Healing Difficult Emotions, Relationships and Love

Dealing with Our Dark Side

Several posts ago, I wrote about cultivating Flourish-Friendly Relationships instead of Control Relationships. You can read more about this here. In this post, I will write about dealing with our dark side. But first, let’s review what Flourish-Friendly and Control Relationships are.

Flourish-Friendly Relationships are ones in which the people involved create a space together for both them to grow and develop all their human capacities. Control Relationships, on the other hand, are relationships in which the people in them use each other primarily to meet their own needs. They often do this regardless of whether this hurts or helps the other person.

Here is a chart comparing Flourish-Friendly Relationships and Control Relationships.

Of course, I plan to write soon about how to cultivate Flourish-Friendly relationships. But before I do that, I think it is important to understand why people get involved in Control Relationships.

Control Relationships are inherently dehumanizing to both parties involved. Almost no one intends to get involved in a dehumanizing relationship. So, the question is, “How or why do we get into Control Relationships?”

Our Dark Side

Answering this question entails looking at our Dark Side, which nobody really likes to do. However, doing so is essential if we are to understand how to develop Flourish-Friendly Relationships.

As mentioned above, in Control Relationships, people use each other primarily to meet their own needs or desires. They do so at expense of other person’s ability to develop their full human capacities. In Control Relationships, people exist for the sake of the relationship, rather than the relationship existing to help people flourish.

While people in relationships can both engage in controlling behavior, often in Control Relationships, one person is the Controller, and the other person is Controlled.

People get into Control Relationships for a variety of reasons.[1]

Why Do We Control or Suffer Being Controlled?

There is a very human reason we get into control relationships.

Let’s think about what it means to be a human being who has never lived our life before in a world full of other people who have never lived their life before. Living in such a world entails that we all must figure out much about life as we go along.

Because of this, our world often feels lonely and confusing; frequently terrifying; and sometimes life-threatening. We are all just trying to


                Find love.

                Know that we are worthy and be recognized for that worth.

                Find our purpose.

                Not get hurt or have our body or spirit destroyed.

hese are some of our most primary goals—and I will refer to them as Primary Goals. A lot of what we do is aimed at trying to achieve them. And we can create a world in which everyone can achieve Primary Goals. In fact, history is one long record of us trying to do this, sometimes succeeding and often failing.

Creating a world where everyone can achieve these goals is a struggle. And because it is a struggle, we often develop some erroneous ideas about our ability to do so.  Here are some very common erroneous ideas:

One: There isn’t enough love and recognition for everyone, so you must get as much as you can for yourself. Screw everyone else.

Two: It’s either conquer or be conquered.

Three: The only thing that matters is power because it is the only thing that makes you safe.

Four: You can only get recognition if you make people give it to you.

Five: There are winners and losers, and winners take what they want.

Six: Love is a myth. Don’t expect much from the people in your life.

Seven: I only have worth if people approve of me.

Eight: I only have worth if I am _________enough. (You can fill in the blank with words like beautiful, wealthy, smart, thin, famous, etc.)

Nine: I can’t figure out the right way to live on my own. I must have someone tell me how to live every detail of my life.

Ten: Only certain people worthy and deserve love, and I am not one of them.

Eleven: There isn’t enough for everyone, and I could lose what I have at any time.

Twelve: I eventually lose every good thing in my life.

Thirteen: The world is terrifying, and everyone eventually hurts me.

The above statements represent some of the most common erroneous beliefs people have about our ability to achieve Primary Goals.

Maybe you yourself have or have had some of these beliefs.

As you can imagine, people often develop these beliefs because of pain they experience in their life—often a great deal of pain. For example, they may have only experienced Control Relationships themselves. And so they develop painful beliefs that tell them they can only achieve their Primary Goals by Controlling or being Controlled. Or they may have developed such beliefs because of deep betrayal they suffered in one of their closest relationships.

Many people have believed or felt tempted to believe several of the above statements.

And of course, such faulty beliefs lead to faulty practices. For example, if you believe that it’s either conquer or be conquered, this will lead you to bully and dominate other people.

If you believe that there are winners and losers, and winners take what they want, you will act as though the rules don’t apply to you. You will bulldoze other people in pursuit of your goals. And you will do anything you believe you must do to get what you want, no matter how it hurts other people.

You will likely behave like a Controller.

On the other hand, you may believe that only certain people are worthy and deserve love, and you are not one of them. If you believe this, you may devalue your own opinions and insights and exalt everyone else’s.

Or if you believe that you only have worth if people approve of you, you may constantly try to get people to love you, care for you, or affirm your worth. This can make you overly dependent on people.

This can lead you to being Controlled.

And if you believe that you eventually lose every good thing in your life and everyone eventually hurts you, you may constantly try to manage other people. You may do this to prevent them from leaving or hurting you, or you may constantly try to please them to avoid the same thing.

This can lead you to both controlling others or being controlled by them. (And by the way, if you see yourself in any of the above descriptions, I sympathize. I have behaved in many of these at one point in my life or another.)

And This brings Us to Our Dark Side.

Our Dark Side is the fear, anxiety, terror, and loneliness all of us experience at some point in our life. And it is also the faulty beliefs and practices (praxis) we develop in our attempts to manage these feelings of vulnerability.

All of us long to achieve our Primary Goals. And all of us fear, at some point or another, that we will lose or never achieve our Primary Goals. And if we don’t have a wise, skillful, and humanizing way to deal with the pain of human vulnerability, we develop unwise, unskillful, and destructive praxis. I will call this kind of praxis dehumanizing praxis.

One expression of this dehumanizing praxis is a tendency to develop Control Relationships instead of Flourish-Friendly Relationships.[2]

The bad news is that all of us have this Dark Side, and we are prone to deny it or flee from it because it makes us feel even more vulnerable.

The good news is that we can learn to work with our Dark Side; to recognize Control patterns; and to move from Control Relationships into Flourish-Friendly Relationships.

Of course I will write more about that soon.


If you found this post helpful, please consider sharing on social media.

This post looks at examining our dark side from a psychological viewpoint:
Embracing Our Dark Sides

If you would like to read about how Control Relationships develop at a political level, you might like reading this post


[1] It is extremely important here to note that some situations in which people are controlled—like slavery—are not matters of choice. They are situations forced upon people. So, the situations of being controlled in this post that I write about are situations in which we come to realize we are in Control Relationships of our own free choice and decide that this is the only possible way of life there is.

[2] Another common expression of our dark side is engaging in self-destructive habits like addictions.

10 thoughts on “Dealing with Our Dark Side”

  1. Yes. I am trying to come to terms with my dark side and offer compassion and forgiveness. And the dark side of others who unconsciously hurt me, but hurt themselves too.
    I have had a bit of a revelation in my yoga studies. Yoga means ‘wholeness’ and integration. When we hurt others, we are ultimately hurting ourselves by sowing the seeds of shame. I have also been thinking about this in relation to privilege. If we benefit from the status quo but others suffer, then we are also sowing the seeds of shame. If we are able to acknowledge our shadows and our shame, we are opening up the possibility of reparation and healing. And this is wholeness and integration.

    1. Ali, this is beautiful. You have really hit the nail on the head when you point out that we hurt ourselves when we hurt others. This is so well said. It is so hard to deal with our dark side sometimes, but it is worth it.

    2. Ali, so sorry, it looks like my replies to you are coming from someone named Brent. Brent is my website developer, and somehow my replies are registering under his email. I will fix this!

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