Do you understand your dark side?

This Halloween as we dress up and ghouls and goblins let’s take a quick moment to think about the ghouls and goblins we carry around with us on the other 364 days of the year, says Dr Nina Burrowes


Do you understand your dark side?

While all of us have the capacity to be the best a human can be, we also have the capacity to be the worst a human can be.

If we want to understand ourselves in our entirety we need to have – integrity. When we talk about ‘integrity’ we normally talk about moral principles. Someone who has integrity is honourable and virtuous. They are the right type of person. But the word ‘integrity’ has much more to tell us about our humanity than that.

The word comes from ‘integer’ which means ‘whole’ or ‘undivided’. When I think about my own integrity I don’t think about moral principles. I think about my whole humanity. Because I am a unit – I come as a whole. My humanity cannot be divided. I’m not able to portion off the bits of myself that I like and discard the bits I find distasteful. To be fully human is to recognise that I have the capacity for the full range of humanity in me. The good… and the bad.

The dark side of me is deeply unpleasant. It’s this side of me that can be cruel, spiteful, jealous, destructive, and manipulative. It can be rude and unkind. A bully and a cheat. Having integrity means recognising that I am capable of all of this… and worse. It means opening my eyes to the worst I can be, rather than denying that such a thing is possible.

I don’t want to deny any aspect of my humanity. No matter how hard it might be to live with, I find that all of these things are there for a reason.

The worst of me has to be there so that I can choose not to exercise it. I don’t want these destructive parts of me to be taken away. I want them to stay. I want to know that I am fully capable of all of them. I want to know that I could choose to act with cruelty or destructiveness at any moment. I want to know that my choice to be the best in me is real.

To be incapable of the worst in ourselves would remove our choice to be the best in ourselves. It would be inhuman. We would be reduced to being very ‘good’ robots. Being fully human means opening our eyes to the whole of us, seeing the worst in ourselves, and celebrating it when we make the remarkable choice to be the best we can be.

Dr Nina Burrowes is a psychologist, speaker and author