Categories
Education Lifestyle Productivity

Opponent Processing

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

Friedrich Nietzsche (German Philosopher)

This is an idea I’ve had a hard time researching. Despite my best efforts, I can’t find any “official” research on this phenomenon, but I find it to be worth sharing. After all, just because something hasn’t been peer-reviewed and studied by a university doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but that also depends on who you ask.

I’m convinced opponent processing is real in a similar way that Jung was convinced that archetypes are real. There is no scientific evidence that says it is so, but there are many correlations. There is some science that points to opponent processing, but the correlation is not causation.

I say all this just to say verification isn’t always needed.

Sometimes things are what we see.

Take this post, as all my others, with a grain of salt. I am just a man bounded by my myopia, limited experience, and perceptions. But I do believe this is something worth paying attention to.

Essentially, opponent processing is the idea that things become more precise when working against an opposing force.

We can see this pattern in many different places; literature, television, drama, economics, business, medicine, sports, and so many other places.

I believe that this is true partly because we are dynamic creatures that exist in relation to everything around us. Being able to relate to something helps us regulate ourselves and keeps us sane. It’s no surprise that struggling up against what we relate to makes us stronger.

Signs & Correlations

I like the idea of opponent processing because it gives inherent low-level meaning to all forms of struggle and struggle is all around us.

Everything is a struggle and everything is struggling.

But why?

That’s a big question and I’ll never know the answer but I can speculate. Perhaps it’s because they’re better for it in the end; it makes them better.

Sometimes I think that’s my naive optimism, and other times I think not.

We can see signs of opponent processing through examining different parts of life and observing what becomes more precise as a result of the opposing forces.

Humanities

Drama. Literature. Myths. Religious stories. Built into all of them is opponent processing. A struggle, tension, is born and we have to see it through. We see the hero become a better version of themselves after triumphing over their antagonist. This is almost always because they learned some kind of lesson about how to be or act in the face of danger or temptation.


“Life is, in fact, a battle. Evil is insolent and strong; beauty enchanting, but rare; goodness very apt to be weak; folly very apt to be defiant; wickedness to carry the day; imbeciles to be in great places, people of sense in small, and mankind generally unhappy. But the world as it stands is no narrow illusion, no phantasm, no evil dream of the night; we wake up to it, forever and ever; and we can neither forget it nor deny it nor dispense with it.”

Henry James (Theory of Fiction: Hendry James)

We see it in every story we hear. Stories grip us because there’s tension and we have to stick around until we get a release. That’s drama, a series of tension and release. And after those exchanges, the characters learn and grow.

I’ve been taking some screenwriting classes and I was so shocked to discover that characters are simply just their methods of dealing with the obstacles to their intentions. Characters are developed from how they deal with their obstacles.

Character is developed from how we deal with opposition.

We can see the same kind of drama played out in less dramatic ways too. In normal everyday life, people are working up against opposing forces. Sometimes we admire these people, and sometimes we don’t. I assert that the people we admire earn our admiration through becoming better as a result of opponent processing. In other words, we admire people who struggled up against something and came out the other side better and stronger.

Yerkes-Dodson Law

I talk about this idea in my post How to Conquer Test and Performance Anxiety. The Yerkes-Dodson law of arousal points to the idea of opponent processing but doesn’t explicitly prove it’s existence.

Yerkes–Dodson, in a nutshell, asserts that we need a certain amount of stress to work at our best. Too little and we aren’t aroused enough. Too much and we breakdown. But if we get just the right amount, then we’re off to the races.

This fits well with opponent processing, if more precise is considered favorable then a little bit of stress will make things better.

Economically

We can even see opponent processing play out economically. In a free market, competition between businesses keeps prices regulated and enhances quality. Each business forces the other to become better and more refined for the consumer and the community.

One could argue that the competition is doing harm to the businesses, but I would say that they’re just put in a position to grow in a way that they didn’t expect. The business, when dealing with competitors, has to create and innovate ways to deal with the opposing force.

Romantically

We can see this play out in romantic relationships too. In a romantic relationship, each person makes the other better through a struggle of wills. If the relationship is healthy, it resembles a wrestling match where one is constantly contending with the other.

But why would we want to be dealing with our partner like this?

The same reason for everything else, it makes us better people. Providing small amounts of adversarial energy in a relationship helps both people grow.

Let me put it like this, the average person has a fair amount of flaws. Their ways of looking at the world and their methods of decision making can only take them so far and will reach eventual limits. But let’s say this person pairs up with someone else who is also flawed, but they are flawed in different areas. Let’s say they’re even flawed in complementary areas! The man is impatient and the woman is too agreeable. The woman teaches the man to be patient and the man teaches the woman to be assertive.

A healthy romantic relationship is two imperfect people coming together to make each other a little more functional so when they have to raise a child, the child doesn’t have to deal with just the flaws of one parent. The parents act as a proxy for the child to interact with the world and when two people come together the child gets access to a more refined, more precise, version of that proxy.

This is all because of opponent processing. Our relationships need to be a struggle, but like all other forms of opponent processing, too much struggle will break. I think I heard somewhere that the optimal number of positive experiences to have in a relationship is 7/10, where the other 3/10 are negative experiences. That 30% of the time our partner is not going to let us get away with our nonsense and it is up to us to grow.

People love to think the perfect relationship is all rainbows and candy, but the best ones have a little bit of conflict.

Personal Experience

Personally, I find this to be true in my own life. I perform better, my nervous system feels more activated, when I’m working up against something. The most frequent observation I made that supports the idea of opponent processing, is when I’m exercising. I literally feel weaker before I start a workout, but once I introduce a little struggle, I immediately get stronger. It’s like part of me activates once the stress some on.

Additionally, I think opponent processing can go deeper than just physically moving with more precision. It can provide access to more precise ways of acting and thinking. The struggles in my life have made me better. Everything I encounter shapes and molds me in a small way that’s up to my discretion. My studies, work, relationships, responsibilities, duties, hobbies, and passions have all imposed a sort of force that I’ve had to struggle with. And in the struggle, I came out better.

My struggle as a Black man in America has shaped me in a similar way. It’s a significant reason why I was such a high performer in school and why I work so well as a tutor now. The added struggle of having to work harder to get the same reward made things more challenging, but that made me a stronger person. Today, I’m a better problem solver, thinker, and learner than I would be if I wasn’t Black.

We are Anti-Fragile

If I was in charge of the fortunes and misfortunes of my life, I would not have given me what I’ve been through. I would have thought it was too big of a burden and it would break me. The stress would be too much, the unfairness would weigh me down, and I would crumble underneath it all.

