I was once given the nickname “Sunshine and Sprinkles.” Everyone knew me for my eternal optimism, my ability to look on the bright side, to see a silver lining in every situation.

The power of positivity was always turned on.

While I love this characteristic about myself, there came a point when I realized it came with a shadow side. And that shadow side denied me of my shadow self.

Jungian analyst Aniela Jaffe says the shadow is the ‘‘sum of all personal and collective psychic elements which, because of their incompatibility with the chosen conscious attitude, are denied expression in life.”

The shadow is the dark side of our personality. According to Carl Jung, it’s dark because it tends to consist predominantly of the primitive, negative, socially or religiously depreciated human emotions and impulses like sexual lust, power strivings, selfishness, greed, envy, anger or rage, and due to its unenlightened nature, completely obscured from consciousness.

For me, this avoidance of my shadow self created a barricade that kept me from being truly happy, and I rationalized my unhappiness with positive thinking.

When flaky friends consistently cancelled plans last minute, I let it go, giving them the benefit of the doubt and thinking about their positive characteristics instead. Meanwhile, I ignored the hurt of feeling unimportant or less-than. I dismissed irritation that I’d planned my week around this evening, again. Essentially, I was minimizing my own worth by not sharing how I was feeling.

I didn’t love my career, but who did? This is just what you have to do to get by in the world. Meanwhile, I was longing for retirement by the ripe young age of 25.

This is just the way it is fueled me as I drudged on day after day from 8 – 6 in my corporate job, harboring resentment for unexpressed desire, disagreement and discontent under the guise of making the best of every situation.

Although I was a master of recognizing the pros, I was equally a master at dismissing my wants and needs.

Once I began to recognize how I projected my dissatisfaction on to others, the burden began to lift. Once I began to trust myself and learn new ways to communicate, I realized the beliefs I held about being unheard weren’t entirely accurate. Once I began to acknowledge what was true about my painful feelings, I was able to make changes to create a more positive outcome.

In other situations, pick and choose your battles, Kara; we have a long road ahead of us littered my thoughts. I believed this keep-the-peace tactic was the positive way through. Over time, though, this mantra was merely a tactic to stuff my real feelings deeper within, and I felt anything but peaceful. I dismissed my own desire for peace by trying to maintain another’s peace.

Everything’s going to be ok. This got me through a lot. When I felt pushed to my limit, when I suffered with an inward battle of anger, when I felt no control of injustice, the positive belief that everything would turn out alright was my crutch. 

I began to see that all these tactics to remain positive had become a wall of which I could hide my anxiety behind. That anxiousness was usually rooted in not knowing how to navigate a perceived difficult situation and a fear of vulnerability.

Once I learned to sit with those painful feelings and listen to what they meant, I could set boundaries of what works for me and what doesn’t and negotiate the in-between. Suddenly, going into the shadow places enabled me to truly create positivity.

Climbing down from the sunny ledge

Once I learned that covering up my unhappiness with positive thinking didn’t resolve my problems and pushed me further into anxiety, I had to learn how to walk a different path.

A few things that helped me to transition off my sunny perch on the eternal optimist ledge:

1) It’s ok to not be ok. If you find yourself quickly minimizing negative feelings, remind yourself of this.

2) As you feel into this non-positive space, notice what you feel inside your body. Is there tension in your heart? Does it feel like you’ve just been punched in the gut? Name that feeling. What is the emotion connected to this physical feeling? Acknowledging your physical and emotional feels brings you further into your self-awareness.

3) What can you do to help you feel better? We can’t change those we perceive as rude, mean or incompetent, but we can choose to change the way we respond. Often, looking inward at what triggers your emotion helps to see that this behavior is actually a repressed emotion within our self. 

Pay attention to the things that keep coming up. Notice where a theme emerges. For instance, does fear of confrontation hold you back from voicing your concerns? What communication skills can you learn to feel more confident? Can you read a book? Do you need to ask someone else for guidance?

 

Kara McNabb is a naturopathic practitioner who focuses on the mind-body connection and uses a variety of modalities and natural remedies to assist in wellness. She works with adults and children.