“My mind is a dangerous neighborhood. I try not to go in there alone.”
Miss Lamott likely got this saying from the people of alcoholics anonymous, but it applies to everyone. We all have a shadowy, “dangerous neighborhood” in our heads from time to time. For some of us the neighborhood can be dangerous on a daily basis. Trying to deal with the mind alone can be like attempting to tame a rattlesnake—we’re probably gonna get bit up really bad and find out we’re terrible rattlesnake tamers.
Whether it’s a therapist, a life coach, a support group, a sponsor, or any other trusted guide, many of us need a supportive witness to the darkness of our minds to help us move into a healthier, self-aware place.
The unexamined mind can have all kinds of neurotic blind spots that it can’t see without this kind of help. As Einstein said, "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." In A.A. the similar slogan is, "Your best thinking got you here. Take direction."
In psychology programs therapists are required to be in therapy as part of their training. No one enters the field of psychotherapy under any pretenses that they don’t have to do their own work.
One diagnoses in psychology is the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This is the person who is really going it alone, believing they have it all figured out. They are reckless in their lives, sometimes outwardly successful at achieving goals, and imminently destructive to others. These people project their “shadow” onto others.
The shadow is the part of ourselves we hide, repress, or deny. The Narcissist looks on the world and proclaims, “They” are the addict, the lazy one, the menace, the tyrant—not me. “They” need to get help, be punished, be locked up, be avoided, be vilified. Narcissists are people who feel they are beyond the need for help. (a certain politician comes to mind—actually many of them do).
The world is full of narcissism. We need only turn on the daily news to see what happens when people try to go it alone—not so good.
Its not that everyone has to do therapy. No one has to do anything. It’s just that without some deep examination and significant humility about our limitations, we spend a lot of time in the bad neighborhood— and often expose others to it through projecting our disowned shadows on them.
We all go unconscious. We all have shadows to work out. We are all prone to depression, anxiety, addictions, anger, and irrational fears.
Mother Theresa’s famous quote, “I can see the Hitler in myself”, speaks of a woman with true courage to see her own shadow, do deep transformational work, and show us the way into compassion for ourselves and the world.
Below Debbie Ford explores the unexamined shadow and its effect on our lives in the movie, The Shadow Effect.
Take a look: