“Yet drawing from some inner well of strength and understanding, his mind opened receptively to the images…He could not sensibly deny this other side of his character; like the limited image of the person he had always believed himself to be, this was only a part of the real person – but it was indeed a part, however difficult he found it to accept. But he had to accept it. It was the truth.”
In a previous post, I talked about the difficult truth of the dark side that exists in all of us. This dark side is where our racism, anger, and distasteful character traits lurks.
In this post, I want to talk about accepting these truths, so we can move forward and grow our “light” sides.
Other than a few university courses, I have no training in psychology. What I do have, is my personal struggle with perfectionism, self-blame, and shame – which I believe is the foundation for my clinical depression and anxiety. As I’ve been healing from this, I’ve been learning how to see myself holistically, and to accept both praise and blame in healthier ways.
I’ve undergone psychotherapy treatment; I’ve read self-help books; I’ve participated in a group-healing program; I’ve been comforted by my Christian faith and practices.
I won’t go into the mental health aspects here (we cover it in a future podcast episode).
Rather, I’ll share 3 things that have helped me, in the hopes it helps you too.
1: Separate behaviour from identity
I want to go back to Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to be an Antiracist (a fantastic read).
I previously referenced his important distinction that the word “racist” is descriptive – better interpreted as an adjective than a noun. Kendi goes on to say:
“The good news is that racist and antiracist are not fixed identities. We can be a racist one minute and an antiracist the next. What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what – not who – we are.”
Do you believe this?
I can be racist without being a racist. In fact, it’s important to know when I am being racist, so I can be antiracist. (Kendi says there’s no such thing as “not racist”, which is a whole other topic.)
But my racism is my behaviour, not who I am. It’s the words I use, the attitudes I express, the relationships I have (or don’t have), the actions I take (or don’t take).
My whole life, I’ve struggled to separate behaviour from identity. It’s why I internalized any wrongdoing, real or perceived, and felt horribly ashamed. Worse, because I saw my “bad” behaviour as me being bad, I saw other people the same way. People’s mistakes meant “they’re stupid”. People’s bad behaviour meant “they’re jerks”.
Only after I began to see that I am not my mistakes, and that my behaviours can change (for good or bad) while maintaining my sense of self, did I become more confident in my identity and who I am.
I am a good person who is sometimes racist (adjective). I am a good person who sometimes does bad things.
And so are you. So are we all.
2: Find a safe and supportive community
Whatever it is you’re going through – I can say with 99% confidence, you’re not alone.
The idea that no one else has experienced this, or that we have to face it on our own – is maybe the biggest lie that keeps us down.
The problem is, these other people who know and understand, may not be our friends and family.
When I lost my job earlier this year, my closest friends tried to be supportive, but none of them had ever been laid off. I was very fortunate to find two groups of professionals who were in the same boat as me. Even though they were “strangers”, they supported me in ways my friends could not.
In a similar way, I can’t face my racism alone. I need similar-minded people to journey with me; I need to know I’m not the only one who has a dark side. I think this is essential to believing the truth that I am a good person who does bad things. It helps to know most of the human race is like that too, whether they admit it or not.
Thankfully, I’ve found a few people who are able to admit it, and are journeying with me as they face their own racism and privilege.
We can do so safely, because we don’t judge each other.
To be clear – we do not condone racism, or tell each other, “that’s OK”.
Neither do we condemn each other, because we understand. We know what it’s like when our behaviour is the opposite of our beliefs. We see our own faults, and we help each other to change, instead of labelling each other.
Do you have a community that you feel safe with? Is there someone to whom you can tell your mistakes, without being judged?
If no one immediately comes to mind – please reach out to me. I’m here to listen as an imperfect, mistake-making person, who doesn’t want to be judged, and won’t judge you either.
3: Find forgiveness and compassion
I still remember in grade 4 (I was 9 years old), when I made a mistake in a story I wrote. At the time, I was a good student, and was praised for my schoolwork by my teacher. So I was crushed when this same teacher called out my mistake in front of the whole class, and later on “apologized” by telling me, “I was only hard on you because I expected better from you”.
I may have been motivated to do better after that, but not in a healthy way.
This mentality influenced how I managed myself, and later on, how I managed my staff at work. Not the public shaming part – but the high expectations part.
I thought I had to demand a lot from myself and others, in order to perform well.
It wasn’t until much later in life – maybe 5 years ago – that I learned the value of grace and forgiveness. For me, this came as my faith in Jesus grew, and with it, my understanding of unconditional love.
When you think of Christianity, love and forgiveness may not be the first things that come to mind. I can understand that, given the many terrible examples of Christians who speak and act in hateful, hypocritical, racist ways. For many years I was vehemently anti-Christianity, because of those very examples.
When I better understood what I consider true Christianity, I felt simultaneously more guilty, and less ashamed. I saw more clearly the things I do which are bad, that I need to change. I also responded in a healthier way, because I felt forgiven, not condemned. Unlike my grade 4 teacher, Jesus knows how to point out my mistakes, without making me feel like a total failure.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying we should be “soft” on racism, or give people a “pass” under the guise of unconditional love. I wish I could be as good as Jesus at finding that balance; to coach constructively, without sending people down a shame spiral.
I just know from personal experience, that being hard on me without compassion and understanding, is not going to inspire me to change. Or maybe I’ll change, but it won’t come from the heart; it’ll be done out of compliance, or false pretense.
You don’t have to have the same religious beliefs as me to receive (and give) forgiveness. Kindness and compassion cross religious and cultural boundaries. And they are necessary to inspire real, lasting change.
When I am in a safe community with people who acknowledge they do bad things, like me; but are also good people, like me; and are gentle with me, when I make mistakes – then, I am inspired to become a better person.
I am inspired to turn from my dark side!
Share your stories and comments
What helps you to accept your mistakes, and your dark side? What additional help do you need?