But I didn’t. And many other people overcome much more than they believe every day. What people are able to accomplish and endure never ceases to amaze me. Actually, I believe it’s part of the human condition to rise above seemingly impossible conditions.

Why didn’t I break? Why haven’t I broke? How are people overcoming the impossible every day?

American social psychologist and professor, Dr. Jonathan Haidt, talks a bit about this in his book, The Coddling of the American Mind. He points out that American’s are seeing record levels of hospitalizations due to poor mental health and that is, in part, due to the idea that we treat children like they’re made of glass and the world will break them.

He suggests that if we want to build stronger children, then we need to approach child-rearing from the position that they are anti-fragile.

Dr. Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote an entire book on anti-fragility and defines it as “Things That Gain from Disorder.” We can think of stress as a representation of disorder in our lives. In fact, we get stressed because we find ourselves in the presence of disorder, what is unknown. Haidt asserts that children are antifragile up to a point.

Things that are fragile get weaker when they’re exposed to stress.

Things that are anti-fragile get stronger when they’re exposed to stress.

This falls in line with what Yerkes and Dodson were saying too. When we’re stressed, we can lean into it.

When we want to improve, we just need an opponent.

Words of Warning

We get better through struggle, but the struggle has to match our abilities or we shut down. There was a study done that proved our brains have a limited capacity to deal with opponents and if we push them too far, then the nervous system will shut down and may experience damage.

I’ve said this a few times, but it’s worth emphasizing. Putting on too much stress will not make us better. We aren’t completely invincible. There is a difference between stress that helps us grow and stress that hurts us and it can be tough to tell the difference, especially at first. When I’m dealing with this, I try to ask myself:

“What can I actually do to make this better?”

“What is in my control?”

If I come up with an answer, I focus on that. If I can’t, then the stress is too much and I’ll try to get rid of it ASAP.

A Sweeter Victory

There is something to struggling that reaps a greater reward. Earning something is so much better than just getting it.

Someone told me once that working for something is so much better than buying it. I didn’t understand that for a long time, but I get it now, and as backward as that sounds, it’s true.

Our beds feel so much better when we go out and have a long day. Also, staying in bed all day actually feels pretty shitty. It’s much better to strain ourselves, then allow time for recovery.

When we do difficult things and overcome them, we see ourselves as stronger than we thought and that is a great feeling. Those are some of the feelings we live for.

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow.”

Thomas Paine (1737 – 1809)

There are many ways we can use this knowledge to make ourselves better. We can lean into the stress a little because it will make us stronger. We can use this knowledge to elevate our positions in society, make us more effective and a positive influence. Providing a healthy amount of oppositional force will grow every one.

It could be as a tutor! The tutor plays the role of the opponent during the tutoring session in order to create more precision with their student, but responsibly. That’s what I do with my students constantly. I like to just ask questions that force them to think a little deeper, especially when they come to overly simplistic conclusions.

We can also do it as a boyfriend, or husband, or friend, or business partner, whoever. We can make ourselves, our loved ones, and our associates better by allowing each other to make each other better, by playing the role of the adversary, the opponent.

Categories
Lifestyle

What I Learned the Hard Way

“Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.”

 Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

Writing about this idea was taken from Cheryl Strayed’s List of Writing Prompts. The original prompt was to write about a time when I learned the hard way, but I changed it to what I learned the hard way. While the story surrounding these lessons is wildly interesting and incredible, it’s long, and writing it in a blog post will not do it justice. Plus, I don’t have the writing skills necessary to properly tell that story.

However, the lessons I learned then are potentially some of the most influential I will ever learn in my entire life and I’m going to share some of them here.

This is the post I needed seven years ago. If I knew these lessons, or if I was able to learn them the easy way, then I probably would have saved myself a bunch of suffering.

I’m hoping someone can learn at least one of these lessons the easy way (reading this post) rather than the hard way (through immense suffering). Trust me, its much better to learn things the easy way but I also know that the human-animal can only learn some things the hard way.

Finding words sets us free.

A few years ago I got tangled up with some bad people. During that time I saw myself and others do hideous things. I was manipulated by a sociopath because I wasn’t paying enough attention to see what was right in front of me. I didn’t have a way of conceptualizing what I was doing or what I witnessed because I didn’t have a language for it. On top of that, I was tortured which made everything much harder to articulate.

While that experience was one of the toughest in my life, I never felt more relief than when I was able to find the words, or phrases, to explain what happened to me. I felt like a shattered version of myself and over the following years, everything I explored had the undertones of finding the bits and pieces that could help me process the trauma. Every time I heard, read, or learned something that could help me understand what happened, I felt a little more whole.

Finding the language to capture the experience sets us free from reliving the trauma and starts the healing process. I didn’t know this for years, but I felt it in my body. I never felt more relief than when I was able to find the words, or phrases, to explain what happened to me. I supposed this was one of the ides that I had to learn the hard way.

Turning our experiences to language orders the chaos of our minds, which helps us understand where we are. Our minds occupy territory in space and time, so when we transform the experience to speech we turn a little bit of the unknown into the familiar.

When we experience trauma, the parts of our brain that process speech shut off and we are no longer able to turn our experiences into speech. I’ve written a blog post on The Significance of Speech, which talks about how speech is so powerful from a mythological perspective. But the loss of speech, in this case, comes with the inability to process experience into speech also prevents us from putting the experience in the past.

Practicing my ability to articulate my thoughts through writing via blogging and journaling has given me a greater body knowledge and language to draw from, which aids in the healing process. Honestly, in my experience, it’s been absolutely essential in my healing process.

Understanding, internalizing, and having a vocabulary for ideas like malevolence, betrayal, archetypes, willful blindness, responsibility, sacrifice, suffering, striving, struggle, logos, animus, anima, envy, narcissism, neuroticism, the shadow, circumambulation, atonement, and so many others has been life-changing.

My speculations that this idea was true were verified when I read about many PTSD patients recovering after finding the words to describe their trauma in the fantastic book The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessell van der Kolk, which I highly recommend. I’m also adding that book to my Must-Read Book List when I get the chance.

All relationships are limited and conditional.

The only way to learn this lesson is to believe that relationships are unlimited and unconditional and then push them to their unperceived limits.

A harsh, but enlightening lesson.

