For as long as human beings have been telling stories, our narratives have revolved around the relationship between darkness and light. Virtually all creation stories incorporate themes of light and darkness, as do many myths, religions, and philosophies. Even contemporary scientific explanations for the origin of the universe see life as we know it beginning with the Big Bang, an explosion of light in the darkness of the void. Many of these stories and frameworks create a division or separation between light and darkness, seeing hell, Tartarus, and sin as dark and God, goodness and heaven as light.
The yin/yang symbol illustrates the balance of so-called opposites, whether light and dark, good and bad, life and death, or masculine and feminine energies. The joined, inverted teardrops of the Yin/Yang symbol also contain a drop of their “opposite” within them, harkening to the interconnectedness between dark and light.
Psychology has also drawn from the light/dark model. Consider Jungian concepts such as “the shadow,” the focus on insight or “lightbulb” moments, and the conscious and unconscious mind. Rather than viewing human beings as good or evil or something combination of the two, therapeutic systems seek the conscious integration of what are often viewed as darker, aggressive, or self-destructive emotions and impulses (the id) and life-affirming, ethical, or loving emotions and intentions (the ego/superego).
Similar to any other external system, within the self-enclosed system of the human mind, what one part does impacts all parts. The psyche is a constantly evolving feedback loop. When a political system, a social system, a school system, or a medical system begin to focus on separating out whatever aspect of itself it views as worthier or “good” (the light) from the aspects it views as unworthy or “bad” (the dark), what happens? There may be an illusory sense of power or victory experienced by the “light” or dominant parts of the system, but gradually, any system that denies the importance or reality of any of its parts will break down. If you focus on a car’s engine but forget about the radiator, sooner or later, that car will end up stranded on the side of the road.
What happens when we stuff our darkness–our ignorance and shame, our racism and homophobia, our envy, aggression, helplessness, neediness, self-centeredness and sexism? We risk imploding our potential. We risk becoming haters, baiters and waiters.
When we stuff our darkness, we can become haters. Haters are people who can’t tolerate the faintest hint, reminder, or suggestion of the aspects of themselves they’ve given up on, judged, or disowned. In fact, deep down, haters desperately want to reconnect with the thing they make a show of hating, though they will often do anything to hide this truth from everyone, most of all themselves.
What a hater hates most are those aspects of their own inner experience they’ve denied but require for wholeness. They then project this self-hatred outward, onto the individuals or groups aligned with the political views, races, religions, ethnicities, or gender identities they see as embodying what they can’t own in their own psyches.
When we stuff darkness, we can become baiters. The raison d’être of a baiter revolves around laying literal or figurative traps for others to aggrandize and empower themselves. A baiter’s traps are meant to catch vulnerable prey. Like haters, baiters have denied aspects of who they are at their core, but rather than seeking to destroy what they’ve denied, baiters try to exploit or discredit it. Whatever shameful aspects of themselves they’ve buried, these are the aspects they look for in others for the purpose of using it to their advantage and/or disproving it’s value. Baiters want power and control, and enjoy the thrill of the hunt. They enter situations looking for weaknesses and flaws, for Achilles heels, for proof of their own superior abilities, strength and savvy. Baiters lure you in and once you’ve taken the bait, undermine you. They will use any means necessary to find evidence that supports their judgments and beliefs.
Waiters (not the restaurant kind)
When we stuff our darkness, we risk turning into waiters (I’m not talking about the restaurant kind, here). Waiters are people who avoid doing the work they need to do to integrate their darkness and be authentically themselves. They’re often haunted by the impostor syndrome. They’ve come to rely on passivity. It’s safe. Waiters wait. They gravitate toward others’ power–often the power of haters and baiters–and relinquish their responsibility to themselves. Waiters resist the challenging work of cultivating a whole Self by allowing family members, partners, teachers, bosses, peers, so-called mentors, media figures or celebrities, or the culture to define who they are. They turn “not knowing” into a social asset and learn to use their own confusion as a reprieve from responsible thinking and action. Waiters do nothing that deeply matters, or do as close to nothing that matters as they can, in the hopes that someone else will save them from the pain of taking responsibility for their own darkness, and the challenge of cultivating integrity.
Watch out for the siren songs of hating, baiting, and waiting. Own your darkness and be who you are. There’s a whole lot riding on it.
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