection. Deep down we know these qualities and feelings reside in us, and hiding them leads us to a life of inauthenticity and sometimes incomprehensible self-destructive behaviour.

If our shadow is not acknowledged and embraced, the depth of our spiritual and personal growth is limited. Refusing to look at the darkness means we ignore our need to be received in totality by others.

We start to overidentify with the side of ourself acquired through our own perception of reality. This in turn shapes our personality, the superficial side of us, which the world meets.

Our roles and personality try their best to help us feel worthy and lovable. For some, it is by being intelligent, successful, and powerful, while for others, it is the opposite. In whichever way our personality tries to control life, it remains just another attempt to be loved for something we know we’re not.

As long as this partial picture of ourselves is kept intact, we create separation. The message is, “I don’t want to look and feel certain parts inside me and I prefer to judge others for showing and living what I choose to reject,” hence choosing separation, inside and out. It is a painful cage of continuous isolation.

Embracing the Complete You

The way to our light is through darkness. Whether we want it or not, the dark side in us is very active even though it is concealed from the outside. But we know it’s there, continuously asking for recognition.

The shadow should be met in a safe and loving environment. Otherwise, it is too afraid that its face will cause devastation and result in further isolation. When it’s safe, we can start looking, seeing, and expressing what has been hidden from our awareness.

There are many unpolished diamonds of strength, creativity, and beauty, which we’ve kept limited so that others close don’t feel small, intimidated, or scared. Speaking to our shadow is an immense step toward healing and self-love.

Initially, when we embark on this exciting and necessary journey, we may not be sure of who we really are. But this is only because we are so used to our masks, so expressing our true self is like meeting a familiar stranger. Soon new possibilities, choices, and perceptions appear.

Suddenly we can face the many question marks in our life from a place of strength and authenticity. We strengthen our capacity to be in this world more fully and completely. So, are you ready?

Feature image credit: Hannah Arendt Center

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  1. To what extent are we to embrace our dark side? What exactly Milan Karmeli means by that? It’s true we all have our phobias and dislikes that may be unjustfied. It’s true also that there may be aspects of our personality that are ugly and hurtful. What about behaviour and thought patterns from which we can’t free ourselves? If we find the courage to face our dark side, what next? I’d assume that truly evil people smile with pride when assessing their dark side. What are not truly evil people to do?

    1. Once you truly face the darkness and embrace it fully, if you are not evil in your mind, then the darkness is not evil either. Recognizing it exists opens a whole different perspective to who you are and what you can become. Denying the darkness in most cases, is when the ugliness pokes through. i.e. addiction, greed, and aggressions and consumes you. To be whole, you have to accept the balance and let both sides of the spectrum thrive. I am not religious and have overcome alcoholism for 9 months now. I have fought with depression and anxiety. I still have a journey of course, and still have my bouts with depression… But I am much much better off than I have been in the past, and feel myself on a very deep level by doing what this article and myself have mentioned.

      We have this preconceived idea that its “dark vs light” or “good vs evil” but in my experience, that is stuff for moral identity. the darkness knows nothing of the sort, and is everywhere all the time. Space itself is a vast open sanctity for darkness, and light only occupies it through burning energy that the darkness creates. Be free, and let go of the notion that darkness equals evil.

  2. Great read. A very complicated process is explained very clearly.

    I wonder if I would have been able to understand it the way I do now, after having been to my dark side and back.

    1. I wish I could understand this text. I tried hard to relate to this, but I was unsuccessful. I guess that this is aimed to persons with a certain type of personality.

      1. What’s needed is some definitions of ‘the dark side’ under discussion. Without this, the whole argument falls apart. What did the author mean by ‘dark side’? Then we could move onto more solid ground for discussion.

  3. Something to think about, and to research. not all of “the shadow” is YOU, or your negative EGO CONSTRUCT. there are negative entities that feed off of your “negative vices”. you know, the deadly sins? they will send you negative thoughts and energies that resonate with your negative vice, so that they can feed off of the fear and other lower vibrations that you send out as a result of their “thought/image injection”. so its very important to first recognize who and what YOU are, and to KNOW within your heart, what “thought patterns” resonate with you! Please understand that thoughts do not originate within your brain! This is why meditation is so vital! when you become heart centric, then you are able to differentiate what thought patterns you naturally resonate with, and what thought patterns and images are SENT TO YOU…Once you can do this, THEN you can dive into YOUR shadow self…. If this knowledge intimidates you, don’t worry, the Creator is on your side and you are able to draw strength and protection from the creator. just ask! namaste!

    1. True, there may be negative entities that feed off negative energies in an individual but they are easily banished. The fault lines of an individual’s ego that attract these entities, however, are not so easily healed and sealed (if they ever are in that individual’s current incarnation).

