You know those things about yourself that make you cringe? The things that you hope no one ever really notices or knows about you? The things you do that you wish you didn’t – you blow up at a coworker; you gossip or criticize; you give in too easily to others; you expect perfection from everyone.

Those are the things I’m talking about. Your dark side – the side that is driven by hate, fear, and aggression.

Through my years of coaching, and simply my years of life, I’ve come to realize that we all have a dark side. We all have those things about us we really don’t like – often the same things about other people that drive us crazy. We all have default behaviors and beliefs that aren’t in our – or anyone’s – best interest, and that we wish we didn’t have.

And many of us spend time and energy pushing against, or running away from, our dark side. But I’ve also come to realize that we’re better off acknowledging, and even embracing, those things about ourselves that we wish weren’t there.

Why? For a few reasons:

  • What we push against, we often get more of – one of the best ways to keep your undesired attributes active is to deny them and push against them. I find they often run more rampant when we refuse to look at them or do anything and everything to make them not true.
  • Our dark side has our best interest at heart – from years of working with clients, I’ve realized that those behaviors, and the generally false beliefs they’re often based upon, are a deep part of our psyche trying to “protect” us and keep us safe. We may have learned when we were young that we had to keep others happy in order to feel safe, and so we become over-compliant and more often than not give in to others. We may have had a first boss whose expectations were unrealistically high, and so we’ve overcompensated by increasing our perfectionism and never letting ourselves (or others) make a mistake. Understanding where your dark side stems from, how it has “saved” you in the past, and how it “thinks” it’s still “saving” you now can help you appreciate it, which somehow gives it less power over you…and your behaviors.
  • There’s a bright side to everything – even our darkest attributes potentially have a positive side to them, if we learn to work with them effectively. We’re too compliant? We’re most likely very reliable and can recognize and respond to the needs of others. We’re too controlling or aggressive? Chances are we speak up even if our point of view is controversial, and we focus on results. We’re too aloof or distant? We may be able to offer a more objective perspective, or balanced point of view, especially when things get emotional. Many of our dark side behaviors might just be effective behaviors overplayed.

So, how do we embrace our dark side? Again, there are a few first steps we can take:

  • Shine light on the darkness – find out what you do, and see if you can figure out why. We recently became certified in a new 360° feedback assessment (for those of you who don’t know, 360° feedback is a way to gather anonymous feedback from multiple people all around someone) – The Leadership Circle Profile – that not only lays out leadership competencies and strengths, but also details the more “negative” behaviors, and underlying beliefs and assumptions they may be based upon.
  • Be willing to allow that you, like everyone else, have a “dark side” – there is a saying, “what you resists, persists.” You have to be willing to admit your dark side, and even have compassion for yourself. You also potentially have to be willing to, in a safe way, admit the dark side to others. They can help you move past, around, or through it.
  • Learn and change – investigate the “why” behind your behaviors, if that’s helpful. Perhaps if you understand where this approach or viewpoint comes from, you’ll be more effective on shifting away from it. You’ll be able to see that you don’t need that approach or viewpoint anymore. Either way, map out the changes in your behavior and your life that you want to make. Do you push others (or yourself) too hard? Decide to hold back on your too-high demands, and then actually do that. Do you criticize others? Challenge yourself to find the good in their position or the truth of their argument. Map out specifically how you want to change what you’re doing, and then hold yourself to it.
  • Set up accountability (and support) for yourself – whether you work with a coach, a colleague, a friend, your manager, or anyone else, find someone to whom you will feel accountable, and someone you can turn to for support. Changing adult behavior can be difficult, especially when it’s embracing, and addressing, our dark side.
  • Celebrate success – catch yourself doing it right, and find others to help you catch this if necessary. Celebrate how far you’ve come.

I’ve come to believe that our dark sides exist for a reason, even if it’s a reason we no longer need. And I’ve come to believe that we can work through them and change our ways. The first step is to acknowledge, and then embrace, that which we like least about ourselves. And the second step is to keep working at it.

How have you lessened your dark side?
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