Embracing the Darkness: Holding space for all parts of humanityMelissa C Palmer, LCSW, ACHP-SW, APHSW-C, JD Nov 15, 2022
As we move toward the darkest time of the year, now is a good time to take stock, slow down and be introspective.
We all have both light and darkness in us. It is a part of our identity on a cellular level. Creation and destruction. Our bodies, minds and souls capture the yin and yang of the universe. Humans tend to shy away from, or are even repelled from, the shadows in ourselves; we can minimize the negative and focus what is positive in us.
When we embrace and accept the dark, imperfect, and hidden parts of ourselves, we are able to grow and experience life more deeply and meaningfully. Finding a balance where we visit that place, but not live there, and recognize that suffering, shame, struggle, and sadness allows us to find acceptance and nurturing of the shadows. Art, creativity, and true depth of feeling all begin in the darkness.
In palliative care, patients may try to be the “good patient” to please us as palliative care community specialists. It can feel better for us as providers to allow this to be the narrative. But the real connection happens when we can be present with patients and give them permission to show their whole selves, both light and darkness.
Often in yoga, we say “the light in me sees the light in you”. I also wonder if we can say “the darkness in me sees the darkness in you”. Maybe then, patients could take a deep breath and connect with us through authentic presence. Patients could allow themselves to be open to sharing their pain and suffering as well as their hope and faith. When we as palliative care community specialists are comfortable with our own darkness as well as light, we are energetically open to accompany patients and hold their hands through the darkness.
The article below by Nina Streek discusses how we as palliative care community specialists may inadvertently add to the suffering of our patients by not embracing the need for suffering and acknowledging the dark side of illness.