After internalizing this, I’ve taken more responsibility for the relationships in my life. I’ve noticed that some people can sense this and are grateful for it (which is nice), and others are oblivious. Either way, it sets me free from the burden of feeling controlled by other people’s thoughts and feelings and empowers me to focus on what I can control. Which is usually a hell of a lot more than I could imagine.

Malevolence is real.

“Man is the cruelest animal.”

 Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

Malevolence is real. There’s darkness in people. Real darkness. It sounds cheesy, but some people really do want to hurt others just for the hell of it, and it’s not a joke. Humans are the only creatures on the planet that can hurt something else just for the sake of harming it. This is because we’re aware of our own mortality and vulnerability, which gives us the ability to exploit it in others.

If we can understand what hurts us, then we know what hurts someone else.

Now I knew this intellectually, but it’s a completely different thing to know this viscerally. When we see the evil of the human heart in an undeniable fashion, it fundamentally changes how we understand the human-animal, how we understand ourselves. It was witnessing despicable actions that presenced me to the darkness.

Understanding the evil in others helps me conceptualize my capacity for destruction and gives me proper fear of and respect for myself. Before I believed that malevolence was real, I never saw the weight of my own actions or the potential damage it could cause. Hell, it frightens me to think of the destruction that I have caused because of my ignorance of this fact.

Our choices seriously matter.

Our choices matter and we never get away with anything. We can act as if there is no such thing as good and evil, but that will destroy our lives. The choices we make ripple out in ways that we can hardly imagine.

This means our bad actions infinitely propagate throughout the world, but it also means that our good actions do too.

Everything we do starts to take on a different vibe when we think about how it will ripple off into society. What we choose to do in the present affects us in ten minutes, in ten months, in ten years, and the actions of all of those versions of us will affect other people in ways that we can’t even imagine.

When I see my actions as trivial and inconsequential, it’s easy to do the things that benefit me at the moment, but rarely do those actions benefit me in the medium to long term. When I see how much my choices matter, there’s a real pressure to get my act together.

Ignorance does not protect us from the consequences.

Ignorance does not protect us from unfavorable situations. Again, this is something that I knew intellectually, but haven’t internalized. I would have tried harder to learn more from my experiences that I did. We aren’t spared from consequences just because we didn’t know that our actions weren’t sufficient.

Children often use this excuse of ignorance to get out of anything. In my experience, teenagers often use this as their go-to excuse for not getting something done or acting appropriately. It’s always something like “I didn’t know, therefore I should be spared,” but this type of thinking isn’t cooperative with how the world works.

Just because I didn’t understand the importance of integrating the shadow, doesn’t mean I’m not responsible for the destruction it was causing.

Not knowing doesn’t protect us from the consequences, it only blinds us to them.

This is why I place such a heavy emphasis on learning efficiently. Learning as much as we can is a matter of survival. We need it to understand the consequences and act in our favor.

People will unintentionally drag you down.

“The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”

 Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

When drifting gets seriously out of control, people can drag others into their entropic vortex. The problem with this is that the original drifter, the person who started the vortex, may not know that they’re leading others atray.

People may not know if they’re leading you down a terrible path.

I discovered this to be true under the assumption that one should always trust family. I didn’t realize that sometimes, they don’t know when they’re wrong. Sometimes malevolence isn’t part of the picture and the destruction is simply a result of foolishness and aversion of responsibility.

People may believe what they are doing is right, but it is up to us to know what is best for ourselves.


I spent years trying to piece these ideas together and even more time letting my ignorance run rampant. To some people, these ideas may seem obvious and if they are, then I challenge you to know them viscerally. To others, these lessons aren’t true and to those people, I say enjoy the life you have and prepare yourself because the flood is coming. Nonetheless, I learned them all the hard way. I suggest that you don’t.

I hope this post helps someone learn something without having to endure extreme circumstances, but perhaps the people who need to learn these lessons the most will only do so through our mother tongue, suffering.

Categories
Education Lifestyle

The Jungian Shadow & Integration

“The sad truth is that man’s real life consists of a complex of inexorable opposites – day and night, birth and death, happiness and misery, good and evil. We are not even sure that one will prevail over the other, that good will overcome evil, or joy defeat pain. Life is a battleground. It always has been, and always will be.”

Carl Jung (Approaching the Unconscious)

The Gestalt Reality

The incredibly intelligent and renown Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, urged that people strive for wholeness rather than perfection. The path to wholeness is through integrating the sides of ourselves which are rejected, ignored, and avoided. When we combine the sides of ourselves which are responsible for creation with the sides which are capable of destruction, we create something bigger than the sum of those parts.

I talk a little bit about the uglier sides of ourselves in my post The Relationship with Ourselves (Part 2). Harnessing the power of and willingly confronting these less than perfect sides of ourselves gives us the ability to deal with chaos when it comes. These ugly sides of ourselves are what Jung referred to as the shadow side.

This shadow side within ourselves that are rejected, ignored, and avoided are usually deemed “bad” or “immoral” by the rest of society. This widespread belief comes from people being constantly ridiculed by friends and family if they were to express these traits. We may live in an illusion of harmony, but this harmony is at the expense of our psychological integrity.

“And if you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of.”

Jordan B. Peterson (12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos)

When we’re children, we’re afraid of monsters and wished they didn’t exist. As we get older, we see that the monsters are real and aren’t going anywhere. This knowledge makes us cynical. We believe the world must be an evil, unforgiving, and cold place to have monsters everywhere. However, we can learn to contend with the monsters if we learn how to be at one with ourselves.

The shadow sides contain a monster capable of immense destruction. If we ignore and repress this monster, it will come out in ways we don’t intend. If we let it go completely, we create heinous suffering and destroy the good around us. We must learn to wrestle with the monster within, integrate it into our personality, and use it when necessary. When we combine all these sides of ourselves, we become more than just the combination of all those sides. We become something much stronger and more formidable.

I talk more about this in the context of children who always try to be good in this post. Good children tend to repress their own thoughts and feelings in order to please other people. This repression creates a world of problems for them in the adult world as well as their personal psyche.

Wrestling with the Shadow – Big thanks to Academy of Ideas

Getting a hold of this side of ourselves is a difficult task. In order to grapple with our shadow, we first have to see it in ourselves. When we first look for the shadow we will find ourselves in a moral dilemma.

It’s hard to see the parts of ourselves which conflict with society and our loved ones. We discover the alarming amounts of hypocrisy, complacency, and fear which our moral scaffoldings and state are founded on.

Integrating the shadow is not trying to become “evil“, but it is detaching ourselves from the evil within us, so we can be free to find the parts of ourselves lost in the shadow. This creates an undeniable authenticity that others can intuitively pick up on.

