Facing Your Hidden Self
For years I lived with this feeling. A deep sense that something was askew in my core. It was as if I’d built a room to put everything I was ashamed of. And though I passed it often, I never went in. I was afraid that if I opened that door what was inside would swallow me whole.
Then one day I realized I had to go inside. That if I didn’t this subtle sense of shame would always be there haunting me. I knew that the only way to peace would be to face these parts of myself I wished I could just ignore.
Recently I wrote a post about Facing Yourself in which I focused on the deep calling to embody something in our lives. And while I think it’s very important to understand your light I think it’s just as important to understand the delusion and suffering that makes up who you are.
If we don’t understand these dark parts we will spend our whole lives running from our shadow unable to accept and understand the very things that make us human.
Here are few simple but powerful steps I have used to help navigate myself through this process of facing my hidden self.
1. Admit Your Mistakes
The first and hardest part of facing your hidden self is to admit that it’s there. One of the reasons that looking at your own potential is so hard is that you immediately see how you are falling short.
So instead of admitting your mistakes, you hide them. You hide them because you’re scared you’ll be exposed as the imperfect, struggling, and incapable person you really are.
And though admitting our mistakes does expose us, accepting our imperfection actually alleviates a lot of the pressure. It makes it possible to have compassion for our own imperfection and for the imperfection of everyone else around us.
When I did a lot of work on my shadow I engaged in a several week process of reflecting and recording all the major mistakes I had made in my life. And while I think that’s a great process I usually recommend that my clients start with one week.
I encourage them to try a practice called a daily review. At the end of the day, you sit down and go over your day from beginning to end, like you are watching a movie. As you do this, you take note of any thoughts, words, or deeds that occurred that weren’t in alignment with your aspirations.
For example while reviewing my day, I might remember that I spent a lot of time looking at my phone when I was hanging out with my friend.
First, I accept that I didn’t pay enough attention to my friend when we were together. I don’t beat myself up but I do feel the disappointment that I didn’t do a better job. I feel how sorry and guilty I feel for not being more present. I do my best to sit with those feelings. Paying attention to how they feel in my body. Then after a few moments, I move on.
At the end of your review you write down 4 – 6 actions you want to work on, acknowledge them internally, and then set an intention to fully accept these mistakes and to try to learn from them.
Now it’s time to ask for forgiveness. Not from the people you may have wronged, but from yourself. Forgiving yourself isn’t about making excuses or trying to avoid fault. Forgiveness is about admitting fault, vowing to act differently, and accepting that you are a good person despite your mistakes.
One way to do this is to imagine yourself as a young child. Close you eyes and imagine your child self with a sad expression of guilt on their face. They’ve disappointed the adult you, but they are sorry and have taken responsibility for their actions.
What would you say to them as a loving parent? Or if your parents weren’t forgiving, you might imagine the adult you as a kind teacher or any other person who has shown you compassion.
Tell this child that you appreciate their willingness to admit to their mistakes. Tell them you still love them. Tell them you know they were doing the best they could.
Taking on the practice of facing yourself is really challenging and you should be proud that you’re doing it. Many people spend their whole lives in deep denial about their mistakes and the shame they feel about who they are.
Even if you admitted a small mistake and felt the pain it caused you, this is a huge step on the journey to facing yourself.
3. Making Amends
Now comes the part where amazing things happen from facing ourselves. Once you’ve seen how you’ve fallen short, taken responsibility for your part in it, and forgiven those mistakes, you are ready to make a change.
Now take the list of mistakes you made in step one and pick 4 – 6 unskillful actions you took this week. For each of the thoughts, deeds, or actions you’ve identified pick one small doable thing you can do to move you towards living in alignment with your values.
The key is to pick a simple doable change you can make. While it’s tempting to pick a big change, resist the urge. While small changes may seem inadequate once you make one change to live in alignment with your aspirations, you build confidence and pride in your efforts. As you start to feel better about yourself, often other changes follow naturally.
Once you’ve identified this key habit you want to change it’s important that you contact one or two people involved, apologize for not doing your best, tell them how you want to change, and ask for their help.
Facing ourselves is hard and we shouldn’t have to do it alone. It’s essential that we get others to support us in making a change. In addition, by apologizing and stating that we want to make a change we deal an extra blow to the guilt energy that keeps us trapped in our old habits of distraction and avoidance.
In the example I gave above, I might spend some time thinking about how I might be a better friend: One idea is to write my friend a short email to tell them I’m sorry and work to not use my phone as often.
I email my friend and tell them I’m sorry for looking at my phone so much when we are together. I say that I want to stop looking at my phone so I can pay more attention to what they are saying and connect with them more. I ask them for their support in helping me make this change. Then I ask if there is anything I can do make up for my lack of presence when we hung out.
If they make a request, I do my best to honor it. Then I thank them for being willing to accept my apology.
It’s important to remember that making amends is not about making yourself feel better, instead it’s about taking our intentions to change and making them real. By owning and then acting to respond to our unskillful actions, we strengthen our ability to see and to have our shadows seen.