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Holidays, Counselling and your Shadow

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August suggests holidays – and holidays can take many different forms.  But whether that means traveling, exploring, swimming or just reading, those breaks away from the normal routine can also provide a good time for reflection.

As you look out across the beach, a city scape, the countryside or whatever vista features prominently in your chosen holiday, I wonder where your mind will start to drift and what you will begin to think about.

Holidays can be a good time to take stock and indulge in a little introspection.  And perhaps a spot of navel gazing fits rather well with the swimming costume!

“Where am I going, what am I doing, who should I be with” – and that existential thought of ‘who am I’.  That type of reflection may be really enlightening but it can also sometimes invoke some rather critical thinking.

In particular I am thinking of what I regard as our shadow.  Most of us have a shadow. To ensure that this particular shadow does not become confused with any Jungian concepts I will label this particular shadow ‘it’.    

You probably know what ‘it’ is.  ‘It’ is that rather awkward aspect of your personality or behaviour which comes into your mind when you are feeling discontented with yourself.  ‘It’ is what seems to be different about you when you compare yourself to others or to that ideal of how you want to be.

‘It’ can be identified as your way of responding to others which can have the potential to irritate.  ‘It’ is that behaviour which has sometimes left you wondering why you spoke out in a certain way.

This habit called ‘it’ is what has pulled you into trouble whether that was years ago, last month or even last week.  Just thinking about ‘it’ can encourage sleepless nights and ‘it’ is excellent at exacerbating already difficult situations.

‘It’ is always around.  ‘It’ is the one thing about you that others say definitely needs changing – and you may reluctantly find yourself agreeing.  ‘It’ has to go, ‘it’ has to be different, ‘it’ really has to change.

This ‘it’ can take many forms.  ‘It’ can be what you regard as your inappropriate temper, your intolerance or your ability to sulk. It can be that tendency to withdraw. It can be a recourse to silence or ‘it’ can be your propensity not to let go of an argument.

‘It’ could be your stubbornness or perhaps that insistence to always have the last word. ‘It’ may be reflected in that knee jerk response when you find yourself saying out loud what you think everyone else must be thinking.  

Whatever form ‘it’ takes, the world tells you that ‘it’ is a problem which really needs to be sorted - but does it?  Is there another view you could adopt?

Perhaps one challenge is about how ‘it’ is seen.  If we label someone or something as a problem, then each time that person or object appears that is exactly what we will see – a problem.

But is that really how it is for you and your shadow?  Maybe the problem could actually be the label and the interpretation that you and others are applying.

Differentiation can be uncomfortable.   If you have a fear of standing out then ‘it’ may have a strong foundation within your emotional being. But do you really want to be exactly the same as everybody else?  You can of course decide to adopt the mannerisms of others and try to become a mirror clone of your work colleagues, neighbours or friends. But is that what you really want.  What about the unique individual that is you?

And you are of course an individual.  There is an authentic you.  Perhaps part of what makes you unique is actually this characteristic we have labelled as ‘it’?  Maybe this very thing you keep labelling as a problem has an upside that you have been ignoring.

Is it possible to see ‘it’ in another way?  If ‘it’ helps you to stand out and to be noticed, perhaps ‘it’ has some very real benefits that you keep overlooking.

Let’s think about those examples.   If ‘it’ enables you to be seen and recognised as someone who is able to speak out despite the consequences, perhaps that is a strength. It may be an aspect of your personality that some will envy.   

If ‘it’ enables you to tenaciously hold on when others let go, that may be a reflection of your inner resolve.  Perhaps some of those exhortations from others demanding that you should change, may disguise a feeling of ‘I wish I was brave enough to be like that’.

Of course if ‘it’ causes you nothing but problems, then we should recognise that there probably is a need for some adjustment. Perhaps there could indeed be advantages in just turning down the personal volume a little.

And if that is difficult to do on your own, then consider coming to talk and talk with a counsellor or a therapist.  Whatever our way of working, from CBT to traditional psychotherapy, we can help you to look at understanding and changing.

But if you and I were talking together, our starting point may well be to look again at ‘it’.   Is ‘it’ really a problem?  Could ‘it’ actually turn out to be a gift in disguise? Is ‘it’ a benefit which you have not been able to recognise and acknowledge – just because ‘it’ did not fit with what other people expected of you.

So why not use those holiday reflections.  Lie back in the deck chair. Take a sip of whatever the local brew is and then try some benevolent thinking about ‘it’ and you.

If the internal music you are playing is too loud then perhaps your personal volume level may need a slight adjustment but this does not mean that ‘it’ needs to be shut down and turned off altogether.

Once you move beyond the chorus of disapproval that you have grown too used to hearing, you may find that some of us are really enjoying the song that you are singing.  If you can allow yourself to look again you may discover to your surprise that we – and many others - actually rather like your style!

So just try relaxing, revel in those reflections - and wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I hope you have a great holiday with both the sunshine and that shadow!


Geoff Boutle

added on 1st August 2014

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