True freedom, and a healthy relationship with ourselves, starts with questioning the codes of socialization and morality that we’ve been indoctrinated into. Questioning codes of conduct does not make us deviant, but strengthens compliance of codes if an answer can be found. Refusing to question codes risks propagating conduct which breed pathology.

Whenever I’m working with students, I notice that many of the students let their guard down and let go of their resistance to learning when they understand why they must sacrifice. Senselessness is painful for anyone at any age. Understanding why we need to sacrifice gives our pain meaning which can pull us through any challenge.

“If it can be destroyed by truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth.”

Carl Sagan (1934-1996)

Pretending that we don’t have a shadow is a futile. Dichotomy of this nature is built right into the structures of reality. Refer to the quote at the beginning of this blog post again.

We have sides to our existence which we don’t like, but denying them only makes them stronger. Pretending they don’t exists brings them out more than we’d like, and it ways that we won’t even notice.

“By not being aware of having a shadow, you declare a part of your personality to be non-existent. Then it enters the kingdom of the non-existent, which swells up and takes on enormous proportions…If you get rid of qualities you don’t like by denying them, you become more and more unaware of what you are, you declare yourself more and more non-existent, and your devils will grow fatter and fatter.”

Carl Jung (Dream Analysis: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1928-1930)

The Shadow of Aggression

We can see this in children who exhibit aggression at an early age. Aggression is a part of human nature and there is nothing inherently wrong with it, although to modern people, it has a rough connotation. Aggression is simply an assertive pursuit in one’s desires. Sometimes this can be violent and terrible, but most of the time it isn’t.

When an infant is crying for food, they are being aggressive. When we ask someone if we could use their restroom, we are being aggressive. Aggression can appear in countless ways.

As a result, many children who are aggressive at an early age (which is almost all of them) are met with disapproval and punishment. As they get older, they learn to repress that side of themselves. They seek to avoid conflict and not push their own agenda.

The aggression moves into the shadow and transforms into anger, rage, and hate.

If the child had learned to use their aggression when appropriate, rather than ignore it altogether, they could use their aggression to move themselves and their community forward in a meaningful way. The child could have recognized the aggression within themselves, integrated it so they can use it by their own volition, and released it when they needed to be aggressive. They would have an easier time in the adult world and more control over their internal states.

Aggression is necessary in adult life and people who cannot utilize it will be damned to a life of mediocrity and people pleasing. People who won’t recognize the aggression within themselves will always be the stepping stone and not the one who steps on the stone. This way of living will drive them mad, mostly because they’re aware of their powerlessness, and the adult who has not integrated their aggression will uncontrollably release their shadow in a fit of unregulated emotions.

“This longing to commit a madness stays with us throughout our lives. Who has not, when standing with someone by an abyss or high up on a tower, had a sudden impulse to push the other over? And how is it that we hurt those we love although we know that remorse will follow? Our whole being is nothing but a fight against the dark forces within ourselves. To live is to war with trolls in the heart and soul. To write is to sit in judgement on oneself”

Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906)

Common Signs of Shadow Release

Lack of shadow integration leads to uncontrolled actions where the shadow releases itself in ways that we can barely recognize. It’s so easy to be blind to our shadow and how it shows itself. However, in Robert Greene’s fantastic book, The Laws of Human Nature, which is on My Must-Read Book List, he lays out common signs of shadow release and personas which the shadow displays itself through. We can use his guidelines to recognize the shadow within ourselves.

Contradictory Behavior

Repression can leads to a disconnect between our thoughts and actions. We think and want one thing, but act differently. Eventually, we will lapse in our performance and start to act how we truly think resulting in contradictory behavior.

This can also be seen in the people who preach high morality, but secretly and deliberately wrongs others. Another example can be found in extremely animus and typically tough men. They seem so strong and stoic on the outside, but really they yearn for sensitivity and security.

People carefully construct their images, sometimes without consulting all sides of themselves. These constructions are simply exoskeletons which people use to keep their uglier sides in the dark.

Emotional Outbursts

This is when the shadow simply can’t handle the repression any longer and must be released. They might say something cruel or expression their deeply embarrassing emotions. Either way, the person will claim that some external circumstance has brought out something different than them. Typically, the shadow is more honest than who we think we are.

Passionate Denial

Intense denials are typically expressions of what the shadow truly desires. Now, I’m not saying that everything that everyone denies is secretly desired. According to Freud, people understand the uncomfortable parts of their unconscious mind through denial in their unconscious mind. In other words, we understand the ugly parts of our unconscious through denying them. It’s easy to see this in men who claim they “have never cried” or “don’t feel any emotion.”

We can deny things, but passionate denial may be a form of acceptance.

“Accidental” Behavior

This is the one I think is the funniest. We see people engaging in destructive behavior and the reason for their conduct is simply an “accident”. Someone will drink too much alcohol and say inappropriate things. “It’s not me talking, it’s the alcohol.” They will say defending their insolence, but it’s their shadow. The truth is that person has never been more honest. Typically, alcohol inebriates our cerebral cortex which is our emotional brake pedal, so to speak. If that loses its power, it gives an opportunity for our amygdala to act as wild as possible.

We love to look for a great excuse to let our shadow go and what’s better than an accident?

This isn’t just with alcohol, people use all kinds of accidents as an excuse to indulge in their dark sides. When we stop accepting these explanations as excuses, we can see the shadow clearly.

Over-Idealization

People have a need to believe in something bigger than them. Conventional religion works for some people, but in this day and age, I’ve seen more and more people create their own belief systems. No matter the system, people will always put an ideal at the top, a clear example of right and wrong, a goal to strive for.

This can be in the form of a god, or in a personally relevant example, a motorcycle club (I’m rewatching Sons of Anarchy at the moment). People need an ideal to strive towards or we are left in true chaos.

Nothing is inherently wrong with this, but over-dealization can leave people a fantastic excuse to release their shadow. When we over-idealize something it’s easy to ignore all the imperfections and believe that any action that does not benefit the ideal is wrong. Once this happens, we will commit every sin in the book in the name of our god.

This is where the phrase “the ends don’t justify the means” is really useful. Over-idealization is saying the ends do justify the means and we will achieve the end by any means necessary.

We are constantly looking for ways to release our shadow, if we don’t do it consciously, we will convince ourselves that we are doing it for the right reasons.

