Delving into the Dark Side

What is it about the dark side—the underbelly—of life I find so compelling?  What magnetism pulls me toward that grey, cold abyss? Why is that deep and dangerous place of which most people speak in hushed tones so irresistible to me? Why does my writing tend toward the chilling, the frightening; the muffled screams and tortured psyche?

In an attempt to understand why I am who I am, I returned to psychology. Not the psychology from my college days, though; this time, I returned to psychology as if I were new to the discipline, a fresh recruit to the exploration of the recesses of the mind. I discovered what I expected to discover; not much has changed. That is to say, the absence of hard and fast answers remains safely ensconced in the practice of psychology today. New ideas continue to blossom and bloom, but they tend to wither under the intense light of critical assessment, as has always been the fate of new ideas.

The dark side of one’s persona often comprises the emotions, experiences, and fears one is trying at once to eradicate and to embrace with the purpose of understanding them. That dark side is the pain buried beneath the surface, the open wound barely contained under a thin, sheer web of intellectual defenses unsuited to emotional battles. That is not to say the dark side reflects one’s behaviors or propensities toward action but, rather, one’s attempts to compare and reconcile one’s internal emotional experiences with external emotional stimuli.  According to some shamans psychologists, a person’s dark side is what he or she hates most in herself and in others. It may be fear of failure, drug or alcohol addiction, extreme aggression, debilitating shyness, sexual compulsion, or a host of other fears and attributes.

A relatively common suggestion is that one’s dark side should be identified, attacked, and overcome. That suggestion is, in my humble opinion, uninformed nonsense. It presumes one can physically take hold of one’s demons, as if they could be put in shackles and locked away in a cerebral cell, hermetically sealed to prevent them from escaping to do their mayhem.  More recently, it seems, some would-be mental and emotional healers suggest acceptance is the best approach. That is, they suggest acknowledging one’s ‘dark side’ and redirecting the energy one spends fighting it toward more productive endeavors. Though the implied simplicity of that suggestion is fraught with opportunities for failure, the concept may have some merit. Rather than attempt to overcome, the idea is to understand and live with the realities of whatever it is that causes one’s attraction to (or revulsion from) mental and emotional darkness.

Writing from experience, I can say I know of demons residing in my brain (not literal dancing demons, with pitchforks and fiery tongues), though I can’t say with any degree of certainty when or why they took up residence. I just know they are there. And I know, buried within the creases of my cerebral tissue, scar tissue barely covers wounds that periodically snag against reality, opening new fissures. These rips in my emotional fabric may be inborn, they may have resulted from experiences of which I have no recall, or they may be self-inflicted wounds. Whatever they are, I find the best way of dealing with them (even though I might not be aware I’m dealing with them) is to acknowledge them in some form through my writing. At least that’s what I’m thinking at the moment.

What is it about the dark side of life I find so compelling? The real answer, the one closest to reality, is that I don’t know. But psychology suggests there may be a reason. And psychology suggests various ways to confront that reason or those reasons. For today, for this very moment, I choose to do it through writing. But I don’t really know why I write about the dark side. But I know this: I do.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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