Empathy for Self

By Ken Wells - 08/09/2022


Series Three: Blog Forty-Nine

Carl Jung is famous for formulating the concept of the shadow, the portion of our personality which through the course of our life is relegated to the darkness of the unconscious. When we come face-to-face with our darker side, we use metaphors to describe these shadow encounters like facing our demons or dealing with our dark night of the soul. Addicts talk about the shadow side as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a reference to the Robert Louis Stevenson novel about an attorney investigating a murderous criminal named Edward Hyde. It is revealed at the end of the short novel that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person, with Jekyll transforming into Hyde via an unnamed chemical concoction to live out his darker urges.

Even though addicts feel awful about their behavior, it is common to utilize acting out as a way to avoid facing the carnage of pain and shame surrounding the dark side of their actions. One of my brothers died from alcohol and cocaine abuse. I remember him telling me that he would lay awake many nights smoking cigarettes and tossing and turning trying to avoid the shame of his addictive behavior which only triggered more of the same conduct.

Regardless of it being perceived as minor or major, everyone has a dark side that has offended someone. It is expressed through the mentality of “I want what I want when I want it”.  The process of clarification is a necessary exercise toward cultivating empathy toward yourself and those who you have harmed. Clarification is a way to expose the narcissistic offending part of your life. It is developing the capacity to tell on yourself about ways that you have hurt yourself and others. There is a certain “unbrainwashing” undertaking that occurs with the clarification process that is healing.

Addicts in recovery learn to separate their addictive behavior from their sense of self. They learn that they are not their behavior. Addicts achieve this separation of behavior from self by learning to identify their feelings (shame, loneliness, fear etc).

Clarification is a way of observing the way you think of thoughts about your feelings.  In order for this observation to be helpful you must develop an awareness of a “wise mind” with the capacity to recognize divergent thoughts and separate behavior from the essence of self. It is easy for addicts to lose themselves in conflicting thoughts.

You are not your feelings. As an adult, feelings are meant to help increase awareness and to inform you about needs that must be met in a healthy way through caring actions.  Until you cultivate and practice this distinction, shame will convince you that what you do is who you are and most likely as an addict you will succumb to more addictive behavior.

Learning to think about your own thinking is a mentalization process that fosters clarification. Establishing a strong sense of self-esteem is necessary to create clarification. Transforming mistaken beliefs with powerful affirmations is predicated on addressing past traumatic experience that molded mistaken beliefs during critical childhood development. This process is necessary to developing clarification.

Rather than avoiding the powerful feeling of shame, practice recognizing its voice and presence.  Begin separating truth from fiction in the voice of shame.  With your wise mind, clarify the ounce of truth in the pound of criticism.

As you clarify and separate your behavior from your sense of self, you are empowered to direct the shame away from your essential being and on to the hurtful behavior. Clarification helps to “unbrainwash” your perspective from thinking of yourself as a piece of shit into recognizing that you have engaged in shitty behavior which is an aberration to who you are as a person. You are not your shame. Practicing clarification helps you return to your center of reality and vision of personal destiny. To do this you must practice ignoring the voices of shame. Just as Nash in the movie, A Beautiful Mind, stated that he could now receive an award and be present because he has learned to ignore the voice of demons, so too, must the addict learn to ignore the critical voice of shame. Bathing yourself in affirmation and taking action as if you are the destiny you hope to fulfill is a clarification practice that requires training and conditioning. You must recognize that no matter what you do you are an unrepeatable miracle of the universe. This practice conditions the mind to transform shame about addictive behavior into acceptance and empathy for self.  You begin to feel comfortable in your own skin for the first time.

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