Projection

“Projection is of the the commonest psychic phenomena…everything that is unconscious in ourselves we discover in our neighbor, and we treat him accordingly.”

Carl Jung (Archaic Man)

Ever heard the phrase “game recognize game”? This is the same idea. We have to have it in us to see it in other people. However, we love to tell ourselves that only other people have these disgusting traits and not us.

This is the most common way people deal with their shadow because it offers an opportunity for release every day. Whenever we see someone with unfavorable qualities, we can condemn them. Judge them unfairly and satisfy ourselves with justification that we are not like them.

I had a student whose parent was completely convinced that Hispanic students were the reason why California’s math scores are so low. He told me that it’s such a shame that Hispanic students don’t care about education and just want to get by. He explained to me, with great detail, about how he believes they are going to be the downfall of his beloved country. What he didn’t realize was his children, and himself, are the real perpetrators. Not because what he believes is racist and ignorant, but because his own children and himself don’t care about education and do everything they can just to get by. I worked with two of his kids and him long enough to know that they have those common attitudes, but I didn’t wrong him for it. I know that he was using projection as a form of shadow release.

What we hate in other people, we usually hate in ourselves.

Personas of the Unintegrated Shadow

Another way to recognize the shadow within ourselves is by paying attention to the personas which the shadow uses to show itself.

The Tough Guy

We all know the guy who’s too tough for life. These characters express hyper masculine roughness to signal that they’re the alpha dog. This guy likes to brag about all the women he’s slept with, fights he’s won, or deals he’s negotiated. This doesn’t just apply to men, this persona can be adopted by women who’ve accessed deep levels of their animus.

It’s easy to be intimidated by these types but they are like The Repressed Good Child. Unable to accept their sensitive and emotionally vulnerable sides, they only allow themselves to be “strong.”

Without acceptance of emotional vulnerability, The Tough Guy is susceptible to losing control when met with something that challenges or upsets them. We can recognize The Tough Guy within ourselves and learn to accept emotional vulnerability. We can also recognize it in others so we can be mindful of stirring insecurities or understand potential over reactions.

The Tough Guy pretends to be tough because really he is sensitive.

The Saint

These types are the shining examples of who we ought to be. They emanate goodness and purity as well as have seemingly endless compassion for the dispossessed. If malevolence and deceit surround them, they stand uncorrupted and above it all.

However, as we know if these sides of ourselves are not intentionally developed then they are masquerades for the opposite. The Saint has a secret thirst for power, attention, and all things sensual. The Saint acts as a pillar of benevolence, but once in power the shadow takes over and turns the progressive merciful angel into an intolerant punishing monster.

The Saint desires sex, money, and attention even though we may expect to believe otherwise. The Saint typically has a low tolerance for temptation and will use their power inappropriately if given the slightest opportunity. These types seem like incredible people to the public, but their family would testify otherwise.

We can seperate the true saints from the fakes through observing their actions and particular characteristics of their lives. How much do they enjoy power when they have it? How many goomahs do they have? Do they have a flavor of self-absorption that underlies their behavior?

Keeping a safe distance from these Shadow Saints is the best way to handle them. They’re after power and nothing else. Don’t be fooled by their show.

The Passive-Aggressive Charmer

These characters are difficult to deal with because they are so damn nice. When you first meet, they’re accommodating and smile a lot. They seem like a giant ball of positive energy and are surprisingly helpful too! Everything is fantastic until we see some action that seems so out of character – they explode on someone, talk shit behind your back, or sabotage you in some way.

These types probably learned at a young age that their innate aggression is bad. Maybe they had slightly more aggressive tendencies than other kids and had difficulty controlling them. Over time, they push that aggression deeper and deeper down into the depths of the shadow. They project auras of kindness and accomodation, but with a hint of aggression. They hate playing this role and will seek to break character whenever they’re tired or stressed.

Extreme niceness is not natural behavior and people with excessive accomodating behavior are likely trying to cover up the opposite.

The Frantic

Frantics can be pretty intense people. They are firm in their beliefs, speak with vigor, don’t compromise, clean often, and emit confidence. People love to flock to them because they are so compelling and reliable.

As we know, if someone is trying to hard to project an image then they must be unconsciously compensating for the opposite trait that lurks within them. Frantics are secretly terrified that they aren’t enough. Maybe from an early age they learned to doubt their self-worth. They don’t believe in themselves, so they project an image of conviction and stability to prevent other people from discovering who they truly are.

The Rigid Rationalist

These types tend to reject all the irrational tendencies humans have. The things that interest people aren’t always in line with pure reason. People love their myths, superstitions, woowoo explainations, and the supernatural. Being rational is exhausting and the majority of the biggest decisions made in our lives are rarely based in reason. Reason is still bound by our general myopia and can only extend as far as we know.

Repressing our irrational tendencies pushes them deeper into the shadow, allowing the irrationality to brew in the darkness. Once all irrationality is seemingly dealt with, the rigid rationalist only has room for science and analytics. Disregarding all other forms of thinking, these types will worship at the altar of science and take communion in the scientific method. If they are confronted with an argument, they will present their rational ideals with a heavy hand and maybe even a hint of anger. Their irrational tendencies lines the edges of their rational arguments making them seem almost more primitive than the archaic people who came before them.

True rationality is stoic and sober. It questions itself and does not fall in love with it’s own creations. It does not seek publicity, but truth.

The Snob

Snobs are the people who feel like they need to be better than everyone else. In Adlerian terms, they must assert their superiority over the masses. They have extremely refined tastes and knowledge in music, art, fine dining, or anything reffered to as “Classic“. They do what they can to stand out, so they’ll have unique tattoos and play into the “alternative” scene. They usually have extraordinary backgrounds too because every damn thing about them just seems so much better than the average.

We can imagine their lives being free of the mundane, but the reality is the boring and vapid as well as the exciting and lively. The Snob projects an image of extraordinary flair because they are more sensitive about their banality than the average person. The Snob secretly desires to be boring and ordinary, but carefully builds a shell of specialized knowledge and extraordinary aesthetics.

The Extreme Entrepreneur

These types seem like they have a slew of positive traits, especially for entrepreneurial work. They pay serious attention to detail and have incredibly high standards. They’ll usually do the work themselves because they want the work to be done “correctly.”

While these traits do brings a certain level of success, they create a cancer deep inside. The Extreme Entrepreneur tends to have a difficult time listening to people and rarely takes advice. They pride themselves of their limited understanding of self-reliance and usually mistrust others who don’t share their high standards.

This increased desire for self-reliance will push our desire to rely on others down into the shadow. When the shadow shows itself it’s usually in the form of medical or financial ruin. Suddenly, the independent business owner becomes dependent on doctors and financial advisors. These types never want to admit their desire for dependency. So in order to release themselves from this prison, they subconsciously a drawn to creating enough chaos to force them into dependency. These types tend to be successful in early life, but later tend to cause a lot of collateral damage.

“There are no beautiful surfaces without a terrible depth.”

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

If we don’t accept these sides of ourselves, they will come out and make themselves known in a much uglier way. The best way to deal with the shadow is not to ignore it, but to integrate it into our personalities.

Integrating the Shadow

Shadow integration can be completed in just 4 difficult steps:

  1. 1. Identify Our Own Shadow – the most difficult step in the process because we like to reject, ignore, and avoid this side of ourselves.
  2. The best way to see it is to pay attention to if we are acting out The Common Signs of Shadow Release.
  3. We can also pay attention to any one-sided traits in ourselves and assume that the opposite trait is buried deep within us. They usually are.
  4. Sometimes we say we hate certain kinds of behavior or people because we reject those qualities in ourselves.
  5. An example could be when someone is saying “I hate when people are late,” they are really covering up for their secret proclivity to be late themselves.
  6. Or “I hate when people cause drama” is covering up for a secret desire to surround themselves with drama.

Sensitivity to certain remarks is another fantastic indicator of shadowed areas of ourselves.

There are tons of ways to examine ourselves, the key is not to judge what we find but to accept it. It is part of us. It’s not evil.

2. Embrace Our Shadow – When we see our shadow for the first time it will be uncomfortable and the natural reaction will be to repress it.

Embracing our shadow and making it a goal to integrate it, rather than repress it, will help us give off a more authentic presentation. Seeking to integrate the shadow will make it easier to embrace it.

3. Explore Our Shadow – The shadow has depths further than our imagination. When exploring these depths we will find our darkest (even criminalistic) desires and animalistic impulses. It will be shocking, but we will have tapped into new power. The world’s greatest art dives deep into these depths and shows them to us, that is why we are so enamored by them.

4. Consciously Release Our Shadow – releasing our shadow is like an exorcism of sorts, we release the demons and enhance our presence as human beings. Releasing the shadow frees us from the jail of endless social codes. It’s more expensive to be nice and differential than consciously showing our shadow – the niceness is good at first but if gone without shadow integration, niceness becomes timidity, lack of confidence, and indecision.

“Unfortunately there is no doubt about the fact that man is, as a whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”

Carl Jung (1875-1961)
Categories
Education Lifestyle

The Relationship with Ourselves (Part 2)

“Life is to man, in other words, to will, what chemical re-agents are to the body: it is only by life that a man reveals what he is, and it is only in so far as he reveals himself that he exists at all. Life is the manifestation of character, of the something that we understand by that word; and it is not in life, but outside of it, and outside time, that character undergoes alteration, as a result of the self-knowledge which life gives. Life is only the mirror into which a man gazes not in order that he may get a reflection of himself, but that he may come to understand himself by that reflection; that he may see what it is that the mirror shows. Life is the proof sheet, in which the compositors’ errors are brought to light.”

Arthur Schopenhauer (The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer; On Human Nature)

Beyond Creation

In my post, The Relationship with Ourselves (Part 1), I talk about how many of us fail to recognize the significance of the relationship with ourselves, the different aspects that make up this relationship, and how we can use this knowledge to turn our biggest enemy into our biggest ally. It’s difficult work, but doing it is worthwhile and enriches our lives in a beautiful way.

However, utilizing the knowledge of the relationship with ourselves is more than just creating ourselves. It is also accepting and not avoiding ourselves. Meditating on our flaws, contradictions, and inconsistencies, then embracing them. What I’m suggesting is deeper than “self-love“, especially since that term has been bastardized in the modern world.

Taking on the responsibility of developing an integrated and healthy relationship with ourselves is a form of true love and acceptance of all that we are, in our beauty and catastrophe.

The more I write about this topic, the more I discover how much I cannot cover in these blog posts, so I’m going to hone in and just focus on one section of this idea. This post is going to focus on the archetypically negative side of ourselves. The sides of ourselves that many of us like to reject, ignore, and avoid at all costs.

Existence is the positive, the good, and the light. But it is also the negative, the bad, and the darkness. To be a human being is to understand that both the good and bad lies within our soul. Pretending that we are only good (or that we are not bad) ignores half the story and, more often than not, causes more harm than good.

“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart…even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains…an uprooted small corner of evil.”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (The Gulag Archipelago)

The human mind is commonly compared to a horse and it’s rider. The horse being the unconscious mind, and the rider being the conscious mind. It’s the rider’s job to direct the horse to a desired goal, similar to the conscious mind to the unconscious mind.

From what I can tell, our psyches are more than one horse and one rider. We have many horses and it is our moral obligation to pay attention to our horses and how they may act. Similar to how people are responsible for their pets.

If we cannot comprehend that we’re dangerous, then that horse is without a rider, so to speak, and it’s free to cause as much meyhem as it will.

We have horses that we purposely try to reject, ignore, and avoid. Since these horses are usually archetypically negative, they are commonly conflated with pain and suffering. However, the structures of suffering are built right into existence and we must learn to contend with it or we’re doomed to chasing phantoms forever.

“Pain and death are part of life. To reject them is to reject life itself.”

Havelock Ellis (1859-1939)

Good Children and Repression

“When one tries desperately to be good and wonderful and perfect, then all the more the shadow develops a definite will to be black and evil and destructive. People cannot see that; they are always striving to be marvellous, and then they discover that terrible destructive things happen which they cannot understand, and they either deny that such facts have anything to do with them, or if they admit them, they take them for natural afflictions, or they try to minimize them and to shift the responsibility elsewhere. The fact is that if one tries beyond one’s capacity to be perfect, the shadow descends into hell and becomes the devil.”

Carl Jung (Visions: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1930–1934)

A fantastic example of repression are in children who consider themselves “good.”

Good children can be spotted as the ones who finish their homework early, are a little shy, always try to help their parents, and maybe even have neat handwriting. Good children strive to be perfect and on most measures may even match up with these extraordinary expectations.

The real insidious danger of the good child lies in other people not thinking anything is wrong with them. From a surface level analysis, it’s easy to conclude that there isn’t anything wrong with these kids. Adults will shift their focus, and attribute most of the problems to children who are causing conspicuous trouble, even though a little trouble is necessary for a healthy psyche.

