Specific life circumstances cause certain aspects of our personality to be strengthened. As a result, most people become a bit one-sided, for example, they become overly accommodating, self-absorbed, withdrawn, outgoing, responsible, free, strict, permissive, type A, unmotivated, and the like.
When we develop certain parts of our personality, we tend to so at the expense of other parts. As we mature, we may encounter problems at work, in relationships, or with our children, who like to challenge these overly developed parts of our personality. Moreover, we often draw into our lives people with opposing qualities. Often our children or partner may trigger us and polarize from us into the opposite trait . For example, if one person is hard-working and always busy, another family member may unconsciously recoil and become overtly relaxed, even lazy.
Developing those disowned “selves” can help us become more whole and balanced, which tends to diminish polarizing relationship dynamics.
Ways to figure out your disowned selves:
1. Think about one or two people who really bother you, characters in a movie that you find despicable, or the traits of people that drive you crazy.
2. Write down these attributes that you can’t stand. For instance, greed, cruelty, manipulation, irresponsibility, spinelessness, lack of imagination, laziness. Pick one or two traits that really get under your skin and to which you have the strongest emotional reaction.
3. Now comes the hard part: Figure out what that quality would be if it were not so extreme, but a much milder, more reasonable version of that quality.
For example, a reasonable and mild dose of the following negative characteristics transform into a subsequent positive quality:
• greed » self-preservation
• cruelty » self-empowerment or the ability to assert boundaries
• manipulation » diplomacy
• irresponsibility » fun and spontaneity
• uptight » responsible
• spineless » kind or easy-going
• lack of imagination » following the rules
4. Verify the disowned self/selves by asking yourself whether having that quality would have helped you in your life thus far. For instance, if you loathe spinelessness, would you have benefited in your relationships or at work by being a bit more easy-going and understanding? If you can’t stand controlling people, would the ability to lead and direct people have improved past challenges?
The Development of the Disowned Selves
Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone furthered Jung’s notion of “the shadow” with the notion of “disowned selves.” They write,
Disowned selves are energy patterns that have been partially or totally excluded from our lives. They can range from being angelically spiritual, creative, and mystical to being lustful, selfish, and even demonic. Our disowned selves can be detected by the intense, often uncharacteristic emotional reaction we have to others.
The disowned self is an energy pattern that has been punished every time it has emerged. These punishments might have been subtle – a raised eyebrow, the withdrawal of attention, a “that’s rather unattractive, don’t you think?” – or they may have been powerful punishments such as beatings or public humiliation. Whatever the nature of these repressive environmental forces, the result is the same: A set of energy patterns is deemed totally unacceptable and is, therefore, repressed but not totally destroyed. These energy patterns live on in our unconscious.
In Jungian terms, our disowned selves are a part of our shadow. When we see them reflected in others – when we see someone unashamedly living out an energy pattern similar to one we have disowned – we feel this disowned pattern resonate within ourselves. However, this pattern has been associated with pain and punishment in the past, so we want it to go away as soon as possible.
In order to quiet our internal discomfort we must rid ourselves of the corresponding external stimulus. We must kill off the person who is so audaciously living out our disowned self, whether we do it literally – as in a Jack-the-Ripper-style murder or symbolically – such as sitting in judgment of someone.
Developing your disowned selves
Developing your disowned selves is usually best accomplished in stages, and not at the expense of your primary self. The ultimate goal is to have a choice as to how to interact rather than to react involuntarily.
For instance, if you want to become more self-empowered, don’t feel you must give up being accommodating. First of all, the change won’t stick, because you won’t feel comfortable swinging to the opposite and you probably won’t be effective at such a dramatic change. More importantly, you need to be able to choose what’s appropriate from both personality traits for any given situation. You need to develop your new personality trait of self-assertiveness while maintaining your ability to be accommodating when you so choose.
To develop a disowned personality trait, it helps to think of a person who embodies the trait you want to develop in a way that you find attractive and you think feasible for you to adopt. Practice emulating that person’s tone of voice and manner. Get feedback from someone close to you. Imagine situations that are likely to come up in your life and prepare for them ahead of time. In time and with practice you will gain more choice in how to deal with challenging situations, and thus more wholeness and balance in your life.
by Dr. Alison Poulsen
Recommended book: Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone’s “Embracing Our Selves.”