Why do we have Halloween?
It’s time to carve and light the pumpkins, don the fangs and liberally drizzle the fake blood! Halloween is the time to revel in the darkness and delight in savage, gruesome and thrilling. Of course, this is particularly exciting for many of us precisely because we feel under a certain amount of social pressure from society to hide the less palatable sides of ourselves – our anger, envy, jealousy, greed; our raw ‘animal’ sides. But for a long time, psychology has recognised that not only is it our human nature to have a ‘shadow side’ but in fact we need to recognise and accept it to be emotionally healthy. As the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung once said, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious”.
From the perspective of Schema Therapy, a more recent version of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, we each possess a number of different sides to our character, including an inner child and an inner adult voice. Our child side houses our most basic human emotions including sadness, hurt, joy, anger and rage. In a sense, according the Schema Therapy, the tantruming toddlers we all once were don’t simply disappear as we develop but become increasingly managed by our inner adult voice, which reflects the messages we received as children from our care givers and from society. For many of us this adult or ‘parent’ voice can often be lacking in empathy for our inner child and we can find ourselves responding to our very natural feelings of hurt, anger or frustration with criticism and harshness. We tell ourselves we “shouldn’t feel like this” or we “should behaviour differently” setting up an internal tug of war between these two opposing – and often equally powerful – forces, causing us further distress. Of course, we try to cope with this internal dynamic in the best way we can – usually by some combination of avoidance, overcompensation or giving up – but our efforts often have the unintended consequence of making us feel even more anxious or depressed.
The challenge in therapy, from this perspective, is to develop a ‘healthy adult’ side to act as mediator between these two competing voices. In therapy, we learn to listen empathically to the importance messages of our inner children, to soothe them, set appropriate limits and ward off the more excessively negative messages from our critical or demanding parent sides. In so doing we learn to balance our needs against those of others in a healthier way and to take good care of ourselves emotionally.