Since good children are always doing what’s expected of them, they constantly repress their own desires and inner feelings.

This can be from a number of reasons.

Maybe a parent is depressed and overwhelmed. The child notices this and believes that this parent can’t take anymore trouble. So the good child does everything they can to make sure they aren’t the source of anymore trouble, ever.

Or perhaps one parent is a violent angry perfectionist who explodes at any behavior that’s less than perfect.

No matter the reason, a need for excessive compliance is not natural or healthy and should be treated like the danger it really is.

When a child develops a need for excessive compliance, they become over encumbered with secrets and repress their inner wants for the sake of complying with others.

This repression could take the form of psychosomatic symptoms like twitches, sudden emotional outbursts, excessive bitterness, or irritability. The child may not even be able to identify the reason for the psychosomatic symptoms because they have such little familiarity with their own feelings.

The good child does not have access to the privilege of other people being willing or able to tolerate their imperfections. A privilege necessary for a mentally healthy child.

Good children typically do not have the privilege to express their negative emotions and still be loved or accepted by people around them. In a situation like that, it’s no surprise that someone could conclude that the only way they’ll be accepted is through acting good all the time.

The good child may grow to believe that their personal wants and desires are inappropriate.

This causes a detachment from their bodies and emotions. People like this have a difficult time forming healthy relationships with others later in life. Or, as a response to the repression, the good child may give in to their inner desires too much creating a whole new pathology.

Adult life is full of moments when we need to “break the rules” or act in ways that may upset people. Good children end up having issues as they get older, because they tend to follow the rules and try not to upset people. Without either of these abilities, the good child is damned to a life of mediocrity and people pleasing.

The dangers of repression can take many different forms and don’t just apply to good children. Aiming to understand the shadow sides of ourselves is the path to proper maturity.

Proper maturity involves a deep integration of our less than perfect sides as well as our dark sides. Accepting ourselves in our beauty and catastrophe is crucial to building a strong foundation for the relationship with ourselves.

Establishing a Foundation

Human beings are creators through Logos. We create our lives through our speech. We invent worlds and stories through our conversations and live in them. Most of the time we can’t tell the difference between our conversational world and the “real” world. We build relationships through conversation and the relationship with ourselves is no different.

Most people wouldn’t tell their child to lie as much as they can to get what they want. Many of us know, either from personal experience or otherwise, that lying is a terrible long term strategy. If we were to catch someone lying to us, it would be upsetting and we wouldn’t be as willing to trust them in the future. We also know that if we were caught lying to someone else, they would feel the same way about us.

However, there is one person whom we don’t mind lying to and I bet you can guess who it is…

Ourselves.

Healthy relationships are built on honesty. In order to have a healthy relationship with ourselves, we must be able to be honest with ourselves. Honesty is a solid foundation that must be established first before any relationship can be built. If we try to build a relationship without honesty, sooner or later it will all come crashing down.

Honesty comes when we choose to stop lying to ourselves, but in order to do that we need to understand why we lie to ourselves.

We lie to avoid pain.

We love to lie about all of the problematic aspects that take tremendous effort to alter including but not limited to, our careers, relationships, health, habits, or ideologies.

It’s easier to attempt to elicit sympathy from others and ourselves than be honest with our inadequacies. The truth is we could change these things about our lives, but we lie and say we can’t. The best part is no one can call us on our bluff because we are lying to ourselves! Modern people have learned to avoid responsibility, even though adopting it provides us with meaning.

We lie to think well of ourselves.

We lie to not feel inadequate.

We lie because we are angry with people we are supposed to love and the matters we are angry about are petty.

We lie because it’s easy.

We lie because telling the truth makes us responsible.

We lie because if we don’t it will be ourselves holding us back and nothing or no one else.

As long as we understand the drives within us, then maybe we could see past the lies and look at our lives honestly. While the lying satiates us in the present, we will be forced to deal with the truth later. We can choose to confront our lies willingly, or let them take us unexpectedly when we are older. When we confront them willingly, we prove ourselves to be braver and establish a solid foundation to build the bravery upon. That bravery now has the freedom to grow into something much bigger.

No matter which choice we make, it will be painful. The idea that freedom is on the other end of suffering is a tragedy. Everyone deals with their own tragedy of life in their own way and lying to ourselves isn’t the only trick up our sleeve. This can be different for each individual and I recommend looking into methods of coping with the tragedy of life. I wrote a little bit about other methods we use to deal with our own tragedy in my post Proclivity for Comfort.

Here are some of the popular maneuvers that we use to lie to ourselves:

Distraction & Addiction

This can look like porn, news, drugs, work, etc. I go a little deeper about distraction in Proclivity for Comfort.

Manic Cheeriness

Repressed sadness can often display as intense happiness. The rejection of negative or sad emotions is so deep that we don’t let ourselves feel any sadness at all resulting in an overly happy affect.

Irritability

Being irritated is a fantastic indicator that something is wrong. However, general irritability is a cover up for unspecified issues. Honing in on elevated articulation is key for combating general irritability.

Denigration

Destructivly critiquing ourselves or others. Any fool can tear something down, but it takes substantial effort to critique then offer a solution. Most of the time, denigration is misdirected energy. Talking shit helps no one, focus on what really needs fixing.

Censoriousness

Being over critical of ourselves or other people is another sign that we are misguiding our efforts. Usually, it’s easier to find the mistakes in everything else, rather than fixing the fault where it really matters.

Defensiveness

Defensiveness comes when we have something to prove. We only feel like we need to prove something if we feel like what we are isn’t what we would like to show. If we understood what we are, accepting both our strengths and weaknesses, then maybe we would lose the need to prove we are more than what we are.

Cynicism & Dispair

These come with the loss of naïveté. When we first encounter more chaos than we can process, we inevitably lose our childlike view of the world. Suddenly, not everyone is a friend and life is no longer fun and games. While it’s easy to ride that train straight to Hell, true wisdom and freedom comes from integrating our childlike wonder with our newfound understanding of malevolence and destruction. Keep the child alive in us, but let the adult really run the show.

Utilizing Anxiety

“We should not try to ‘get rid’ of a neurosis, but rather to experience what it means, what it has to teach, what its purpose is.”

Carl Jung (Civilization in Transition)
Enlightenment through Anxiety – Big thanks to Academy of Ideas

Before we get into using anxiety to our advantage, let’s discuss why we get anxiety in the first place.

