Last week, I accidentally snapped at New Secret Man (and one of his friends on the phone) for the first time. And then I panicked.
New Secret Man was on the phone supporting his friend through a bit of an ongoing pickle when our Uber Eats arrived. It was 10pm, and they’d been on the phone a long while already, so NSM told his friend he’d have to go and call him back later.
But the friend ignored him and kept talking.
And talking. And talking.
5 minutes later I was still sat staring at our burgers, anger starting to seep into my veins. Why wasn’t the friend taking any notice of NSM’s bids to end the phone call? Why wasn’t NSM being more forceful?
I started getting defensive of New Secret Man. And angry at him too. And hangry.
Minutes more passed, and then I snapped. Out of nowhere, I interrupted NSM’s friend to tell him that he would have to go because we were waiting to eat dinner. Turns out, the friend didn’t even know I was there.
I knew instantly that I was out of line, and that the way I’d handled it was incredibly rude and controlling, having taken charge and not let NSM handle the situation himself.
A huge rush of shame hit me square in the gut.
New Secret Man looked at me with surprise. “I was about to sort it.” His eyes were hard. “I wish you hadn’t done it like that.”
I apologised immediately, and we resolved it quickly, but Neville was not finished.
At least 10 minutes later, NSM asked how my burger was.
“Tastes like shame.” I laugh-grimmaced.
Neville was kicking me in the head, over and over.
No matter how much New Secret Man reassured me that it was ok to get angry sometimes, and that he loves all the parts of me, I couldn’t let the shame go for ages.
I was scared I had revealed a terrible part of me, and that he would be worrying that my kind, joyful, early-dating-phase self would now unravel to reveal a terrible monster bitch.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a feeling that deep down I’m a horrible, cold, selfish bastard.
Through mindfulness, I’ve come to find and strengthen a part of myself that I like a lot more – the part of me that’s kind, open, non-judgemental, compassionate and wise.
But there lurking in the shadows is the part of me that I try very hard to keep a lid on.
For the first time in my life, I’d really started to believe that I was actually a good person – SO LONG AS I had enough sleep, and enough time and space in my life to exercise, do yoga, and to meditate regularly.
My self-acceptance was conditional. I was fearful of what would happen if I ever decide to have kids, for example… would this cold hard bitch be uncontrollable with all the sleep deprivation and lack of space and time and prefrontal cortex deactivation?
This part of me I’ve been trying to hide from the world (and myself) is defensive, judgey, caught up in insecurities (often to the detriment of our relationships), controlling, arrogant, always needs to be right, and often downright rude and blunt.
To give you an idea of how unwelcome she was in my life, I had recently started to refer to that part of me as the cold, hard, numb, robot bitch.
I’ve met this part of me extremely infrequently in the last few years since really solidifying mindfulness and emotional intelligence practices in my life.
But some days, when I’m tired, or periody, or overworked, or triggered… bam, out she jumps just when I least expect it, and I do something blunt or arrogant or selfish.
At which time Neville promptly reaches for his bucket of shame and tips the whole thing right over my head.
Then he sharpens his quiver of self-critical arrows (he has many), then fires them at me, one by one, til all I can think of is the imminent end of my relationship or friendship now that I’ve revealed a snippet of “the real me”.
After the incident with New Secret Man and his friend, my coach encouraged me to give this shadow part of me a name. “Isn’t it just Neville?” I asked.
“No”, she pointed out – “You’ve accepted and have a good relationship with Neville. This part of you is different. This is the part you’re trying to shove down and keep a lid on. You ignore and reject her. She’s the part of you that Neville is judging.”
So I pondered for a while. Neville has a purpose, his job is to keep me safe, so I understand him now, even if I don’t agree with him. He’s a misguided warrior with a mission to protect me.
But this other part of me… I despise her. I’m scared of letting her get any airtime whatsoever. I think of her as a problem.
But that didn’t quite sit right. I believe that all our behaviours and coping strategies are intelligent (if a little ill-advised) responses from our body designed to keep us safe.
So what is this shadow part up to? How useful is judgement and defensiveness and self-righteousness and numbness and bluntness?
Why was I so triggered by New Secret Man not being clear enough with his friend? What was I making it mean?
Ah… found it. If he puts the needs of his friend over his needs (and my needs – hanger!), I can’t trust him. I can’t trust him to stand up FOR me, and I also can’t trust him to stand up TO me when I’m in cold hard bitch mode.
My coach suggested I think back to other times when this part of me has reared up in angry mode.
It seems that she comes out when I feel my needs aren’t being met.
When I feel I’m being pushed into overwhelm. When someone or something is threatening my time or my sanity or my freedom. When I feel I’m being taken for granted or underappreciated. When I’m hurt. When I’m defensive of someone I love.
Righto. I jumped on google to search for lion names.
I toyed with calling her Simba, but Neville needs a female counterpart. And I already have The Lion King soundtrack in my head frequently enough as it is.
I also floated the idea of Cleopatra (Cleo), apparently a good name for a lion. But then I found that it means “glory of her father.”
So I ditched part of it and have landed on the most obvious name you could call a lion, Leo (for now at least). Short for Leonora… also the name of my beloved Grandma’s angry poodle.
Since naming this shadow part of me, I’ve started to notice just how much she’s got my back.
She’s not a pain in the ass, she’s my biggest defender.
Yes, she may occasionally gnash her teeth at people in a way that isn’t exacccctly how I want to move through the world, but since becoming more acquainted with her, I’ve (mostly) stopped judging her for her occasional outbursts, and instead started practicing compassion with her.
Thanks Leo, you absolute warrior(ess). We’ve been through some incredibly tough times together, especially back when we were very young. So glad you were around to fight off all the (real and perceived) badies.
Sorry for being a bit of a dick and rejecting your hard work all this time!
It’s been a longggg time coming, but I think I’m finally ready to accept this part of me.
Will you join me?
As it turns out, Jung calls this “assimilating our shadow.”
(After reading blog this before I published it, New Secret Man sent me this mind blowing 22 minute Alan Watts talk about Jung’s concept of integrating the shadow, check it out at the bottom of this post!*)
Your shadow may not be an angry numb robot warrior(ess) like Leo…
Perhaps your Leo is a lazy procrastinator that protects you from being overworked by the slave driver in your head?
Perhaps s/he’s a wild party animal that rebels and binge eats and drinks to make sure you don’t get too serious?
Maybe s/he tries to keep you humble and small because it scares her how bloody wonderful you are?
Reply and let me know – what part of you are you rejecting?
And what shall we name her?
*Pst – here’s the Alan Watts video I mentioned: