Akerselva waterfall, August 2023
There’s this idea in the /r/redpill community of ‘integrating the shadow’, it originates with Jung and before him, Freud. We all carry demons. We have intrusive thoughts and voices that whisper dark things. These voices say things like we’re not good enough, we’re not worthy of love, we’re not pretty, smart or anything at all. Perhaps they are a survival mechanism gone out of control. If we were lowly cavemen, if we didn’t have friends we would probably die. I mean not having friends now does lead to a kind of death (a muted, lonesome existence) but letting the intrusive thoughts beat us down doesn’t help the situation.
I’ve been there before and I still struggle quite often with the dark voices. Even though I did ‘well’ in school, I was always scolded for not getting the best grades. Getting a 6/7 was not something to be celebrated, it was something to be investigated. Nothing was ever enough. In a classic asian story, the love I received from my parents felt conditional on performance. Naturally, I developed pretty severe performance anxiety when it came to exams. You would think that exams are over but I’ve failed my driving test in Norway twice now and I’m thirty. You see how this carries on.
The thing is, those voices come from somewhere and they are often inherited. The voices could come from our parents who tried to guide us in harsh ways, they could come from bullies in school who told us that we were weird or ugly or they could come from partners who abused us in tender moments. We build up a picture of ourselves through the reflection that others point back towards us. The mirror we see is composed of the words and actions of others.
I think of my friend who hid behind his beard for ten years. He says he has a slightly feminine face with round cheeks and a ‘chin that integrates directly into his neck’. He was called ugly in school and he has been keeping a bear as soon as he could grow it. It gave his face the jawline that he craved and with it came confidence. This summer he decided to remove it and in the safety net of a lot of people that loved him, he was able to embrace his face for what it was and see the beauty that others saw in him. He made quite a moving youtube video about it. I’ll link it below.
For him to even say those words, to tell his story and to give voice to the fears allowed him to understand the fears and sit with them. Only when we know the shape of our fears can we navigate through them. We can only know the shape of fear by being familiar with it.
I chose the waterfall for this cover image because we’ve been experiencing the worst storm in twenty five years here in Norway. Rivers have overflowed, towns have been flooded and campervans have been washed away. The waterfall which was at a trickle when I left for Berlin is now a roaring mouth spraying water high into the sky and leaving the path next to it in a permanent shower.
It takes a lot of energy to repress things. It takes effort to shut out the voices and to keep going through the difficulty. Sometimes we keep quiet not for ourselves but for others (or at least we think so). When I was back home I felt like my parents really wanted to instruct me how to live my life, it was clear to them that I wasn’t following any particular script or plan (I’m still not). I didn’t appear to be doing anything they understood: I didn’t have a steady job, I didn’t have a partner, I wanted to leave Norway but didn’t really have a destination. All of my life was illegible.
They were worried for me but they were unable to express this worry. Maybe they didn’t want to ruin the mood of me being back home. Maybe they didn’t understand what they wanted to say or how to say it. Either way, all these anxieties and worries built up and the dam broke when I was about to leave. All of it came out at once and it was messy and caused a lot of unnecessary hurt.
I try to take this lesson forward. I try to place myself in both positions and be the best I can. I try to create space where those that I love can feel safe in expressing their fears and give them trust that we can work it out. I also try to be brave in expressing my own insecurities so that I never snap at them and say things that I don’t mean. Some words once spoken can never be taken back. I try to remember that.
I think when the stakes are high we try to not rock the boat but that’s precisely when it’s most important because getting stuck in a place that causes hurt just sets you up for a lot of pain in the long run. Again for the nth time: when couples fight about the dishes it’s rarely about the dishes. I feel safe enough with my girlfriend and my friends to bring things up as soon as they become a problem. I’m also able to bring them up in full understanding that what I see may not actually be the entire picture and that I’m speaking to gain clarity not to accuse.
One other thing I’ve found is that I’m able to give my shadow a voice and therefore neutralise it when I balance it out with what I actually think or what I aspire to be like. Perhaps I’m afraid of an ex (as can sometimes be the case), I’m able to say it with words and having those words out of my body, she can talk me through them, calm my fears and actually provide reassurance. Keeping it in and getting moody and passive aggressive would only destroy things and not allow for any progress.