Do You Have a Dark Side?

Photo by Chris Phillips, @phillipsphotos

When I announced this month’s theme of cultivating my alter ego, my friend Chamber Stevens messaged me, saying “good luck with your shadow self.”

Huh? My shadow side, what’s that? That’s how non-shadowy I can be. The symbol that I adopted as my name in April wasn’t sunshine surrounding a heart for nothing.

But then I reflected on the photo shoot I did as part of this month’s challenge, and how a sort of “evil twin” had emerged — although “evil” isn’t fair. My alter ego was fierce, confident and mischievous. Perhaps calling her my psychic twin would be more accurate. What my psychic twin brought to the table was power. Giving the camera those sexy stares was a little intoxicating, I won’t lie. Maybe Chambers had a point. He warned that I must be careful lest the shadow side of me knock me down.

I got scared. Maybe I want too much out of life, I thought. Did I want to open this particular Pandora’s box? Because even thought I know that my fear is keeping me away from some of the things I desire, I’m afraid of messing up the order of my life.

My shadow self had fun coming out to play, and in the weeks since then, she’s wanted to come out and play again, and again. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have a lot of opportunities to play at my age and station in life.

You see, I’m a suburban mom. My husband and I have kids, we pay bills, we have responsibilities. Like many women, after marrying and becoming a mom some 16 years ago, I had divided my life into parcels. I had shoved what I had deemed unacceptable characteristics into a dark corner and went about my life.

The problem is, like water rushing down a hill during a rainstorm, the shadow self will find an outlet. The dark side will seep out in unexpected ways. And best that you be ahead of that rushing water and give it a outlet. If you don’t, it’s very possible that you might wind up dumping that dark energy on others in the form of anger or other negative emotions. Look at the news: It’s war and chaos. That’s the shadow side run amuck. That’s people projecting their darkness on whoever they deem “the enemy” to be. Men project their shadow on women, who then have that burden to bear. White people project their shadow on black people.

According to Robert A. Johnson, author of Owning Your Own Shadow (Harper SanFrancisco, 1994), “No one can escape the dark side of life, but we can pay out that dark side intelligently.”

Paying out the dark side in an intelligent way seems to be a key to satisfaction. Could my alter ego Aurora be a way to pay out that dark side intelligently?

I think she could be. I love Aurora. She’s necessary.

No one can be reduced to one side — dark or light — and it’s a mistake to try to ignore one in favor of the other. The universe requires balance. Or, as Johnson writes, “This is one of (psychologist Carl) Jung’s greatest insights: that the ego and the shadow come from the same source and exactly balance each other.”

Interestingly, to bring Prince into this discussion (and how can we not), Johnson touches on the nature of artists, positing that the more you build up the light side of the equation, the stronger your shadow will grow to match it. As an artist, when you create, you build up the light side of the equation. That is the right side of the scale. To balance it, on the left side of the scale, is destruction.

“To make a work of art, to say something kind to help others, to beautify the house, to protect the family — all these acts will have an equal weight on the opposite side of the scale and can lead us into sin,” Johnson writes.

When Prince died, his shadow side was exposed. His dark side was manifested in womanizing and addiction. Johnson attributes this imbalance in darkness and light to the difficulty that many artists experience in their private lives. All that dark has to go somewhere. However, he adds, “Broader talents call up a greater portion of the dark” thus using it in their creation. That, he posits, is the definition of genius.

Prince certainly could call up the dark, to the point that he once frightened himself, at least in the case of the Black Album, which he abandoned in favor of Lovesexy.

Excuse me while I go and listen to Prince’s “Dark.”

7 thoughts on “Do You Have a Dark Side?

  1. Awesome, as usual!! Such a profound insight into the human soul and, most of all, into the artist’s complicated and powerful/fragile psychology!
    Great reading you every single time, Laura Tiebert!

    • lauratiebert

      The dark side is a powerful thing and artists must dance with the dark side or pay the consequences. Fortunately we can write something dark or paint something dark, and that will be a sufficient outlet.

  2. Erica Eaton

    Laura,
    You know I have extreme admiration for you as a writer, and I love your blog. I too have written about alter egos and Prince, so I much agree that it is a fascinating and fruitful topic. I have an alter ego that has lost me a lot of friends lately, but sometimes you have to be true to yourself. I dearly hope I won’t lose you if I offer a plea. First off, thank you for noting the struggles of artists. I think there is great art that comes out of sunny things, out of painful things, and often out of both. Research in the area suggests that the artistic temperament is associated with increased risk for mood disorder and addiction. In case it’s not absolutely clear, this isn’t a statement that the temperaments and conditions are one in the same.

  3. Erica Louise Eaton

    My plea is that people not speak of addiction as a “dark side” unless they would say the same of a struggle to control type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure.

    All of these conditions connect with a lot of death and disability here in the U.S. All are characterized by people (very humanly, I think) repeatedly risking their health. Childhood trauma predisposes to all of these conditions. Yet with all of these conditions, the playing field is anything but even, as all have a very large genetic component. See twin and adoption studies for more on this.

    Most people think I’m nuts. They don’t see the big cultural problem, or the Prince relevance. Maybe it’s because people are so used to those who struggle with addiction and their families being characterized in a vastly different way from families struggling with other chronic conditions, such as those mentioned above. Personally, I’m impressed by, and feel for, people struggling with all of these conditions.

    If our culture continues to speak of chronic conditions that have so much in common in such radically different ways, it will continue to endanger and harm quality of life of future great artists, as well as “mere mortals,” that are struggling with an already very painful condition.

    • Erica Louise

      So, an example of what I’m trying to say is that someone could consider describing a dark side being manifested in type 2 diabetes and womanizing.

      Also, should have said this first. Dark is a favorite P song, and “a favorite of P songs” obviously says a lot about love for a song. Thanks for getting it playing in my head. Would put the heart here if this had emojis. : )

  4. Erica Louise

    Hi again Laura,
    Having reflected on my comments above I think I owe you an apology. I can’t ask for people to talk openly about a condition, rather than react in hushed shame, and at the very same time expect the way people talk about it to change overnight.

    I really, really appreciate you including a mention of it here.

    Also, I want to thank you so much for what you say about art being such a crucial and great outlet and gift!

    • lauratiebert

      Hi Erica,
      No problem at all. Your comments are thought-provoking and I enjoy the challenge of re-thinking my take on this. As I push myself to think more deeply about putting addiction into a “dark side” characterization I think I was considering the fact that it was hidden, only to be revealed at his death. So perhaps the better way to discuss it would have been to refer to secrets instead of addiction.

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