My shadow friend is always with me.

My shadow friend is always with me. As far back as I can remember, she has always been with me. She sleeps with me, eats with me, laughs with me and cries with me. But sometimes she takes over me and I don’t see me and I don’t feel me. I feel disconnected from me.

Our relationship is complicatedthere was a time she would hurt me. She was loud, obnoxious and mean. I would run from her and hide from her but she was always thereshe was faster than me and louder than me. I wanted her gone and worked hard at it. On the outside, I was amazing. On the inside I was uncertain and doubtful. Things were hard, she was my enemy and it was a constant battleI had to be perfect so she would go away and leave me alone. Funny how no one could see her and feel her except for me. And that would sometimes make me angry. It was exhausting battling her with the only strategy I hadperfection dressed up as excellence and strength. But I was never good enough and there was always conflict and pain driving me “to do better” and “to do more.” There was so much back and forth. So much holding me back. We were in a deadlock. Every now and then someone would say, “I was like you when I was younger… you have to learn to take care of yourself”, but that didn’t seem like it so I kept going, feeling frustrated.

So how did I befriend her? How did the power in our relationship shift? I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but I started paying attention, reflecting, journaling and evaluating what I admired the most and considered weak. I had to take a long hard look at my definition of strength and why I felt that way. I had to start intentionally building self-awareness. And, now understanding my shadow friend was with me for life, I realize I had to befriend her. I realized that she needed me and in some crazy way, I needed her too. She made it so hard. I was quick to blame her. But was it her or was it me?

Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash

So what happened when I befriended my shadow friend? All she wanted was acceptance and validation. All she wanted was love and kindness. She wanted to be cared for. Funny, I thought it was by someone elsebut she needed me. Today I get it, she is not a blur that encompasses me in confusion and negative emotion. I spent time getting to know her and I learned that she wanted the simplest of thingssleep, exercise, relaxation, intellectual stimulation. I am still getting to know her, but instead of running now I look forward to it. Every now and then, when I get “too busy” she becomes large and takes over. She feels like doubt, uncertainty and apathy. I still get overwhelmed but I know she is just trying to give me a sign. And sometimes I still don’t get it and I have to stop, take a piece of paper and a pen to reflect and check in with myself. You see, my shadow friend is simple. She needs sleep, she needs exercise and she needs compassion, care and connection. I used to think she was fragile but nowI think she’s smart. Now, when she gets disrupted, I give her a mental hug and I reset. The reset is sometimes as simple as taking a walk and sometimes it’s a hard reset where I disconnect from the world and distractions (for me, it starts with turning off my cell phone…). What I have also come to realize is the longer the reset, the more self-neglect took place.

So instead of running from your shadow friend, pause, give your shadow friend a mental hug and ask what’s going on, why do you feel the way you do and what do you need to feel better? What does your shadow friend need to feel healthy, vibrant and productive?

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Marissa Abram, PhD

Marissa Abram, PhD

Educator, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, Addiction Researcher and Founder of Strategic Wellness Management.