“Wellness is the complete integration of body, mind, and spirit — the realization that everything we do, think, feel, and believe has an effect on our state of well-being.”
— Greg Anderson, founder of
“How do you feel?” I asked.
“Fragmented,” he replied. “Disjointed.”
“Explain fragmented,” I said. “Tell me how it feels to be disjointed.”
“As if there are a dozen people living in my head, each with a different agenda.”
In coaching and counselling, integration is the bringing together of lost, suppressed or disavowed aspects of our psyche. It is the act of putting the pieces back together so that we may no longer feel fragmented or disjointed but whole, complete and, ultimately, healed from within.
When our self-esteem is in tatters, it can feel like we have a dozen people in our head. The inner child cries out for attention and praise. The angry adult spews forth venom on an unjust world. The optimist preaches that all is possible if only we believe. The pessimist claims that despite our best efforts, everything eventually ends in disappointment.
The sad and melancholy recluse wants only to stay in bed and hide under the covers. With so many aspects jostling for position, it’s easy to lose focus and clarity. Which voices do we acknowledge and which do we ignore? For the person with low self-esteem, life is filled with conflict and indecision.
That may sound a little bit like multiple personality disorder, but it’s really the natural result of allowing certain aspects of our personality to be expressed while others are suppressed. Carl Jung, considered the father of modern psychotherapy, coined the term “the shadow” to describe this unconscious repository of one’s unacceptable impulses and characteristics. The unacceptable aspects of ourselves are shoved out of our awareness and into the shadow.
Jung theorized that we are born as whole human beings and that we use the shadow to contain the aspects of ourselves that we have “learned” are bad or unacceptable.
We arrived in this life as curious, trusting little sponges and absorbed everything we could from our surroundings and the people who populated our world: parents, siblings and extended family.
We learned about ourselves from the words, actions and judgment of others. Sadly, not all of our masters were enlightened or self-aware. Some of them had dreadfully poor self-esteem and unintentionally wounded us. In short, we learned many concepts about ourselves and life in general from parental, cultural and religious influences that were simply not true. We accepted the reality modeled for us.
And over time, we relegated more and more aspects of our true nature to this repository until we eventually became fragmented, disjointed — incomplete.
We might assume that the shadow contains only aspects of ourselves that are negative or inappropriate and best left hidden and denied. To some degree, this is true. However, the shadow also contains many positive and life-affirming qualities that — if expressed — would help us to feel whole and complete.
For example, a child who is bullied and belittled at home or in school may choose to stifle a sensitive nature. A child who is raised in a home where drama, painting or music is considered frivolous may attempt to quash a natural artistic flair. A child who is taught that anger is an unacceptable emotion may never learn how to express it appropriately leading to depression and passive-aggressive tendencies. I had a client who — following a nasty breakup — concluded that love only leads to heartache.
This prompted him to banish the loving, open and trusting aspects of his personality to the shadow. Sometimes a tragic or traumatic event can also prompt us to deny and lock away aspects of our nature.
The lost aspects of our personality are not really lost, but hover just below our level of conscious awareness — constantly threatening to emerge. It takes a lot of energy to hold these aspects in check but during times of high stress or emotion they can break free. I remember being at a party where the entertainment was a karaoke machine.
About halfway through the evening, and with the aid of a bottle of red wine, shy and withdrawn Sherry (not her real name) approached the microphone and surprised us all by singing a popular ballad in a clear, powerful and beautiful voice. She had always loved to sing but as a child had been told by her mother that she had no talent. Sherry the singer had unfortunately been relegated to the shadow.
It’s not until we acknowledge the need for healing that we begin to seek and reclaim the missing parts of ourselves.
Even if we’re a seasoned traveller on the path to personal empowerment and self-esteem building, there is always more to learn about ourselves — more to be revealed — and more to be discovered. It may help to think of this journey as leading to wholeness — as an ongoing search for the lost parts of ourselves so that we may fully express who we truly are at our core.
The more integrated we are, the more we are able to participate actively and powerfully in our life, ready to meet new experiences with joy, courage and curiosity.
Again, it was Jung who said, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
Owning our shadow aspects brings wholeness and integration. We cannot deny these characteristics of our nature and be complete individuals with healthy self-esteem. Each aspect is a gift that, if revealed and expressed appropriately, can lead to enlightenment and freedom. Explore the shadow, seek out the hidden pieces and work with each to integrate them back into your life. The more integrated we are, the more able we are to live our life full measure.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His recent book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.