Facing My Double Again


catatonickid recently published a post about facing your double, reaching a place where nothing can be explained, a place where no choice could possibly be right. She calls that the “ideal argument for healing,” or, in the quoted words of Marie-Louise von Franz: “the beginning of the process of individuation” – the joining of the separate parts of the self to form an integrated person.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about experiencing a kind of double life, I’ve been drawn to the theme of meeting one’s own mirror image as a separate being for as long as I can remember. I never understood why that should be, but every story or film I found about such an encounter simply transfixed me. The idea touched a part of me beneath awareness that felt like it was rolling in sea-like motion. For so long, I was afraid that this moving force could overwhelm me.

In dreams, meeting my double was the culmination of nightmares.
I was usually searching through locked rooms in mansions and castles until finding the one where he was sitting. He was always alone in the middle of a darkened space with his back to the door as I entered. When he started turning toward me – even before I could see most of his face – I knew he was my double and that I had to get out. The deepest fear and panic surged through me as I realized I couldn’t escape and in the next moment would be killed. In the midst of that terror I always woke up and had to wait for my breathing and heartbeat to slow down to normal.

Why was this encounter so terrifying and why was my double a Mr. Jekyll ready to savage his Dr. Hyde? Was that what awaited me if I should try to go beyond what my awareness told me who I was? Would it mean the unleashing of a monster or the beginning of healing?

I searched for possible answers, but none felt right – until I started rereading a number of essays by Carl Rogers. Here’s a passage that seemed to deal with what I felt, though not directly with the idea of the double.

Carl Rogers wrote:

An even more common reaction to the path of life I have been describing is that to be what one truly is would mean to be bad, evil, uncontrolled, destructive. It would mean to unleash some kind of a monster on the world. … I meet [this view] in almost every client. “If I dare to let the feelings flow which are dammed up within me, if by some chance should live in those feelings, then this would be catastrophe.” This is the attitude, spoken or unspoken, of nearly every client as he moves into the experiencing of the unknown aspects of himself.

Sometimes people express this concern by saying that if an individual were to be what he truly is, he would be releasing the beast in himself. … [W]hen one is truly and deeply a unique member of the human species, this is not something which should excite horror. It means instead that one lives fully and openly the complex process of being one of the most widely sensitive, responsive, and creative creatures on this planet.
– On Becoming a Person – “To Be That Self Which One Truly Is”

That sounded right – learning gradually how to release, to live, those feelings could help to diminish the fear of what might happen if I set them free. If I could set aside that terrible fear and step into the other me, instead of trying to escape, perhaps I would begin to see these separated selves not as enemies but as parts of a whole. I had spent so many years hiding powerful feelings even from myself that I did come to believe I concealed a monster that must be kept locked up at all costs. He was like the madman in the attic room that must never be opened by anyone, least of all by his keeper.

Kierkegaard wrote: “Dread is the possibility of freedom.” It is the sign that an opening into life can occur if that feeling is recognized as a step toward accepting everything you are.

And it’s true that the work I have done to get through recovery has diminished the intensity of fear about releasing the feelings I had hidden away. The dark part of me – the monster – really seems now more shadow than substance.

But as wonderful as that change has been, there is still a power about the idea of my own double that I do not understand. There is much to learn that even goes beyond recovery from depression, as critical and life-saving as that has been. So I keep searching – and I don’t know where this might take me.

I have no idea if the powerful draw that I feel to this concept is widely shared or not. Is it something that pulls at you? What have you made of it?

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11 Responses to “Facing My Double Again”

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  1. SarahV. says:

    Wow, this post really got me. I’m new here and just exploring all the wonderful posts. Yeah, the double is my predator. I’ve lived like a stalked woman. I too have had those classic nightmares of being pursued in shadowly passages and alleys and always, at the point where I think I’m free, she appears right in front of me and I wake up with my heart pounding. I don’t know how one deals with this, but a Buddhist friend of mine told me that at some point, I have to embrace her rather than flee from her. Acceptance. Anyway, I’m still searching… Thanks for the post!

  2. Jennifer says:

    I’ve certainly struggled with the beast in me, but it could be that I am one in my mind with that beast (I’m not speaking literally here, just working though some thoughts) — maybe my lifelong tendency to analyze and wallow has saved me from a divided self. Unfortunately, being one with these feelings has kept me separated from the world, which is its own problem.

    This post has gotten me thinking about the idea of a divided self, not just a self separated in order to keep the darkness at bay, but a self divided in other ways, by denying, or ignoring feelings, by pushing things away in order to just get through situations. Then the denial becomes a habit and we become unrecognizable to ourselves.

