Courtesy of ©Harold Klapper 2017
Source: Courtesy of ©Harold Klapper 2017

In the news this week, we have seen many headlines that referenced the dark side. From relationships at work, as discussed in the Harvard Business Review, to the late Hugh Hefner’s empire onto tweets from Donald Trump regarding Puerto Rico.  This cluster of references is a reminder of what researchers consider to be negative personality traits.  

Clearly defined in the The Dark Side of Personality: Science and Practice in Social, Personality, and Clinical Psychology,” an American Psychological Association 2016 publication, it was pointed out that

‘dark personality traits, and traits with dark features, are connected to destructive behaviors and interpersonal problems. Even moderate levels of these traits can cause significant issues."

This week is the release of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President by Bandy X. Lee from Yale and including Judith Lewis Herman M.D., Harvard, and  Robert Jay Lifton of New York, a Guggenheim recipient, to name a few. In April a review of the conference was a highlight of Shrinks Define Danger of a Trump Presidency.

What does this mean to us?

From a clinical and academic perspective, understanding the dark side can be complicated.  And from a personal perspective,  it is a challenge.

In Part Two: “The Other Side of Serenity”  in one of my early books, A Serenity Journal: 52 Weeks of Prayer and Gratitude, Paulist Press, I talked of our dark side. The section was inspired by the writings of Morton Kelsey, The Other Side of Silence: A Guide to Christian Meditation.

How can you recognize your shadow side?

As I wrote some years ago, what often happens with our shadow side is that we transfer a perceived personal inferiority in ourselves onto someone else and view it as the other person's failing or problem.  Most often, we dislike the person who can be a reflection of an unpleasant aspect of our own personality -- even one that we have already overcome.

We run into an aspect of our shadow side when we come in contact with the person who most angers, annoys, or irritates us.

When this happens ask yourself these questions:

1.       What is it that I most dislike about that person?

2.       When I am interacting with her/ him do I find myself morphing in that person's personality?

3.      Is that person holding up a mirror reflecting traits in myself that I would rather not see? (Sometimes we can overcome a negative aspect of our personality, and no longer wish to be reminded of it.)

4.      What are the danger signs that affect me and my health when I face this inner conflict?

  • Trust your instincts on this one.   If deep inside you are warned to keep your distance from the person who so upsets you --  tread lightly.   The key to solving a problem is recognizing that it exists. When the red flags fly, step back and ponder the situation before reacting to it.
  • Respect your inner voice.   It may be that this person is too needy a person and will sap your energy. Or that person may be someone who will turn out to be toxic to you. If so, stay away as much as possible.
  • Identify your demons. Look to see what aspects of that other person are or were in your own shadow side. Then ask yourself how you might tame  -- or have tamed -- those traits in your own personality.
  • Rise above the negativity. When you are with the person or in a situation that “rubs you the wrong way” think of ways to rise above it instead of getting angry. Protect  yourself from allowing another person to tread upon your peace. If you must confront -- and sometimes this is a solution -- do so without being confrontational.

When you answer these questions honestly you will see how the struggle between your higher nature and your shadow side can trap you. On those days you will have the most difficulty with gratitude. Acknowledge this and move on so that you can reclaim your serenity.

Copyright 2017 Rita Watson

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