      1. We could be dealing with external dark forces that invade the human spirit and, over time, our behavior becomes conditioned by those negative entities. Thus, we are always in danger of becoming evil in any of its manifestations.

    2. so true Robert I just experienced this the other night..Had a dream that had nothing to do with me as a person what so ever or nothing I would ever think or imagine in my own mind. Yet their is was in my dream trying to manipulate me…I woke up and said you need to do better then that is that all you got…No penetrating my shield of Gold……If I were not on such a higher vibration …and not so mature to understanding myself and my ways…I might just go with the Shadow self ..the go insecure side ..But I resonate love and light…not a chance…but they do try….

    3. So true, We are told to follow the desires of our hearts, but so many don’t know themselves enough to know what those desires truly are they are thus in danger of being lead a stray. I think people to often assume since the thought is in Your head than its from you. We must dig deeper. I have been amazed at the things i’ve learned about myself from digging deeper and exploring my Being.

  4. A pretty good article about facing and dealing with negative parts of yourself! I myself have a different take on Darkness, that there are some positive strengths in Darker aspects of yourself, the mysterious and taboo thoughts you share only with yourself, and more outside yourself. If you’re interested, my blog is about my ideas on this: The Higher Dark https://rachelhwhite.wordpress.com/

  5. So what happens if we stay facing the light?…..staying in the light?….surrounded by the light sides of us? I most recently had a conversation about seeing my shadow as I was walking the beach the other day and was told we only see our shadow when we are not facing the light. I thought that comment simplifies things. We see our dark sides when we turn away from the light. A very interesting perspective….. don’t you think? I will be practicing “staying in the light” and “facing the light” on many levels and notice what happens to the dark sides of me and my archetypes. A good way to keep myself warm, healthy and safe.

    1. You are afraid of what might be in you that you perceive as darkness and thereby neglecting your full self. Refer to above article.

      1. Looking at our dark-side is part of the Christian journey. We need to see where we are different the God so that God can heal us in those areas. All life is from God and all darkness from hell. We don’t have to associate with the dark but we can see it and acknowledge it as part of our old self.

  6. I was thinking of how many times I have actually seen my shadow and I answered to myself only once or twice when I was a teenager. Why?

  7. A text that I recommend around this issue would certainly be: ‘Dianetics, the Modern Science of Mental Health’ by L. Ron Hubbard, who is imo a widely misunderstood genius for more than one reason. Behind the screen his influence is … as widespread. Take this issue serious and read it! The versions (several languages) of 2007 is best introduced by a concise summary of some pages that make this excellent work a lot more easy to grasp. Good luck! Understand the reactivity of a part of your mind and how it works .. PS: I am not a member of the group ..

  8. Ok so what does it mean when I have never been afraid of the dark? I love to walk through the house with the lights off. Even as a child I was not afraid of the dark.

    1. Dark is used as a metaphor here….It represents the bad/ugly situations in our lives (whether of our own making, or some pain that was inflicted upon us),it could mean just thinking some bad thoughts about yourself or someone else……. some kind of traumatic experiences( usually during or younger ages ), something that we are maybe ashamed of and/or afraid of to fully confront which makes us feel stuck later in life and doesn’t allow us to live freely. It usually can be mended when we truly forgive someone who wronged us in some way, as well as sincerely apologize to those that we hurt…..
      Hope this helps….

      1. i dont feel anything getting stuck in life even when i get bully when small i dont even remember that so clearly anymore, i think i just got laziness around me . Is there any method i can identify and explore my dark side?

  9. Neo-Judeo-Christian interpretations of indigenous Indo-European and other animistic spirituality’s teachings (through means of experience) are pseudo-baked concoctions of an inaccurate dogma attempting to rectify its detached psychological status with newly emerging spiritual paradigms. It is quite amusing to see the Judeo-Christian believers’ paranoia and superstition in dealing with the idea of “darkness.” The spirituality discussed here makes it very clear that light is to darkness as cold is to hot, as up is to down, as activity is to respite. The distinction between the two is completely contingent upon the one who is projecting the thoughts. In other words, these things are defined by whatever your cultural programming tells you is right/wrong (aka NORM or TABOO, this means any religious indoctrination you received as a youth). The key to it all is this: are you still operating under your cultural programming? Relinquish your mind from the slave-constructs of cultural worries and you will then be readily manifesting more directly your inner energy. Then you will realize the triviality of the busy-body worries of this Age’s material civilizations and readily transcend them in your mind with greater ease. Simple, or as complex, as you wish to see it.

