By Robert Butler
I ended a long friendship recently.
Even though it was the healthiest decision I could have made at the time, it was, and still is, so….God-damned…painful!
Strictly platonic buddies, we had many things in common that we enjoyed doing together, though a strange dynamic had formed over the years wherein I realized I was constantly putting myself out to gain this man’s approval. I bent over backwards to please him, and yet was frequently disappointed by his behavior. A few years older than me, he possesses a hair trigger temper, and has consistently blamed me for his angry outbursts.
When this had happened in the past, like an abused wife, I would write him heartfelt letters, trying to heal these rifts, using my 20 plus years of experience in men’s work and 25 years of accumulated wisdom from working on myself; all to no avail. We danced this toxic two-step for over 15 years, and since the foundations for our friendship were typically diversions from spirituality or any kind of personal growth—motorcycles, music, movies, sharing meals, etc., it was this last episode that finally awakened me to the pattern.
What started as an innocent question by me quickly escalated into a full-scale verbal assault, whereby he accused me of insulting his intelligence, all while his rage built to a boil. I was both shocked and saddened by the outburst and although I tried to pacify him, he wouldn’t hear me. And while I already had the movie I rented queued up, the pizza in the oven and the drinks poured, he stormed out, blaming me for causing his anger.
Naturally, his pattern seemed very clear to me. They were, in fact, my patterns.
Like me, this man grew up in a household with an emotional Italian father. Also like me, he had much older siblings who repeatedly denigrated him. I grew up believing my words didn’t matter, frequently the scapegoat and played the fool. The shadow behaviors I developed to cope with this took the form of anger, directed both internally and externally.
Carl Jung, the Swiss psychotherapist who coined the term “shadow,” taught that these were parts of ourselves that due to their painful nature, we hide, repress and deny. They develop as a coping mechanism to protect us from the traumas early in our lives. The problem is that they become lodged in our subconscious as beliefs about who we are and how we are in the world. As the name suggests, shadows are frequently invisible to us. However, they are not invisible to others, often coming out sideways in the form of inappropriate speech and/or behavior.
I also know about boundaries. I suffered without them for so long that the pain of awakening that I needed them resulted in a dramatic growth spurt (as well as an end to my marriage). So why was I so willing to overlook them in this man’s case? What fundamental need was this man satisfying in me that I allowed myself to become dis-empowered once more? And for 15 years?
What I suddenly realized is that in my subconscious, this man represented my birth father, an alcoholic, rage-aholic and compulsive personality with a violent temper. At least that was my projection. Yes, my wounded “little boy” was projecting my “Daddy Issues” onto this unsuspecting man.
I only knew my birth father for the first five years of my life, and although those years had been traumatic, it was a father-connection I had eventually missed and deeply craved. My friend is a capable “manly man” on the surface with many good qualities; generosity, love for his daughter, honesty and integrity, as well as a willingness to be helpful to others. He can also be judgmental, envious of others’ good fortune, consumed by his appetites, capable of racist remarks and unwilling to look at, what to speak of “own” his explosive unhealed anger. It wasn’t all that long ago I exhibited many of the same behaviors; I am my father’s son after all.
Fortunately I have been graced with a circle of caring, conscious men for over 20 years who have selflessly helped me keep an eye on my shadows.
I’ve spent the better part of two decades doing my “father work” and as a result am keenly aware of what drove much of my angry behavior in my earlier life. This one blind-sided me though, and I’ve spent the better part of a week deeply depressed. Although I understand the dynamics involved and can forgive him knowing that his actions are coming from his own pain, it is still a deep loss and hurts like hell.
And I must own my contribution to this drama. This happened “for” me, not “to” me. Painful though it may be, just as in real-estate, ownership turns dirt into gold.
Sometimes waking up is pleasant. The sun is peeking through the window, the birds are chirping, and I can smell the fresh flowers of spring in the cool morning air. This felt more like being jolted from a nightmare by a loud car crash. I’m awake, but the trauma lingers for a long while before the hidden blessings make themselves known.
If my work has taught me anything, it’s that the blessings will always show up. I just need to keep my wounded heart open, have faith that Spirit is with me, and keep moving forward.
“Every pain, addiction, anguish, longing, depression, anger or fear is an orphaned part of us seeking joy, some disowned shadow wanting to return to the light and home of ourselves.” – Jacob Nordby
Painful though it may be, just as in real-estate, ownership turns dirt into gold. ~ Robert Butler Click To Tweet
Even as a child, Robert Butler was fascinated with the nature of consciousness. A practitioner of Bhakti Yoga and committed vegetarian since the age of 17, he embarked on a lifelong journey to help himself and others uncover the mysteries of life. After living in an ashram in his late teens through his mid 20s, he traveled extensively, and delved deeply into personal growth and healing work. For the past twenty-five years, he has run a San Diego based nonprofit that supports three Bhakti Yoga ashrams and sustainable farm communities: Audarya Ashram in Philo, California, Sarahgrahi near Asheville, North Carolina, and Madhuvan in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. He is an author, spiritual counselor and senior staffer with the ManKind Project, as well as a mentor with the Boys to Men Mentoring Network. He lives in Encinitas, California.
Editor: Dana Gornall