We yearn to be whole, mostly unbeknownst to ourselves, but still we do. The part of ourselves we most hate will often reappear in one of our children. Depending on our awareness and commitment toward growth, we can embrace this challenge and grow to love or torment this child for showing us what we hate and refuse to see.
While watching the second season of The Crown, I was deeply moved by the ninth episode: the story of young Prince Charles and his education. Having struggled to be in a regular school, the Queen was advised to send her sensitive and not quite the sporting type son to Eton. His father, Philip was adamantly opposed. Eton, he felt, would turn his son into everything he hated. He wanted Charles to be toughened up, just as he had been. In the end, he won the struggle and the Prince was sent to the frigid and frightening Gordonstoun, where (according to the series) he suffered terribly for six years.
What struck me in this dramatization was the degree in which Philip rejected who his son was – the sensitivity and hurt Philip himself had been forced to push away in his own life. His shadow. If Philip had had another upbringing himself – as the episode revealed the hardships Philip endured at this Gordonstoun – perhaps he wouldn’t have had such a severe shadow. The denial of sensitivity, replaced by the need to ‘toughen up’ is not an unknown story.
Today, this element is acute in the United States. Trump, supposedly, was. tormented by his own father growing up. A year before the election, I was having tea in Berlin with a German friend. He warned that the rise of Trump (similar to the rise of Hitler) would be very much about the shadow. “If only America,” my friend said, shaking his head sadly, “could rise to the challenge and embrace their shadow. But I fear the country is too invested in its mythology and will miss this chance, just as we in Germany missed ours and there will be some very dark years ahead.”
What does that mean to embrace the shadow both on an individual level and a broader societal level? And what kind of maturity does it take? Obviously, in the case of both Germany and the US now, that degree of maturity doesn’t seem to exist.
In my own life, I had a terrible time growing up. My parents couldn’t accept that I was sensitive and moody and more interested in creativity than in their conventional and materialistic practicality. Unfortunately, being the first born, the same as Charles, I came to represent the shadow in my family. I can see that now from the distance of years but as a child I had no clue, only suffered miserably trying to please my parents. Just as Charles did. The only way to please a parent who refuses to see who you are, is to deny who you are.
Years of therapy, Alexander Technique and 12-step support has aided my cause in becoming more my ‘authentic’ self, but even at age 63 I still struggle with this element, still can more easily toss myself and my deepest convictions away, suffer terribly bouts of insecurity and self-hate, before climbing out of the darkness when realizing I’ve yet again chosen first to throw myself away. Especially, in the growing arena of social media where one can be constantly tormented with comparison and not measuring up, it is a challenge to be in your own ‘axis,’ to be your own person, to have healthy self-regard regardless of what other’s think.