Of all the thought-provoking quotes from Carl Jung, the one that I connect with on a heart level is this:
“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people.”
You might be thinking, “Hmm…a little somber and sobering, Vicki, not exactly the bright-and-shiny-uplifting quote I was hoping for.” Stick with me for a minute, okay?
Jung’s bluntness is liberating. It’s how I felt, many years ago when I read the quote for the first time. Especially when served up with Nietzsche’s resilience-boosting “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” What a one-two punch – calling in the cavalry to normalize pain – and darkness – as natural and normal parts of the human experience. Mix in the anthem version courtesy of Kelly Clarkson, reminding us to be “Stronger”? YES! Who needs a superhero cape? You’ve got this – whatever IT is.
But why are we calling in the cavalry? Because the incessant ebb and flow – dark and light, good and bad – roll in, often without heralding or warning. They just arrive and when they do, other lived experiences ride along, filling in the landscape of our lives. I call these feelings “the familiars” – the amalgamations of joy mixed with ever-lingering pain points. What helps? Having a soulful sherpa in your corner, someone who’s navigated the shadow scape of light and dark…which brings me to Jody.
“Jody” (not his real name) was a client, years ago who experienced plenty of unwelcome ‘familiars’ in the form of a horrific collapse in parenting. He was closed off in our sessions, at first. Unable to disclose much other than his three-word description of his childhood, which he referred to as the “Triple A’s”: Alcohol, Abuse and Addiction.
Jody’s two pervasive emotions? Pain and shame and lots of both. Despite his academic ability, his pronounced low self-esteem and identity issues held him back, making him feel unworthy. His self-sabotage skills were epic, and he knew it. Jody was a master manipulator, unsuccessfully trying therapy more than once (twice as a court-ordered stipulation and once to keep himself from being booted out of college). I enjoyed working with him, but every bit of our dance was a push-pull challenge. But still, we danced – he showed up and as much as I hate this therapeutic phrase, he ‘did the work’. I was just the sherpa.
And then he moved on…and I didn’t hear from him for a couple of years, until last week when he reached out, asking if I’d be a reference for him and if I’d write a fresh letter of recommendation. “Yes of course”, I said and then we got to the important business of catching up.
Jody shared that he was offered a position to lead a humanitarian aid team in rescue and recovery efforts in disaster zones, worldwide. I felt a warm rush of emotion – a mix akin to proud parent and coach – as he described his current role, and the elevated position he’s seeking.
Jody summarized his recent accomplishments – completing his master’s degree and joyously sharing that he’s in a committed relationship. “I found someone loving and kind” he said, “For the first time in my life”. All of this was terrific news and just as I expected the call to wrap up, Jody said this:
“I never knew your story, Vicki, whatever it was that made you THE ONE who got to me, but I figured it came from some pain of your own. I decided that’s where deep empathy comes from. People who’ve seen the dark and know how to find the light.”
Jody explained he found his ‘calling’ and knew helping others – especially in the face of natural disasters – was his purpose. I know those are just words on a screen as you’re reading this – Jody sharing that he found his place and purpose – but believe me, the weight of it as he spoke was substantial, in the best possible way. As soon as the call ended, I was a teary, wet mess, needing a ton of tissues while I searched for the Jung quote, wanting to recall it more clearly.
Jody was right. Maybe my own pain helped in the development of empathy, but I remembered my other reaction to Jung’s quote. Maybe he simply meant this – those who’ve experienced darkness have special skills in sniffing out shade from others.
Ah yes…I connect with that morsel of Jungian wisdom, too, and it explains why the quote stuck with me for years. It’s pretty accurate, given the plague of half-truths, out-and-out lies, and bold indifference I tolerated as a kid. I can smell bullshit and baloney a mile away. But those are “Vicki tales” for another day.
For now, three cheers for Jody – and to all who seek resilience and light. And if you have three minutes, let Kelly Clarkson do her thing and listen to “Stronger”. It might be ten years old and ‘dated’ at this point, but it’s a keeper. I promise.