This post reflects a man's (Doug) experience in his I-Group (integration group).
I honor men who create a better self and therefore a better world.
Are you ready to create a better you?
Doug in Brookfield, Illinois, USA
Every Thursday evening I attend a men's group that's associated with The ManKind Project, sponsors of the New Warrior Training Adventure, a weekend re-initiation experience. My Integration Group (I-group) consists of ten men who form a support and accountability team for one another. When we participate in the various processes each week, we call it "doing our work." We are very fortunate to have one member who is quite knowledgeable about the principles of the Project and experienced in doing them himself as well as guiding others as they do them.
The past few weeks I've been doing some work around ways in which I relate unhealthily to other people. Having been trained as a pastor as well as having processed a lot of my own past through contact with various counselors and spiritual directors over the years, as well as my own devotional practices, I have tended to respond quickly, compassionately, and often effectively to people in need. This can and does often turn out well for the other people, and yet there is also what the group and I have identified as a "shadow piece" to much of what I do in this regard.
"Shadow" is a term that was developed by the great psychoanalyst Carl Jung to identify aspects of the human psyche that are often "out of sight" of the person him- or herself but that just as often are quite influential in the way the person lives his or her life. The "shadow" tends to get what is called a "payoff" from actions the person performs that end up not being healthy or helpful for the person and can often also hurt the people with whom the person is involved. One goal of the "work" we do in the group is to become aware of these "shadows" and how they are working and what kind of payoff they get from our behavior, and through that awareness to bring the harmful behaviors to an end and to allow what we call our "gold" to gain the upper hand in guiding our behavior.
My experience in group these few weeks has been very difficult. As we worked through the identification of my shadow behavior, I felt my defensiveness rise up in a powerful way. This, I knew, was my shadow, which had theretofore operated unchallenged, trying to assert and maintain its control over my behavior. It enlisted the aid of many parts of me, including The Theologian, who created an excellent justification for my doing what I was doing from the perspective of my service to Christ. (As we remember from the stories of Jesus' temptations by Satan after his 40 days in the wilderness, even the devil can quote the Bible!)
However, even as I knew I could defend myself against the challenges my warrior brothers were making against my shadow behavior, the part of me that was not under the influence of my shadow, which is not yet strong enough to counter the shadow by itself, was determined not to give in to the tyranny of the shadow; and it held onto the truth that it was hearing, and even affirmed it by speaking it back to the group, until I felt some progress had been made in weakening the power of the shadow and opening the possibility of my ceasing the harmful relational patterns.
At this point I have taken some very difficult steps to make some healthy changes in the ways I relate to others. I know some of the things to look for in my relationships, such as whether I do things for others expecting something in return (a definite sign that my shadow is involved) or whether I do things at some sacrifice to myself and expecting nothing in return – and further accepting nothing in return (which would be signs that my shadow is not active, nor is it getting some kind of ego-stroking payoff in the deal).
This has been some of the hardest work I have ever done in such a short time, because it has gotten closer to the core of who I am and the root of how I have operated for, literally, decades, than much of what I have done in the past. Yet I know that the ultimate payoff for my "gold" is that I will be relating to people in healthy ways, which will benefit both me and them, and I will not be expecting them to stroke my ego as a "thank you" for whatever benefit I may bring to them. I will come to the point at which my having done what I have done is that which brings me joy and nothing else.
I still have a long way to go, and yet I am glad I have a group that takes my welfare seriously enough that they aren't willing to let me slide when they see me doing things that are going to bring harm to me and others with whom I'm in relationship. I wish everyone could have such relationships of support and accountability as I have with that group. If anyone reading this gets the chance, I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity when it is offered.