How do you react when something bothers you? Do you reach for the painkillers or distract yourself? Have you ever thought about the word painkiller? Killing pain might sound perfectly reasonable if you think that pain is the enemy. However biologically pain is a messenger: it tells you in no uncertain terms that you must change your behaviour right now.
When you put your hand on the stove it would luckily not occur to you to take a painkiller. Instead you remove the hand and if it wasn’t there for long the problem is solved.
With emotional pain however we tend to keep the hand on the stove and reach for whatever we can find to kill the pain: distractions, alcohol or your other numbing agent of choice. The same way that it is difficult to be happy while your hand is slowly burning it is difficult to deal with the emotional equivalent. Yet this difficulty or discomfort often leads people to develop an addiction to comfort.
Robert Biswas-Diener and Todd Kashdan encourage us to rethink these ‘pain-killing’ reflexes we have. They argue convincingly that by numbing or suppressing the dark side we limit our ability to experience happiness and meaning on the other end of the spectrum. Instead they make a powerful case to get to know our negative emotions and behaviours and to investigate them. The messenger, after all, has arrived to tell us something.
What is our dark side?
But what is our dark side? It’s the behaviours, thoughts and feelings that are socially less acceptable like anger, narcissism, an unfocused mind or sadness. Does your anger make you uncomfortable? Do you curse your heightened sensitivity?
We learn from an early age from the looks that people give us, from the way people talk about angry people and from how other people’s anger makes us feel that it’s something that shouldn’t be there and if it’s there it should be managed. The problem is that what we learned about anger management and the management of our dark side in general is not constructive.
The need for bravery
This is a book that asks us to be brave: challenge convention, challenge our own comfort addiction, honestly get to know our dark side and how we can both accept and even use this dark side constructively to stand up for what’s important. Only by doing this can we become whole, which Biswas-Diener and Kashdan see as a more important goal than happiness.
This book’s is not for you if you are a bit of a jerk and you are secretly looking for excuses to stay one. 😉 If that’s the case save yourself the money and others the added annoyance of you scientifically backing up your behaviour.
The Upside of your Dark Side is definitely for you if you find it hard to accept what you perceive as your imperfections. If you find it hard to give yourself a break, it’s worth learning about the benefits of those aspects in yourself that are hard to accept.
Learning this may help you deal with those emotions differently, the next time you notice them. It may help you to befriend all those messengers which reach us several times a day to give you valuable information on how to proceed next.
Overdue for long
If you are someone who is very much in tune with what is going on inside of you, it will not be news to you, that negative states can have positive consequences. I have noticed a long time ago, that if I try to suppress anger it stays for longer. If I don’t express it in some form or the other it eats me up.
So I have instead learned to express it and let go of it. The same goes for sadness: the practice of sitting with it and of letting my body deal with it the way it was designed to, by crying is a vital part of being able to trust myself. While I am very comfortable dealing with my own negative emotions and states, it is more challenging when other people are involved. After all, it is not everybody’s business to know why I am sad. And what if it helps me to release my anger but it stresses others out?
The Upside of your Dark Side might be a perfect way to engage in perhaps long overdue conversations with loved ones. It offers a way to talk about difficult topics without being sucked into them immediately by our own circumstances. Discussing our own dark sides openly, without being defensive, has the potential to really help us grow, both as an individual but also within any meaningful relationship.