Nursing the primal wound

Every now and then someone will treat you really badly, whether it’s accidentally, incidentally or intentionally, and trigger all this horrible emotional stuff, right? Maybe it’s your boss, your current or former lover/partner, your best friend, mother, father or child. Maybe the’re triggering anger, detrayal, anguish, fear. Maybe you react assertively or barely react at all but either way the feelings are there. The projections run wild: “That bitch!/bastard!/creep!/idiot!/scoundrel!” How dare they? We feel wounded, underneath all the other emotions. We feel hurt. We probably feel like the other someone else has hurt us and is doing us damage, but most probably, the damage has already been done – was done ages ago – and we are re-living it over and over, and over…

The primal wound is the center of all other turmoil.  It probably comes from the drastic post-natal separation from the womb or some other very early childhood trauma and every other painful experience has compounded it. It is what Eckhart Tolle calls the pain-body. He describes it as a tangled mess of wounded ego – of trauma, abandonment, betrayal, hurt, fear and general suffering. The pain-body is often dormant. We wander around living pretty sweet lives until something nasty happens and triggers all this shit.

The wound is primal because it predates narrative-memory, it is part of primary human experience.  It is the wrenching separation from the feeling of being connected, of being absolutely safe and warm, of floating in the center of the universe. It is so difficult for us to learn that we aren’t the center of the universe – at least not to everyone else – because everyone is struggling to learn the same thing. This traumatic separation triggers our base survival fear. We are terrified of our limitations, or our mortality, of our insignificance. There is only so much a young ego can take before it ruptures and becomes wounded.

Although it’s obvious that living life through this woundedness is not in one’s best interests, we can become awfully attached to our wounds and the traumas and dramas that inevitably surround them. We construct our identities around them: “I am so-and-so and I am ____” insert addiction/trauma/negative label here. We can even be proud of what we’ve suffered to the point that we refuse to stop suffering. Our woundedness gives us an excuse to opt-out of life-obligations, it gives us an excuse to be nasty because we were once treated that way. Really, you don’t need the excuse. If you want to opt-out, do it, if you want to be nasty, go ahead. Excuses are just more unnecessary justification. If you want drama, there is plenty to create and share. If you’re over it and want to move on then begin the disentangling process.

We feel justified in our suffering, in our anger, in our vengeful thoughts. Maybe we are justified, let’s assume we are, either way justification isn’t useful. If we just stay ‘justified’ we tangle the wound even more. We can hold onto all the crap. We easily get stuck. Let’s try something different. Let’s try disentangling from current projections and old trauma. Drop the other people from the equation for a minute. Good work. Now, what is left? That wound. Over the years it has been pushed down into the unconscious to fester, it has been covered over with all sorts of ugly and pretty things. It has become like a boil, an infection seething under the skin and this new trauma, this new trigger of pain/fear/anger has brought it to the surface. It’s not a pretty sight, but it is a chance to clear out the pus, clean the wound and let it heal.

Awareness is always helpful, like a flashlight in the dark. If we can focus on this wound – not in an unhelpful dwelling-on-it-going-around-in-circles kind of way because that will only get us more tangled up – but in way that is clear of projections, in a way that regularly cleans it out and wraps it in safe thoughts, in a way that occasionally squeezes out more of the pus until there is none left, then we can give it all the right things to heal. We don’t do the healing in our minds, we just remove the barriers. Healing is automatic in the right circumstances. To speed it up we can nurture ourselves. We can eat the foods our body really wants (not the kind our wound-wrapped-mind craves for comfort), we can move and stretch and exercise in the way our bodies prefer. We can create and be with friends and in nature and do all those things that feed us. We can listen inwards to what we really need instead of looking outwards into projections of happiness on the buffet-table of life that may be all empty-calories and no nutrient-density. A special kind of freedom is possible when we can separate ourselves from the drama and projections of the mundane world, and freedom can be terrifying too, but at least it’s not tedious repetitive cycles of pain.

Inner Tyrant: the evil stepmother archetype

“Wicked Stepmother” by Christy Norris

She appears in numerous fairy tales: cruel and ruthless, miserly yet unfairly generous to her own ugly daughters. She feeds the greedy, self-pitying elements of the psyche and starves, neglects and abuses the innocent children: Hansel and Gretel, the good and beautiful Cinderella, Vasilisa, Snow White.  She is a terrible parent to the psyche: insecure, desperate, plagued with fears and loathing; she is murderous.

She is the cousin of the wicked witch, the sister of the predator. Like them she is a shadow archetype, but unlike them she resides in the house of the personality while they attack from the outside.  She is the inner voice of negative self-talk, the self-criticism, self-deprecation. She seeks to control the good and innocent elements of personality because she is afraid. Of course, not all stepmothers are evil, and birth mothers and fathers can be just as tyrannical but the symbolism of the stepmother archetype is one of severance and separation: she represents a fracturing of the psyche that is difficult to re-integrate.

Just as in the personality these shadow elements come from fractures and suppression, in society the repression of femininity has led to the demonisation of strong women. Strong women are often discriminated against.  Female politicians, prominent feminists, and leaders are judged on their appearance and personality, their very femininity is called into question time and time again. They are shaped into the evil step-mother or the witch, representing, in the outside world, this part of the psyche that is so difficult to manage. She is the product of misogyny.

In Cinderella and Snow White she is defeated, with the help of dwarves or the fairy god mother, but ultimately by the prince.  From a feminist perspective, this story is achingly patriarchal, complete with the happily-ever-after ending. A woman cannot save herself, she must play the role of the helpless victim and await her rescuer.  From a symbolic perspective the prince represents the animus of a woman’s psyche, although this strong defensive archetype need not be a masculine.

In the story of Vasilisa the Wise, as told by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, the young heroine defeats her cruel step-family with the help of the little doll her dying mother had given her, symbolising intuition.  The stepmother’s plot to kill the sweet and uncomplaining Vasilisa was to send her into the forest in search of fire from Baba Yaga, the terrifying witch-crone. With the help of the intuitive doll Vasilisa is able to complete impossible chores and return home with a fiery skull on a stick. This burning gift of awareness watches the stepmother and step sisters all night and by the morning they are burnt to cinders.

The evil stepmother archetype and the process of burning up one’s inner tyrant through awareness and observance is reminiscent of Eckhart Tolle’s ‘pain-body’ and his advice on dealing with it.  The pain-body concept is the tangle of emotional damage everyone carries around with them. Sometimes it is dormant and sometimes it is active. It seeks to feed itself through creating drama and misery. Tolle advises close observance of the pain-body, and the cultivation of self-awareness, in order to overcome it’s controlling influences.

Astrologically, as the pathological parent, she resides in the fourth and tenth houses, in Cancer and Capricorn, in the afflicted Moon and Saturn.  She is cunning and resentful as the dark side of Scorpio, Pluto and the eighth house can be and she and her daughters’ gluttony could be represented by an unruly Taurus, Venus and the possessive second house.