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Reflections of Resiliency and Reckoning

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

When I was younger, my parents would often say, "There's the easy way and then there's the hard way, Kristen. Once again, you've chosen the hard way." That is one way to look at it. I tend more towards: "Life is messy, embrace the chaos." Or as Hugh Mackey puts it, "Nothing is perfect. Life is messy. Relationships are complex. Outcomes are uncertain. People are irrational." For the most part, I'm fine with all of that and accept it as part of our collective deal here. Which means there will always be certain amounts of tension and stress.

Stress; it's intangible, yet it touches us all. We experience this mental or emotional state when we feel the tension of conflicting demands or dynamics. Self-care is a critical component of navigating such tensions, enhancing our flexibility and allowing us to better absorb life's shocks rather than be shattered by them. Creativity is a large part of my self-care. While playfulness and curiosity seem to be the most prominent characteristics of my creativity, there are also copious amounts of imagination, intuition, resiliency and a sense of adventure as well.

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, (1996) presents ten antithetical traits often present in creative people that are "integrated with each other in a dialectical tension." I readily identify with many of these aspects, especially when it comes to the following: "Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they're also often quiet and at rest...Creative people are both rebellious and conservative...Creative people alternate between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality...Creative people combine playfulness and discipline or responsibility and irresponsibility...Creative people's openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment..."

These qualities serve me to varying degrees in all kinds of circumstances, including my relationships.

Years ago, I was involved in a passionate affair with a fellow creative. Among other things, he was an entrepreneur, published author, and tanguero. He was quite intelligent and impish -- he didn't seem to take himself or much of anything too seriously, and I found that refreshing and liberating. I was over the moon to have found someone who was also a bit unconventional and would happily frolic and play with me in the world of intellect and creativity. We seemed to be a "perfect match" for each other and were even briefly engaged to be married.

It did not end well for us. Living and loving with such reckless abandon took its toll, and it was by far my messiest break-up. While he and I had been building castles in the sky, I had noticed and then conveniently ignored all kinds of red flags, opting for the fantasy over reality. When reality did come "crashing down," it was easy to feel angry and resentful over the mess he had made in our relationship. And I knew he hadn't made that mess all alone.

From the outside, it was easy to see how "in the wrong" he was. From the inside, I knew how much I had colluded in the wrong doing. I was all too aware of every instance in which I had betrayed myself within our relationship. I could clearly see where I had compromised myself in attempts to fool myself into thinking this playmate was really the steadfast partner that I had envisioned him to be. Yes, in certain aspects he had presented himself to be someone that he was not, AND I went along with it -- even as I clocked certain inconsistencies in his behavior. While I would NOT take responsibility for his part in all the mess, when I could admit to the reality of our relationship and broke ties with him, I knew it was time for me to take responsibility for my part in all of it. I had to "come clean" and be honest with myself about how I had co-created our relationship.

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This experience demonstrates some of the dangers that exist for those of us with certain qualities that allow us to fall into the Myers-Briggs category of INFP (introverted, intuitive, feeling, and perceptive/prospecting). Fortunately, those same qualities also provide us with tools to heal ourselves and provide necessary self-care. The following descriptions from resonate with me:

INFPs never seem to lose their sense of's a though they live at the edge of a looking-glass world where mundane objects come to life...INFP children often exhibit this in a 'Calvin and Hobbes' fashion, switching from reality to fantasy and back again, with few exceptions, it is the NF child who readily develops imaginary playmates...INFPs live primarily in a rich inner world of introverted Feeling. Being inward-turning, the natural attraction is away from the world and toward essence and ideal...

INFPs have the ability to see good in almost anyone or anything...INFPs struggle with the issue of their own ethical perfection, e.g., performance of duty for the greater cause. An INFP friend describes the inner conflict not as good versus bad, but on a grand scale, Good vs Evil. Luke Skywalker in Star Wars depicts this conflict in his struggle between the two sides of 'The Force.' Although the dark side must be reckoned with, the INFP believes that good ultimately triumphs.

I do firmly believe that good ultimately triumphs, but not often without near Herculean effort.

Yes, the dark side must be reckoned with -- and there is not much enhancement of our resiliency without first reckoning with our own shadow.

It has always been obvious, especially to those with whom I have both personal and professional relationships, that I lack discipline in many areas. As a result, I have made things much harder on myself (and the people in my life) than they could have been. I continue to both grapple and come to new terms with this, making shifts away from the habits of psychological "shadow boxing" and towards "shadow dancing" -- meaning that I'm looking to be more curious (and less judgmental) about this aspect of my shadow. I am actively looking to take responsibility for it rather than deny it at every turn, no matter the cost. And as noted by my parents even when I was a child, the emotional cost can be quite hefty, and not just for me, but also for those with whom I share strong connections. (A cost which seems to grow exponentially with age...)

This seems like really hard work. Real talk, it is. Yet, could it be any harder than any other way in which I've previously attempted to deal with it (and then living with the cost of those attempts)? In the grand scheme of things, how much does the degree of difficulty in this kind of work really matter? I ask myself this question knowing exactly how difficult the alternative is for me to carry. As the meme goes, it's all hard, so "choose your hard."

What matters most to me is doing this work, no matter how awkwardly. I continue to stumble, regress, and "fall short" of getting it "right," but if done with a sense of curiosity and compassion, those moments become opportunities for learning, growth, and healing. It might get messy, but I find there's much goodness to be gained when able to embrace that messiness too.

Yes, it is work. There is no way around that. It takes sustained effort which can be hard enough, and then there are the layers of drawing and holding all kinds of new boundaries, creating new ways of being and relating to self and others. This is hard too, especially when we can't rely on important connections in the ways we once did because others in our lives are resistant and find it inconceivable to accept certain aspects of this kind of reckoning and resiliency. This too can be seen as an invitation to a new kind of dance, and is more appealing to me than throwing punches.

Yes, shadow work is work, often hard work, and it is many other things. It can be done in many ways, which may or may not include working with mental or spiritual health professionals or communities. My own quest in this arena has been uniquely my own, often supported by professionals, communities, and kindred spirits along the way. I daresay, this journey of self exploration, acceptance, and love is definitely worth it, and quite the adventure!

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