By Susan B. Krevoy, Ph.D.
How many of us have an unhealthy split between our light side and our dark side? The movie “Black Swan” brilliantly depicts the difficulty in integrating the different parts of ourselves. Don’t we all have a “white swan” in us? It’s our “good” positive feelings of hope, love, kindness, humility, generosity, and compassion. And don’t we all have a “black swan” inside of us as well? These are our “bad” negative feelings of anger, envy, greed, arrogance, false pride, resentment, and self-pity.
The struggle we face is how do we integrate these parts of ourselves in order to feel authentic? How do we give up the need to present ourselves as perfect rather than as human? How can we balance these different traits without having to destroy one in order for the other to survive?
In the movie Nina initially showed us her fear of exposing her dark side; for example, her anger at an overbearing, narcissistic mother. Unable to express her feelings and tolerate her mother’s disappointment when she didn’t comply with her wishes, she would submit, covering her anger yet scratching herself mercifully until she bled. She was ashamed of her negative feelings.
When called upon to express her darker side in order to dance the Swan Queen, Nina felt she had to kill the white swan in order to expose the black swan.
Isn’t this what many eating disorder patients struggle with? Ashamed of their “darker” feelings, they are unable to experience them as part of themselves. They frequently split them off into their “eating disorder” and express them through disordered eatingbehaviors. Feeling ashamed that they have needs, some act out their denial of needs by restricting food, that is, “I don’t need food equals I am not needy”. Others may act out their neediness through binging, as it feels safer to need food than people. Many may behave as Nina did in the movie. Being unable to express her disappointment and anger verbally, she instead turned the feelings on herself in a self-destructive manner. Restricting, binging and purging, and self-mutilations are all angry feelings turned on one’s self.
We all struggle with accepting the different parts of ourselves. When we feel ashamed of certain feelings and as if we have to hide them, it throws us off balance and we do not feel authentic. When I was first studying psychology, I felt as if I had to be void of any dark side in order to be helpful to my clients. It was easier to focus on their issues rather than my own. It wasn’t until I accepted that I too had feelings such as insecurity, anxiety, envy, competition and a need to appear a certain way that I could begin to feel whole.
If Nina could have learned to come out of hiding with the different parts of herself and accepted that there is no such thing as perfection, perhaps she wouldn’t have felt that she had to kill off one part of herself in order to experience the other.