    • john says:

      Hi, Jennifer – Thanks for “working through some thoughts” here. What you say about denying or ignoring feelings has been exactly my experience. And your last line says it all so beautifully. I well remember the time when I realized that I had become one with the external facade I presented to the world. I had become a stranger to myself.

      Thanks for this helpful comment. I wish you well in working through all this.

      My very best to you — John

  3. Ellen says:

    Hi John,
    Wow your posts are so deep and introspective. I actually read them and then go away and ponder them for a while to decide what I think.

    About the double – for me, as I was an abused child, I have a bunch of feelings coming from that experience that feel as if they are not a part of me – not of my regular personality at all. When they come up, they do not make sense and are more intense than my regular feelings. I tended to judge myself quite harshly for these ‘nonsense’ feelings in the past, which I’ve realized is just how my mother would have responded to anything she didn’t understand. So now I try not to judge and rather make room and accept. If possible. It’s not always possible.

    I wonder if this is similar to your ‘Mr. Hyde’ double? Maybe not though. In any case, a great and interesting concept.

    It’s nice seeing a picture of you now also! Seems to be a new addition. Cheers, Ellen

    • john says:

      Hi, Ellen – What I’ve come to believe is that there are many “selves” generated in response to experience – kind of compartmentalizing the most powerful ones to put them at a safe distance. The fearful or destructive ones I feel are not me, while the positive ones are the “real” me. I’m about to put up a post that’s mostly quotes from Carl Rogers about his belief that until we accept everything we experience as who and what we are, we can’t really change. But once we can accept, then change comes naturally, hardly noticed. That’s a good description of what I’ve been through and and sounds a bit like what you’ve been going through too.

      Thanks for this thoughtful comment.

      All my best to you — John

  4. Hi there, just found your blog when Evan of Well Being and Health suggested it to me. Great stuff, I really enjoy it.

    To answer your question, yes the double really pulls at me too. It was shocking to me when I first discovered that the reason I hated XYZ for what he did was because I do the same thing. I think there comes a stage in recovery where we have to reclaim our disowned parts (the double might be the shadow of Carl Jung, sounds like).

    Otherwise we’ll forever be projecting our internal BS onto other people, and the shadow is the most self-hated and denied part of ourselves. Unless we do this there will forever be a hatred and denial within.

    • john says:

      Hi, Albert – Glad to meet you! Thanks also to Evan, I’ve started into your excellent blog and will spend a lot more time there. I so agree about projecting BS onto others and acting in a way I couldn’t understand, even at the time I was doing it. All that is hard to look back on, but fortunately it is part of the past. Reclaiming our disowned parts is a good way of putting all this. Until that happens, those parts poke out in such weird ways.

      Thanks for coming by. I hope we a lot of future exchanges.

      All the best — John

  5. Evan says:

    Hi John,

    the theme of the double has never gripped me the way it does some people (and the way it seems to get hold of you).

    I very much want to hear about where your journey takes you. Integrating the shadow is a big thing – though very humble. The lightness that can come from doing even a little of this can be awesome. Very much looking forward to hearing of your journey.

    • john says:

      Evan – Lightness is exactly what I feel. A lot of that comes from eliminating one huge source of stress, but it’s also due to this deeper shift – of assuming that basically I’m fine, though I may have periods of depression, rather than the reverse – that depression is the normal state. That’s what makes so much else possible. I’ll definitely keep you “posted” on the further adventures.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      — All my best — John

  6. la says:

    I think it’s a common theme to many people who struggle with depression: this divided, or even fragmented, self. For me, the gulf is between who I am and who I feel I should be. I strive to suppress my Mr Hyde and live in fear of his emergence. Have you ever read the book btw? I read it a long time ago, but I seem to remember Dr Jekyll always wakes up as Mr Hyde. The transformation never occurs when he’s away. So the ugliness comes from his subconscious. (Unless I remember it wrongly.)

    But how to live, split in two, in constant conflict? You can’t.

    • john says:

      Hi, la – Fragmented self is a good way to put it – there do seem to be more than two. The idea of the double, though, is surely a push from the unconscious to get me to deal with the hidden self of intense feeling. What Rogers points out so clearly is that it’s not a monster tucked away but just another part of who we are. Why should it be so hard for us to accept that? About J & H the book – it’s hard for me to separate memories of the book (read long ago) from those of the stage play and film versions. But Dr J clearly goes through a break in consciousness and wakes as Hyde. I’ll have to read that again.

      Thanks for coming by!

      All my best to you, la — John

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