Travis W. Schermer realized he needed to stop ignoring who he was and start to embrace his shadow self.
I had made up my mind—I was going to break-up with my girlfriend.
It was only a few years ago and I remember the clarity that came with making such a resolute decision was short lived. I was quickly filled with a sense of confusion about how to break-up. I really didn’t want to hurt this person that I still cared a lot about, though admittedly I didn’t want to date anymore. That’s when a friend gave me some sound, if not unorthodox, advice while considering break-ups. “Travis,” he said, “you have to be the bad guy.”
I have spent most of my life trying to be a good guy; a term that seems to vary from person to person. For me, being a good guy is largely about putting other people first, respecting other people’s viewpoints, and expressing warmth and empathy towards others. I value these attributes to the point that I have entered into a profession (mental health counseling) that largely focuses on me being a good guy most of the day.
By contrast, the bad guy is a role that I have worked to disown most of my life. For me, this way of being involves minimizing other viewpoints, asserting my will into a situation, and being interpersonally cold or removed. Embracing these qualities seemed foreign to me, even scary at times, because I was always told to be a good guy by my parents, sisters, and friends. That was, until I received this sage-like advice from my friend.
“Be the bad guy,” he said. And so I was a bad guy.
I declared what I wanted to my girlfriend, I did not entertain alternative perspectives of the situation, and I made no move to console her when she was upset. The good guy inside of me was yearning to reach out and express caring concern, but the bad guy pulled back and pushed me out the door. As I walked down the snowy street that night, my heart heavy with sadness, I started to realize that being the bad guy was pretty helpful. Not only did I end the relationship, but I also ended it with clarity. And that felt kind of felt like a good guy thing to do.
Over the ensuing months and years since that break-up, I started to realize that the bad guy could actually be a good part of me. My friend’s encouragement for me to be a bad guy not only helped with breaking-up, but it also allowed me to explore this long neglected part of myself; my shadow self (i.e., the other side of what or who I pretend to be). In doing so, I feel like I have started to own more of my total self, rather than just the parts I thought were acceptable.
Everyone carries both good guy and bad guy qualities within themselves, our light and our shadow. To express or honor only one part of ourselves is to neglect the totality of our being. Some men are like me and have focused on expressing the good guy to the exclusion of the bad, while other men struggle with the inverse. It’s really not the “one or the other” duality that I was brought up to believe, rather it’s a “both and” relationship.
I need to both be open to other perspectives AND assert that I am right. I need to both encourage others to share their ideas AND reserve space to share my own. I need to both support others in meeting their needs AND take what I want. I need to be both warmly empathic AND coolly detached. I need to be both the good guy parts AND the bad guy parts. In doing so I can both care for others AND care for myself.
Through this process of “both and,” I feel like I am becoming a better man. However, I am not necessarily a good guy to everyone all the time. That shift in how I view myself has been difficult and I feel guilty sometimes for being the bad guy. The shift has also been immensely freeing, as I am able to embrace my shadow and ultimately my full self.
In the ongoing dialogue about masculinity, I think it behooves us to consider what we leave lurking in our shadows. While it may be hidden behind the good guy or bad guy façade, there is a part of ourselves that may need to emerge. It’s in balancing both of these parts that we will hopefully achieve a more holistic and personal expression of our personhood—and ultimately our manhood.
I am interested to read the comments of those who read this post. How do you balance the good guy and bad guy in you? Or in what ways have you embraced that shadow side of yourself to actualize a greater sense of manhood?
photo by svaboda! / flickr