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Under the Anger is Pain: Facing Our Collective Shadow

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To live conscious, healthy and whole lives we must embrace all aspects of ourselves- and this includes the shadow parts. These are the unconscious parts of ourselves we do not want to face as they make us feel unworthy or shameful in some way. Unfortunately, when they are not owned, they are often projected onto others – which hurts others and prevents our own healing.

In my work my focus has always been on conscious living, stress-management, embracing the truth, trauma, and chronic exhaustion caused by body and mind imbalance. I cannot possibly share my thoughts on these matters without considering the uprising of anger among people of colour following the death of George Floyd. Right now, there is a big call to face our collective, societal shadow.

I have spent a long while now examining what is coming up for me and facing my own shadow. So I wanted to share some words on this. I do not want to speak for others or prescribe what others should feel. These are my thoughts and words and if I offend, I would deeply appreciate some constructive feedback to continue learning and growing and to acknowledge the offence I may have caused.

Acknowledging the collective shadow​​
While the focus has been on the murder of George Floyd I am fully aware of the death of Collins Khosa in South Africa following alleged policy brutality, and I believe that any police brutality, whether perpetuated by black or white policemen is all part of this shadow (which does not excuse their actions) and the shadow is so much more than police brutality. This shadow is the pain, anger, trauma and the perpetrator-victim cycle that is deeply embedded in the generations of racial othering and discrimination of people of colour that has existed and continues to exist in our world.

My understanding of the #Black Lives Matter movement is that, rather than being a message that black lives matter more than others, we are being asked to acknowledge what it is like to be black in this world and to contribute towards making a change.

This word ‘acknowledgement’ is one that comes up so often in my therapeutic relationships with clients. As children and into adulthood it is very difficult to feel whole or worthy when we are not fully seen and acknowledged just as we are (without having to meet some condition, such as a different skin colour, in order to be worthy and be perceived as having ‘value’).

Acknowledgement is so extremely vital and healing. It includes the witnessing of the unique experience of another and the witnessing of their pain, to hold that with deep compassion and empathy (this is different from sympathy which can be an othering and belittling experience and involves feeling sorry for someone while standing apart, whereas empathy is the willingness to imagine what it must be like to be in the shoes of someone else and to feel that pain ‘as if’ your own).

I have felt a great deal of tenderness in my heart these last few weeks. I could feel a deep triggering in me and I had to take the time to sit with this before taking some form of action which I knew I had to take. Firstly, I want to admit that when faced with the anger of the voices on social media I wanted to either run away/disconnect or get reactive, and it was with great anxiety that I started to engage in conversations to better understand the experiences of those sharing the anger.

Anger can prevent us from acknowledging ​pain
I believe that many people of every colour find it difficult to face anger without hiding from it or reacting against it. Most of us were not taught that anger can be healthy and, even, healing. We witnessed the unhealthy use of anger and so put that emotion in the shadow as something we should shy away from or protect ourselves against.

However, anger is so very valid and underneath all anger is pain and/or  fear.

So when I reminded myself of this I tried to sit with the anger that is being expressed by people all around the world in the face of the #Black Lives Matter movement and this helped me to see the pain and to be open enough to look at what is being triggered in me.

Firstly, there was guilt and shame and, secondly, there was a sort of righteousness i.e. “Well I am not racist. I am a ‘nice’ person and go out of my way to treat everyone equally”. However, I realised that in both instances I was still making it about me and the whole point is I was being asked to expand my awareness beyond myself to consider the experience of people of colour and to also DO something. I could see how I was trying to protect myself from my own shadow – a shadow being mirrored to me by those asking to be seen.

It’s more than wrong/right and good/bad
When I sat with my guilt/shame and my righteousness I realised that I was feeling those things because it felt that acknowledgement of the anger and the pain I am hearing and reading about means I must admit that I am wrong and ‘they’ are right (and I am therefore ‘bad’). And that too is not the point. That too is separation and continues the us/them dynamic.

What I eventually came to is that I am being asked to witness and acknowledge the pain of people of colour and the generations of trauma, discrimination and grief, and to own the fact that I have played an unconscious and vital role in this systematic racism that has persisted.

This does not mean I have to now beat myself up for it because that is again making it about me and detracting from the experience of others as well as the possibility to take positive action. And it does not mean I am making myself wrong to make others right– that is not what is being asked for. It is about acknowledgement of the experience of people of colour while acknowledging that I am a part of the system that has perpetuated this and that sometimes ‘being nice’ to others and treating all people equally is not enough.

I am being asked to go a step further and face this shadow, feel the grief and acknowledge this deep, painful wound that others are feeling and that is mirroring my own shadow, no matter how much that triggers for me.

I am being asked to be courageous enough to face my own shadow, my own responsibility, my own anger and reactiveness and shame. When I feel I am enough despite my shadow, only then, can I stop projecting onto others and remain open enough so I can hold everyone else as enough, just as they are and with all the anger, pain and emotion that sorely needs to be expressed. Only then can I truly acknowledge and take action beyond my blind spots.

We are being offered a opportunity for awakening, growth and healing of our collective and personal shadows.

This is a potent time to learn how to hold the the visible and the shadow, light and the dark, and that we are only whole when we stop making it either/or and can hold it all.

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