Healing Toxic Positivity: Embracing Your Shadow Self


As an intuitive healer, I used to get the odd client who is desperate to manifest good things. "I just want love," they'd tell me. "I just want to be a millionaire."

When I take a deeper look into their energy, I see what's blocking them. I tell them the issues to address so we can work them out, usually heavy, traumatic experiences. But they don't want to face them. They only want me to tell them what they want to hear. They want all the light and none of the darkness.

"Good vibes only" is the mantra of the toxic positivity crowd. They move through life with blinders on so they never have to acknowledge their shadows. Plastered on their faces are perma-smiles to help convince themselves that everything is fine, that they are all love. It only unsettles me because I know it is a mask. I know what's hiding behind it.

Sure, living in a fairyland of rainbows and gumdrops might feel safe, but staying there won't help build the resilience required to face reality. And sometimes, reality can be brutal.

As I'm writing this in March of 2022, we're heading into week two of Russia's invasion of Ukraine when we're barely getting over two years of a deadly pandemic. I haven't been okay even though I'm safe and healthy and have all the spiritual tools at my disposal to heal myself. For those in the thick of it, I don't think reminding them to "think positive" or that "everything happens for a reason" will make anything better.

By the time this much evil energy has been unleashed into the world, all we can do is react and put out the fires. I am disappointed that, as a collective, we hadn't done enough to prevent the fires from catching on in the first place. This is why learning spirituality and doing the spiritual work is so important. On an individual level, we have to cast a light on our own darkness first. If we don't know where evil is lurking, it can affect us in sneaky, perverted ways, and then it spreads to the world.

Law of Polarity - The Duality of Good and Evil in the World

According to The Law of Polarity, everything has an opposite: chaos and order, love and hate, positive and negative, yin and yang, masculine and feminine, abundance and lack, creation and destruction, and so on.

With this understanding, we know that there is always going to be both good and evil energy in the world. And this good and evil exist in every human being.

I have a client who really wants to be a spiritual, compassionate, joyous, all-loving woman. In one of our sessions, we took a look at what was blocking her from getting there. With her permission, I'm sharing the strange thing that was happening with her energy. It surprised both of us.

I saw that she had some sort of energetic twin. She had unknowingly split her energy into two because she only wanted to embrace her light side. She rejected her dark side because she feared it made her less lovable.

But a major problem arose from splitting her energy into light and dark: she was subconsciously recreating the light and dark duality with the female closest to her in order to follow the spiritual law that there is always a balance of light and dark energy in the world.

This was highly problematic because if her friend is happy and full of light, that means my client is forced to be the shadow. In this duo, there is either one winner or loser. If one is thriving and abundant, the other must be miserable and failing. To release my client from this self-imposed curse, we had to teach her to embrace her dark side and be whole again.

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How Our Shadow Self Can Help Us

We actually need some negative aspects in order for us to continue living on earth. That is just the nature of this earth school where we learn to overcome negativity so we create our own heaven.

It's easy to condemn others who behave abominably. It takes a certain level of courage to turn inwards and examine our own dark behaviors. And be vulnerable.

A big part of spiritual work is reducing our negativity so they don't harm ourselves or other people. We definitely don't want to be violent, murderous criminals, for example. Other negative tendencies are less harmful, and that's the direction we can go.

Instead of extreme anger, maybe it can be reduced to slight irritation. Instead of being overly controlling, being mildly stubborn is alright. Instead of extreme pessimism, some light cynicism is acceptable and even healthy. As long as we have more light than darkness, we don't risk falling into darkness.

Spiritual bypassing: a tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.

John Welwood, Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist

Negative traits and emotions can also help us learn. Anger, resentment, and anxiety can keep us safe from risky people and situations. Fear has the important role of helping us avoid danger and death. Shame and self-disgust can motivate us to avoid disreputable behavior. Part of what I do in healing sessions is finding less harmful ways to keep the client feeling safe so they can stop using these negative emotions as armor.

Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, there is always room to grow. Even the most spiritual, compassionate, righteous people will have negativity to overcome if they're living on earth. Even if all the negative traits within the self have been eradicated, there is still negativity in other people, situations, and events to encounter and overcome.

Some religions and well-meaning spiritual schools might tell you to eradicate your ego. But a little bit of ego can help you have self-esteem. If I didn't have the ego to believe in myself every time I failed or was rejected, I would quit doing certain activities that I love. I'm not saying that it's okay to be an arrogant jerk. The point is to find the sweet spot in every situation so we can be in a healthy balance. This way, negativity doesn't have as much power over us.

We can't turn away from darkness, and we can't fight it with more of the same either. But when we face it and know how to diminish its harmful effects, we can stay in balance. This balance is still a challenge, but it can be a fun challenge, the way surfing is.

I don't have as much anger as I used to. My desire for vengeance has mostly diminished to pettiness. I think pettiness is funny in that Larry David Curb Your Enthusiasm way, so I was leaning into it. But recently I had a dream that I was too petty, and the message was that I can improve in that area. Larry David might have been in that dream too.

Honesty Leads to Healing

When I was younger, I wouldn't have thought I'd be so deep into learning spirituality and becoming a master healer. I thought of the hand-holding kumbaya spiritual communities as performative and fake. Hippie culture with their drumming circles and chakra talk still makes me roll my eyes sometimes.

My goal was never to be a saint. While people who are genuinely loving and compassionate are admirable, the quality I most want to cultivate is honesty. I don't mean the tactless kind or where you tell others everything about yourself. I'll go with the dictionary definition of "freedom from deceit or fraud." As in the pursuit of truth.

I admire the person who can see the truth in every situation and in the self. This is what draws me to writing literary fiction too: what is the truth in the story?

Being honest is how I get stronger, by knowing what my weaknesses are. If I can acknowledge what's hurting me or what I'm afraid of, I can resolve them and come away with valuable lessons.

I can't do that in the land of denial. It might be a safe space for some, but it's also where delusion and insanity can fester.

If a person believes their own lies, who knows where these lies can lead them? Perhaps these false truths will be manipulated to rationalize bad behavior, treating others unkindly, even inflicting violence. The dictators of the world don't actually believe they are evil. They justify their crimes by telling themselves they are doing it for the greater good. They turn a blind eye to their own lust for greed and power. In their eyes, they are the heroes, not the villains. They might even believe this so ardently that their followers believe it too.

I think I have made my point on why it's important to acknowledge and embrace our shadow side, so I will conclude this by saying that we also have the right to embrace happiness and joy. The world might devastate us at times, but we don't need to linger in the chaos.

This week I have been crying. I like a good cry because it's healthier than locking my emotions up into numbness, something I used to do. Crying is just one of the many healthy ways to release negative emotions. To deny these emotions would risk causing more trouble down the line, as I have emphasized earlier. But I also won't overwhelm myself with melancholy.

I still find pockets of happiness. So it is in this duality I currently reside, where I can both grieve and feel hope. Sometimes I find myself smiling and laughing, and I do this without denying the sadness within me. The negative emotions are fleeting; love is the baseline. When I am emotionally strong again, I will lean more into happiness without guilt because I know love is the strongest weapon against darkness.

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