Yesterday, I saw a question posted by someone in one of my Facebook groups. The person in question had mentioned that she found it challenging having to honour both the light and dark sides of herself. My initial thought was I didn’t understand what she meant by ‘light’ and ‘dark’ sides. Was she talking about her personality? Character traits? Or perhaps pain? What is considered as ‘light’ and what is considered as ‘dark’? I wasn’t sure but my answer for her dilemma is simple—if you stop seeing yourself in different parts or in just two shades—light and dark, you will stop suffering.
The problem many of us have can easily be remedied by the way we see things. In other words, many of the dissatisfaction or suffering that we experience can be changed by a change in perspective. When I was growing up, my mother used to tell me I was naughty and a very bad child. This came mostly in response to my fast-tongue and outspoken nature. I had something to say about everything and very often, I had no qualms in saying them. Sometimes she would hit me for speaking my mind, and often she would threaten to take a pair of scissors to snip my tongue off if I didn’t keep quiet. After being harshly disciplined many times, I learned that speaking my mind is a bad thing, that as much as it was in my nature to be outspoken, it was something I had to stifle and contain because—according to my upbringing—speaking up is a bad trait to have. This, I carried with me into my adulthood. I never questioned if my mother was right or I was wrong, I just accepted it as the absolute, unquestioned truth. I accepted that it was a part of me that wasn’t desirable and had to be denied.
When I was with my friends, I was more relaxed. I tended to talk easily and comfortably, sharing my many opinions about many things, within reason. But when I was in the presence of authority, I was always very quiet. I only spoke when I was spoken to, trying not to appear defiant or rebellious if I spoke my mind. Even though I was often tempted to say what was on my mind, I held my tongue because I was fearful of the adverse consequences that would come my way if I actually spoke up. This turned out to be to my detriment.
“You’re a lot smarter than you let up,” my boss had said to me one day, four years into my first job. He told me he was frustrated that it took him that long to realise I had a lot of good ideas, that if I had spoken up a lot more, I would’ve progressed a lot further in my career. I didn’t know that was how he felt. It shocked and angered me at the same time. True to the tried and tested methods of my upbringing, I only spoke when I was asked for my opinion. If no one asked my opinion about anything, I would keep quiet in all the company and client meetings, just listening, taking notes and keeping everything to myself. I thought that was the way the world works. I thought that being assertive was a bad quality to have. As it turns out I was too broad in my brush stroke. I overgeneralised and assumed that what was actually a great strength of mine as a great weakness that needed to be hidden. It cost me my promotion. Even after I left that job, I couldn’t help but wonder how much further I would have progressed in my career if I just did one thing different—if I had just spoken up more. By then, it was too late, I couldn’t change anything in retrospect but I could be different in my next job, which was what I did.
The point that I am making with this story is that what we think are the good parts or bad parts of ourselves is entirely subjective. My outspoken nature—what my mother considered a bad quality to have—turned out to be one of my greatest strengths but I did not recognise it as a strength because I adopted the perspective of one person as my own and put a ‘Bad’ label on it that made me disown and separate myself from what was part of my nature.
If you currently hold judgements against yourself, I encourage you to put an end to this self-imposed judgment now. If there is any part of you that you are ashamed of, if you have done something in the past that you are not proud of, let me offer you these words—it’s time to stop punishing yourself for it. It’s time to stop feeling bad. It’s time to stop disowning it and separating yourself from it. Remove all the labels you have put on yourself, stop hiding all your skeletons in the closet. Rather than thinking of yourself in parts—the good parts and the bad parts—accept yourself as a complete being with traits and experiences that have a function, that serve a purpose of its own and put them to good use. Just as it is easy for me to use my assertiveness and outspoken nature to vilify and degrade people, it is also easy for me to use it to educate others and to advocate for the rights of the less fortunate. Just as it is easy for me to wallow in self pity because of the difficult childhood I had, it is also easy for me to use the lessons I have learned to empower others. The bottom line is, it’s not the tools that are good or bad, it’s what you choose to do with it.
If that is not enough, consider this perspective. You are a being of light. If there have been moments of darkness in your life, it is because only in the darkness can you truly experience yourself as a being of light. From this moment on, I would like to invite you to see yourself in a more uplifting light. I would like you to embrace a Dr. Seuss’ philosophy—“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than you.” Because the truth is there is only one You, there will ever only be one You. You are irreplaceable and don’t you forget that.