    1. Get over yourself dude.

      Great article and part of the Christian journey. Many Christians are afraid to look at their darkside because they feel powerless to change, but we receive power from the Lord to face all these things for He is that power. Like Christ we go into the desert to be tempted, that is we look within at the barren places to see what we lost and reclaim it in God’s power and rejecting the bad and taking the good we find there.

    2. True “operating under your cultural programming”, which at best is non compelling. Like this belief that we are like moths with the goal of seeking the light to avoid the darkness. Yin/Yang is much more compelling, be both and neither, create your awareness off the reflection of the two mirrors of life. Balance and flow somewhere that works for you near the middle becomes the basic goal.

  10. I would like to respond to all the people who commented on my article “Why It’s Important To Understand Your Dark Side” and sought for more clarification and ways of facing our shadow. In no way is there an implication that the shadow is bad, ugly or evil, even though it feels exactly like that to us. The distinction between the shadow and the light merely points to how we create separation inside ourselves; between good and bad, and between right and wrong inside us.
    What goes into our shadow, individually but also collectively, are qualities and feelings that are not welcome. Everything that has a traumatic imprint in our lives often come with the effect of humiliation, shame and guilt. These strong emotions create the urge to hide them from others. In order to belong to our family and other important social structures, we automatically hide parts that we judge as unsafe and which risk our belonging.
    This is in part why I wrote that meeting our shadow has to happen in a safe setting. Our greatest fear is to lose our right to belong and to be excluded, and we will most times safeguard this belonging at the price of an inner falseness.
    The most important part of the shadow work is to begin creating a dialogue with it and with all the parts that had to go into hiding; first and foremost from ourselves. This can be done through individual work where a therapist sets the stage for safe reflection and expression of feelings. And it can be done in group settings, which often have a highly transformative effect.
    When we allow the exposure of our shadow in front of others and face the intense fear of judgment and rejection, and yet contain those strong emotions, something shifts in our deep understanding and a space of love opens up in us; to ourselves. Also the meeting with others struggling with the same fate helps us in gaining a different and more accepting perspective on the shadow, The ‘dark’ suddenly doesn’t become as threatening anymore because it can be looked at.
    It’s a little like being very angry at a person and resisting to look into that persons eyes. By not looking we hold on to the anger. We may feel better, stronger, superior, or afraid and inferior. But when we allow ourselves to make eye contact and meet the humanity of that person as well as our own, something dissolves in us.
    The dark is part of our humanity which had to go into hiding. By facing, exposing and talking to it something transforms.
    If you want to explore the work further for yourself, you’re welcome to contact me for individual or group work.

    1. Thank you, Milan, for your clarification. Indeed, as consciuous beings, we must try to come to terms with our dark side, by which I mean, those thoughts and memories that unsettle and make us unhappy. Many people carry into adulthood bad experiences from childhood. Others undergo terrible events even as adults. We have a tendency to consciously deny these negative experiences as a means to insulate ourselves from more pain. But not facing those dark times in our life can only backfire and leave us embittered and prone to anger. Healing a splintered spirit is not easy, and I’d hope you have it in you to be able to help those who come to you for assistance.

    2. I apologize for the harshness of my last comment. I don’t understand the author’s definition of darkness. Anger, lust, greed… to me, these are qualities of the ego that can be seen and identified and processed. To relegate them to the term ‘darkness’ mis-characterizes the great depth of what I believe darkness to be… yes, darkness can hold these things, but it is so much more.

    3. Milan,

      Where does your philosophy come from? Have you considered, the darkness or shadow as some choose to call it, is the very same Light dressed up to guide you home (to the heart space). Acknowledging your “darkness” as Light and thanking it for the many lessons as well as loving the self that is feeling the effects of the darkness is a change in perspective which once you shift to a state of balanced emotions even if you look back all you are going to see is Light. So many self helpers rely on techniques which are very difficult to understand and even more so to implement. You yourself called it duality, separation or polarization. Create a new condition or game so to speak, the default is whatever comes up acknowledge it as the Light because the darkness has a “Godly” purpose. If you want to listen to all of these spiritual taglines like “all is one” or “oneness” that can only be truth when what we see as dark is “God” wearing a mask to guide us to the very same Light the mask is veiling. Are we not in the time of the unveiling? The time of revelation? Time to end all of the silly antics of treating the darkness like something other than the Light. Approach darkness with acknowledgement, gratitude and love and watch it shine. Blessings of Peace and Love

  11. this is really beautiful. i think, accepting your weakness is beginning of your acceptance of you. And not accepting your weaknesses makes your more weak than you thought 🙂

  12. This is a great article. I was forced to dig through my dark side in 2011 and it was a long and terrifying experience. It was the worst time of my life and although it wasn’t apparent then, it was also an enormous blessing. I am grateful for that year and very happy to be on the other side!!

