First off, what is a “shadow side”? This is an aspect within each of us which is largely unconscious and not entirely known, even to ourselves. This shadow side includes character qualities, needs, desires, temperaments, and capacities within each of us. Specifically, though, our shadow side tends to make experiencing challenges or pain in close relationships inevitable.
How then, can we possibly build trust within our close relationships if simultaneously we are to embrace and acknowledge the existence of these more challenging and dark aspects to each person as well? That, not only are these dark sides present, they will make appearances.
In life, betrayal and hurt are inevitable. This includes within close, intimate relationships (platonic or romantic). I know, bummer, right? I imagine many people upon reading such a sentiment might be thinking things along the lines of, well then what’s the point of having relationships if I am just going to get hurt anyway? Or, if someone hurts me, then they aren’t worth maintaining a relationship with.
Faulty, unrealistic thinking on both accounts. Here’s why.
We all, each of us, have awesome qualities and lightness within. Simultaneously, all of us have less favorable traits and darkness inside as well. Our shadow side, if you will. This is to be human. And this existence of a “shadow side” within people is what ensures the inevitability of our being hurt in close personal relationships.
So, you might be wondering, if betrayal is inevitable and everyone is going to hurt me anyway, how can I possibly trust anyone? And then, what’s the point of having relationships?
First, trust takes time to build, as most of us know. It's built via both action and word. Some people move quicker into trusting than others. Neither approach is right or wrong. We all have different temperaments based on our childhoods, our personal backgrounds, life experiences, personalities, the values we have adapted, and life lessons that we have learned along the way.
We each have a shadow side. Meaning, not just weaknesses/negative traits, but by “shadow,” this referring to needs, qualities, and capacities inside each of us that are not fully known even to ourselves.
Sometimes, these shadowy aspects will express themselves without our care, sensitivity, or sense of responsibility. This could be things like anger, vengeance, selfishness, jealousy, resentment, fear, or meanness. Or, this can also be things like our need to feel free, important, powerful or beautiful.
Attempting to make these shadow qualities go away or promising not to ever express these parts of ourselves is an impossibility.
We cannot promise to not be something that is a part of us. That resides in all of us. Especially when often, we are barely conscious of these parts. Trying to control our own or other people's shadows is suppressive, likely to lead to disillusionment, and is destined to fail. This can even lead to an eventual explosion of these qualities in unexpected or more problematic ways.
This is not to say that people should be permitted or excused in acting in horrible, perpetually hurtful ways, such as intentionally harming others, abusing, etc. Far from it. Despite each of us having a shadow side, this is not license to act badly or harmfully toward others.
Instead, the point is that people will make mistakes and missteps. They will screw up and have bad moments. It's part of being human. Sometimes, this can be as simple as running late to meet a friend or saying something uncouth that hurts someone’s feelings. It might mean spacing a friend's birthday or having to cancel plans which ends up letting a person down.
This can range to things like flinging hurtful words at someone you love in a fit of anger or shutting someone out when really, you want to let them in. It could mean a person agrees to be a certain kind of partner and then later learning that they have needs or desires which they no longer can suppress or accommodate. It can mean messing up and cheating, not being there when someone needs you, the list goes on of ways that people can betray or hurt one another.
Important note: There are, of course, breaches or hurts that cannot (or should not) necessarily be repaired. I am not advocating otherwise. It depends on both the specifics of the breach and the nature of your relationship with the involved person.
This is not a suggestion to allow others to hurt you and to routinely just “work it out,” “let it go, or “continually forgive.” Nor is it a license toward you hurting others. You alone will know if the bridge of that specific connection between you and this other person is irreparably broken, which it may be.
Without acting impulsively, in any given hurt within a close relationship of your life, trust yourself and your intuition to act accordingly.
That aside, how can we deal with this aspect of relationships and life? Knowing betrayal, experiencing hurt, as well as feeling let down in relationships is unavoidable?
Get to know yourself well. Especially the sides you may not like, or that you know are your “shadows.”
Additionally, get to know this part of your partner as well. Because ignoring the shadow of the person you’re in a relationship with is extremely common, especially in the beginning of the relationship. Putting our best selves forward can inadvertently hide our darker sides. This is precarious doings though, as it can lead to a lot of disappointment, disillusionment, and sadness down the road when the illusion is shattered.
Thus, it’s important to make a conscious effort to explore, be open to learning about, and even discussing these parts of both ourselves and others to whom we are close.
Pretending or hoping these sides of ourselves and others do not exist is a fantasy, it’s inauthentic and inaccurate, and a recipe for disheartenment later on. Instead, know these parts exist in everyone. Approach such a mindset with bravery, a sense of openness. and a wish to understand.
Quick crucial caveat: some people’s shadow sides might be deal-breakers for us. Only we can determine this. We each have different thresholds and determinants for personal deal-breakers. Further, some people’s shadow sides make up the majority of their psyche and heart, as opposed to the usual, healthy balance which each of us has. For these people, you are likely best off avoiding them. They are what I like to refer to as “toxic” individuals.
That aside, know that you and your partner do have these shadow sides and that they will sometimes express themselves. Expecting your partner to ever hold them in and never let you down is an unrealistic illusion.
When you accept and know this, it’s far more likely you will be able to 1. transform and grow through hurts together and 2. have an authentic, real relationship based on truth and depth. Attempting to be perfect, both expecting your partner to be and similar of yourself, is likely to lead to a stressful, tense, disappointing relationship over the long term, as this isn’t possible and perfection doesn’t exist.
Trust, in reality then, is built on a kind of deep honesty of both who you and your partner really are. It’s built with openness and bravery regarding the approach of not just our lightness and best selves, but equally to our “shadow” sides and darkness as well.
It’s knowing there will be times in which your partner will disappoint or even hurt you, while still choosing to trust in the depth of your connection enough that you will navigate through together.
Lastly, know that you can (and should) respond and take steps in the relationship after hurts and betrayal have occurred. This takes a novel kind of trust- the trust in ourselves to be aware of our hurts, to express those hurts, and to address the injury/breach with our partner.
This means essentially saying “I trust that there are times you will hurt me and that I will hurt you. I even trust that sometimes this hurt will be a breach of an agreement we have. I also trust that we can take steps to address these hurts or breaches, and even turn the process into one of strengthening our relationship and being even closer.”