It’s spooky how our most precious resources, primary relationships, are dreadfully susceptible to “Close Encounters of the Disturbing Kind.” Nothing does more harm to a relationship than a visitation from our Bad Spirits.
Even into midlife, few people have adequately dealt with the bad-spirited side of their personality, the part of every human that is irrational and destructive. It haunts us in the form of selfishness, bad moods, judgmental attitudes, spitefulness, negative assumptions, indifference, and striving for power and control. If these spirits are allowed to jump out of us they can haunt, wreak havoc, and kill a relationship.
Some of us don’t like ghost stories so we pretend these spirits aren’t lurking. Some of us like the adrenalin thrill that comes when these spirits act out. And some of us are appalled when we are confronted with the fact that we even have a dark side.
As children we went through a developmental phase where we were afraid of the dark or of monsters under the bed or ghouls in the closet. Our parents did us a favor if they gently took us by the hand, gave us calm reassurance, and helped us to take a peek into that space we most feared. It’s not too late to look squarely at the part of you that you most fear, your shadow. Be assured that becoming familiar with your shadow is better than the alternatives--being haunted by it, ruled by it, or becoming like Peter Pan who never grew up because he had become separated from his shadow.
Our shadow, or Bad Spirit, is a great teacher and is filled with potential for creativity. But we first have to identify it. Are you ready for a ghost hunt? Here are some typical shadowy spirits that could be haunting you and your relationship:
1. The inner attack dog usually emerges with posturing, barking, threatening, and biting hostility. However it can just as easily be like a Dingo in that it’s bite of condescension, sneering, passive aggression, and disapproving attitude are silently deadly.
2. The fierce inner Nazi is rigid, right, and dominating.
3. The hungry ghost is never satisfied, never secure, always looking to be filled up from the outside.
4. The zombie, sometimes known as the creature of comfort, takes things for granted, withholds relational energy and prefers comfort and routine to aliveness and intimacy.
5. The creeping critic always finds fault, never forgives, and keeps score.
Giving your Bad Spirit a humorous name will bring much needed lightheartedness to your ghost hunt. Just try to see these things as they are without judgment, shame, or fear. A reminder: Bad Spirits don’t like to be called-out, that’s why they hide in your haunted house. You can make this an “inside job,” you don’t have to share it with anyone else unless you know they’ll be supportive and understanding. You are facing your own shadow and it can be a private quest.
Once a Bad Spirit leaps out from you it can be difficult to deal with. Do you recall the challenges faced by Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray in the movie “Ghostbusters”? Their business was based on capturing and containing these potent meddlers. Without containment, our Bad Spirits can do damage to our relationship, therefore it is essential to make a “containment commitment.”
Start by anticipating the next encounter. Plan to pay attention, to notice what triggers it’s emergence, what it needs from you to calm down, and what other choices you have to manage the situation so that it doesn’t have to take over. Don’t fret--this will take repeated practice.
Once you are skilled at containment, take a friendly attitude toward your demon. It’s much more likely to lend you it’s creative energy if you don’t become enemies. The dance between your light side and your dark side is the creative edge that will yield the most interesting, fresh outcomes. You might find yourself feeling poetic (Edgar Allan Poe’s “quote the raven never more…” comes to mind) or musically inspired (a little “Phantom of the Opera” anyone?) or expressing your sexuality in a new fashion statement (think “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.”)
Every human has the potential for scary, hurtful behavior. Harnessing the energy of this part of our personality brings maturity, creativity, and solid self-confidence. Don’t let your fear stop you from taking a peek into the dark places where your shadows are at play.