  13. I think darkness is the realm of subconscious and unconscious mind. It is the place from which all things are created, the womb of infinite possibility, the realm of archetypes and all unseen. A wise man of esoteric knowledge has said it is not a place to go unless one has first tasted ascendance in light and I believe that. It bothers me that the article refers to one’s darkness in a way that appears superficial and limited, pop-psychology I’m afraid, hope it does more good than harm.

  14. The way to our light is through darkness. Whether we want it or not, the dark side in us is very active even though it is concealed and not evident to the outside. But we know it’s there, continuously asking for recognition.

  15. Thanks for this stimulating post. As psychotherapist David Richo notes, “Our scared and arrogant ego has an enormous capacity not to know itself.” He goes on to quote Jung: “The shadow is the negative side of the personality, the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide, together with the insufficiently developed functions and the contents of the personal unconscious…” // The movie Black Swan portrays some aspects of how the darker aspects of the shadow self can impact our mental health and creative expression. – From my article “Dancing With Our Shadow to Develop Creativity” http://buff.ly/1DVtF1X

  16. So what is “Your Darkside”? According to a Google search it means “The evil and malevolent aspect of human personality or society, often referred to in a lighthearted or comic context.”

    In 1973, the US journal The Journal of Genetic Psychology published this:

    “The shadow is described as the dark side of the personality or representing the original conception of evil in the world. The latter conception places the shadow in the collective unconscious. “So what is the “original conception of evil in the world”? In Genesis 3 we see that it is the devil who deceived Adam and Eve and therefore they brought the “original conception of evil”, sin (also known as our darkside) into our temple, our bodies, our flesh.

    I would say that it is fair to say that our “Darkside” is our “Sin” so you can pretty much substitute “sin” where you see “darkside” or “shadow” in this article.

    “For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3:22-24). I love this article as it is speaking truth in that we all have sinned, we all have a darkside and need to understand it. But we have free will and it’s power depends on how much power you give it.

    Of course sin influences us. Our bodies have a sin nature, but it doesn’t have to be hidden, and the more it is revealed the less influence it has. That’s what confessing of our sins to our Heavenly Father Jehovah is all about. Revealing it to ourselves. He’s all knowing and always present. He wants you to confess your sin for your benefit, not His.

    Sin keeps us distant from our true spiritual beings and children of God our Father.

    Again this article is absolutely true and one of the ways the devil deceives us into giving him power especially over ourselves.

    Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones grew old Through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Psalms 32:1-5)

    This emptiness, hole in our being is present when we try to fill it with worldly things instead of just filling it with what our spirit longs for. Once you accept your darkside (sin) and confess it to your Father God, the emptiness and wanting is filled with love, joy and peace. It’s filled with the way, the truth, the life. Jesus Christ comes to live within you and your spirit no longer lives in sin but comes to life in Christ. Once you truly come to understand this all power from your darkside is defeated. That’s why Satan deceives you into thinking that confessing your sin to God weakens you, but in reality it strengthens you. It lets you be who you really are, living in the spirit rather than living in the flesh. Our pride keeps us from it. Drop your pride and come into life.

    1There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.9But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 10And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:1-11)

    People, please get it. Guilt and condemnation is not from Jehovah but from Satan. Believe in Jesus Christ and all your darkside (sin) is forgiven. You will be made new in Him.

    I am a spirit filled, born again Christian and I confess my sin everyday because I sin everyday (it’s in my nature, my flesh), but my spirit is sinless and righteous because of God. I have no guilt for my sin because that is what Satan wants not God. Jesus Christ died for my sin on the cross at Calvary. He was buried, He was raised from the dead on the third day. He has been given authority in Heaven and on Earth and defeated the devil.
    If you will ask Jesus Christ to come into your life and be your Saviour he will and you will come to understand your darkside and learn how to diminish it’s power and let life and the light shine brightly.

    My God bless you all and fill you with His spirit so that you may know the truth.

  17. This reminds me of a song by TOOL… “46&2″…which is based on Carl Jung’s theory of the shadow. It is basically everything about that is unseen that you are uncomfortable with or hate. Jung believed that one can not make the jump to the next level of evolution without first going inside yourself cleansing the negativity of your conscious and subconscious.

  18. Thank you Milan. This article and the comments were refreshingly stimulating. All too often I encounter minds that have simplistic views and opinions about the inherent inner darkness we all have. Though, I also sense that the simplistic views are masks in and of themselves. This is a complex issue that manifests its construct(s) of truth in varying ways; dependent upon the level/stage of our intimate journey–keyword being intimate. What works/makes sense/intuitively fits/logically fits etc. for one, may not jive another. The shadow is within us all. There are many roads. Each one is different and unique.

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