I was sitting across the desk from my client, waiting for him to speak. “Do you really mean I have to embrace it?” he asked. “Do you really think I can?”

We were talking about something horrific that had happened to him a long time ago, and how it had affected him, for better and for worse. We were debriefing a 360° feedback instrument, the Leadership Circle Profile, that was illuminating behaviors and reactions that were getting in his way. Our discussion led to how that horrific event may be causing him to have some of the less-than-effective behaviors and reactions.

“Yes,” I answered. “From my experience, both personally and with clients, you do have to look at and even embrace the negative, so that you can let it go.”

Some of us may have horrific experiences in our past, and some of us luckily may not. Either way, I’ve come to know that all of us have what I refer to as a “dark side” – a part of us that is powered by fear and maybe aggression. A part of us that we don’t necessarily like, and that compels us to act and react in ways that we don’t necessarily like. It may be our anger or our passivity. It may be our meekness or our grandiosity.

We can be driven by this dark side, unless we learn to manage it, and the only way I know to manage it is to look at it, pay attention to it, and even embrace it. I was interviewed recently about the concept of embracing our dark side during the Happy Healthy Workplace Summit. You can listen to the interview here, to learn more about why it is vital, and more importantly, how to do it. You can also read our earlier post, Why, and How to Embrace Your Dark Side.

What I’ve learned over the years is that if we ignore our “dark side,” it can easily run us, and if we fight or push against it, it gets stronger and gains even more power over us. The only way I’ve seen to get beyond it is to actually go through it. Here are some suggestions for that journey, because it is a journey:

  • Up your self-care – Whether it’s meditation or yoga, running or a warm bath, good books or great friends, make sure to fill your life and your days with things that fuel you and bring you ease and joy. You’ll need this to look at the tough stuff.
  • Be willing to look at the tough stuff – You don’t have to stay there, but you do need to look for a moment or two, and to get help and support from a good friend or a coach (or perhaps a therapist if it’s really dark). You may want to ask yourself “why do I do that?” “How is it helping me?” “What patterns am I repeating?” And you don’t want to go it alone.
  • Learn to tell yourself, and others, that you’re trying – “Oops” is often my favorite word. And “oops again.” Learning about the less-than-effective things you do doesn’t give you license to keep doing them while blithely stating “that’s just the way I am,” but it does give you license to let yourself stumble as you try and get better, and less reactive.
  • Remember that nothing is either totally good or bad – While the event you remember may be horrific and your behavior abhorrent to you, when you can find a way to release the judgment and let things just be, they lose some of the sting and some of the ability to overwhelm you.

As I told my client that day, embracing our dark side – and learning to come from love instead of fear – is not an easy path, but it can be a freeing one. We can learn to let things go, and lessen their power over us. It’s tough work but it’s worth it.

How have you embraced your dark side?
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If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

For support in looking at it and letting it go, contact Lisa at lkohn@chatsworthconsulting.com.

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