“The distinctive characteristic of the human being, in contrast to the merely vegetative or the merely animal, lies in the range of human possibility and in our capacity for self-awareness of possibility. Kierkegaard sees man as a creature who is continually beckoned by possibility, who conceives of possibility, visualizes it, and by creative activity carries it into actuality.” 

Rollo May (The Meaning of Anxiety)

Human beings have a special capacity to project possible scenarios into the future. We can think about how events could play out without actually having to act them out in real life. A lot of this type of processing happens in our prefrontal cortex, I talk about this in my post The Brain vs. The Mind. This gives us a huge advantage when it comes to survival and undoubtedly a huge contributor to our reign over the animal kingdom.

But it’s not without a price.

Choosing which potential projection to bring into reality is how we create our lives, but it’s also one of the sources of our anxiety. In this way, humans must contend with their freedom like no other animal must. We ask questions that other animals cannot ask themselves. Which potential reality is best for me? Which potential reality will bring me danger? What do I do about potential threats in the future?

Søren Kierkegaard, renown Danish philosopher, suggests the escape from a life of passivity, stagnation, or mediocrity lies in our willingness to attend, what he calls, The School of Anxiety.

Kierkegaard believes anxiety has two sides to it.

One side is demonic and can ruin our lives. This is the side we traditionally think of when we think about anxiety.

The other is constructive and guides us towards a development of the Jungian Self. Anxiety can act as directions in the journey of circumambulation.

Most people advise to follow one’s dreams, Kierkegaard advises to follow one’s anxiety. Avoiding and rejecting our anxiety leaves us blind and frozen. Our anxiety gives us a glimpse into which possible scenarios we ought to take. Anxiety can tell us what to direct our energy towards. It lets us know what we really find important.

“The capacity to bear anxiety is important for the individual’s self-realization and for his conquest of his environment. Every person experiences continual shocks and threats to his existence; indeed, self-actualization occurs only at the price of moving ahead despite such shocks. This indicates the constructive use of anxiety”

Rollo May (The Meaning of Anxiety)

As May suggests, moving forward through our anxiety is the way to a greater version of ourselves. Greatness lies on the other side of anxiety, as long as we are willing to push ahead.

Unfortunately, much of the common attitude towards anxiety is to reject or avoid it. Having anxiety is seen to be a problem that we “shouldn’t” have and feeling negative emotion has been made to be “bad” & “wrong” in modern society. This is because the constructive elements of anxiety are not easily visible to the masses.

This rejection and avoidance are so deep that some people would even claim to not desire a greater life. When our comfort and security are more appealing than the anxiety that lurks in the unknown, resignation of this nature becomes common practice. This is precisely why the trap of passivity, stagnation, and mediocrity lies in the rejection of anxiety.

When we refuse to move into the possibilities which make us anxious, we sentence the side of us seeking self-realization and a greater life to death. This isn’t a clean death either, it’s slow and sloppy. Repressing this side of ourselves breeds a violent shadow and I would go as far to say that it is like repressing the will to life itself. The tension within ourselves created from willingly seeking self-realization or circumambulation is what gives our lives meaning and stimulates the deepest parts of ourselves.

In order to access the constructive parts of anxiety, we first have to understand that we can always take action, even if we are enveloped with anxiety.

Believing that we have to get rid of our anxiety before we can act puts us at a serious disadvantage for a couple of reasons. It facilitates procrastination and it can lead to a serious dependence on drugs or alcohol.

Holding on to the idea that we need to remove anxiety to act makes us weak.

The next thing we need to understand to access the constructive parts of anxiety is understanding that no one can do this for us except for ourselves.

Realizing that nothing in my life was ever going to change unless I did something to make it change was one of the most anxiety-inducing, but empowering realizations I’ve ever had. I was able to switch my Locus of Control. This realization helped me see the constructive side to anxiety.

The possibilities which stress us out are precisely what we need to pay more attention to. The anxiety is an opportunity to exercise our divine abilities, it’s the call of the hero’s journey.

“One of the most important [revelatory] moments is when the client grasps that no one is coming. No one is coming to save me; no one is coming to make life right for me; no one is coming to solve my problems. If I don’t do something, nothing is going to get better. The dream of a rescuer who will deliver us may offer a kind of comfort, but it leaves us passive and powerless. We may feel if only I suffer long enough, if only I yearn desperately enough, somehow a miracle will happen, but this is the kind of self-deception one pays for with one’s life as it drains away into the abyss of unredeemable possibilities and irretrievable days, months, decades.”


Nathaniel Branden (1930-2014)

Enhancing our levels of articulation is another constructive and effective way of coping with anxiety. We experience anxiety when we find ourselves in too much chaos. When things don’t work out the way we expect, our brain responds by trying to prepare for whatever potential danger is lurking around the corner.

Let’s say we’re pre-med, but we get an F on a test. When we recieve that F, we are thrown out order into the domain of chaos because we aren’t sure what the F symbolizes.

Did we just get one question on the test wrong? Did we just forget to study a concept? Did we not properly learn the prerequisite material from the last class? Do we need to change our lifestyle choices? Are we incapable of learning this information? Are we not good enough to get into medical school? Are we too stupid to take this class? Are we even good enough to pursue anything bigger than us?

It’s easy for these questions to spiral out of control, because we don’t know exactly where the error lies. Maybe we just forgot a concept, but maybe we might not even be cut out for our goals at all! Anxiety comes from our mind trying to prepare for all of those scenarios at once. Our threat detection systems in our body are put into overdrive and that makes it difficult to do a lot of things. However, once we specify what we are able to prepare for, the anxiety immediately begins to subside. If there was some way of knowing exactly where the error was, then there’s no need to prepare for everything all at once.

Enhancing our levels of articulation helps us direct our energy towards something definitive, which keeps anxiety at bay, rather than letting our minds run while trying to plan a new career path, prepare for a panther attack, and an alien invasion all at the same time.

We will constantly have to choose between avoiding or moving forward. What will aid us in moving forward isn’t wisdom, intelligence, or even new information. It is the integration of the Jungian Shadow. Creating a relationship with ourselves which captivates the sides of ourselves we tend to reject, ignore, and avoid will provide a steady mechanism that can impel us to act even when our reason tries to stop us. Sometimes our instincts are wiser than our evolved executive cognition. Accepting the sides of us which yearn for chaos gives us the advantage in utilizing our anxiety.

Life is too short to not take the bold risks a fully lived human life requires.

“For believe me: the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is – to live dangerously!”

Friedrich Nietzsche (The Gay Science)