The girl in the birdcage: fear and the victim/child/damsel archetype

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There’s a red-headed girl in a cage at the bottom of my psyche. She is the victim-fear-child. She grows and shrinks in age, and yells obscenities at me. Fear always makes her scream or flinch. I can’t fix her, can’t remove her. Her hair reddens at the sound of rain and she dissolves into poetry… face of porcelain… her dress is always white lace and she claws… and she sits with legs with legs crossed. I watch her. When I don’t watch her she reaches up into my life and wreaks havoc. With eyes on her she is confined to the cage.

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Her hair grows and shrinks. She screams at me until I turn away and draw bird cages, gold like her’s, on white canvas paper. I hold up a blank slate for her and she draws cages too. We laugh and I slide my fingers into the cage to find hers… dissolving into me.

I sit in the room and watch her. I cannot fix her of free her. Attempts only makes her violent. I visit her often and when I have extra… I feed her… peas and broth from a ceramic spoon. I reach my arms around the cage to find it dissolving, just a little, but it re-forms when I move away.

“It’s safe outside” I say, but if I remove the cage she only grows it back from the fear inside. It’s part of her. Some traumatised animals never leave the cage, even when the door is open… even when the cage is gone. The cage is inside their minds and the trauma continues in aftershocks. She knows this. She is this.

Awakened, she reaches up through the bars – a pain-body phantom. She claws at my heart and projects the pain into other people’s faces and my own personal failings. If I watch her, sit with her, she has company and sometimes she lets me scratch behind her ears. She responds to warmth… it melts the ice from the fear… melts the cage momentarily.

We watch each-other.

I can’t fix her…

but can I love her?

birdcage

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The girl in the birdcage: fear and the victim/child/damsel archetype

once_upon_a_time_ontwerpduo_2b-thumb-468x625-31805

There’s a red-headed girl in a cage at the bottom of my psyche. She is the victim-fear-child. She grows and shrinks in age, and yells obscenities at me. Fear always makes her scream or flinch. I can’t fix her, can’t remove her. Her hair reddens at the sound of rain and she dissolves into poetry… face of porcelain… her dress is always white lace and she claws… and she sits with legs with legs crossed. I watch her. When I don’t watch her she reaches up into my life and wreaks havoc. With eyes on her she is confined to the cage.

597f53fad7ff6f562ae01e3dfab9a850_6VnCQma1JA3PK39cnkMw893BEXVJ9qW

Her hair grows and shrinks. She screams at me until I turn away and draw bird cages, gold like her’s, on white canvas paper. I hold up a blank slate for her and she draws cages too. We laugh and I slide my fingers into the cage to find hers… dissolving into me.

I sit in the room and watch her. I cannot fix her of free her. Attempts only makes her violent. I visit her often and when I have extra… I feed her… peas and broth from a ceramic spoon. I reach my arms around the cage to find it dissolving, just a little, but it re-forms when I move away.

“It’s safe outside” I say, but if I remove the cage she only grows it back from the fear inside. It’s part of her. Some traumatised animals never leave the cage, even when the door is open… even when the cage is gone. The cage is inside their minds and the trauma continues in aftershocks. She knows this. She is this.

Awakened, she reaches up through the bars – a pain-body phantom. She claws at my heart and projects the pain into other people’s faces and my own personal failings. If I watch her, sit with her, she has company and sometimes she lets me scratch behind her ears. She responds to warmth… it melts the ice from the fear… melts the cage momentarily.

We watch each-other.

I can’t fix her…

but can I love her?

birdcage

Rescuing the princess, rebuilding the animus and growing healthy relationship archetypes

Recently I have been exploring the common archetype of the princess in the tower, in relation to my life. It is something that crops up from time to time, when I feel helpless or overwhelmed; I feel out of control, like a small child, powerless and desperate; I don’t think I can do things by myself. Whenever this pattern emerges I secretly wish for someone to rescue me, when really I know I always have to rescue myself.

Please excuse the gendered nature of the archetypes presented here – they actually don’t need to a particular gender, that is just the common representation… I do feel, however, that growing up without a healthy father figure/male role-model has stunted and warped the development of my animus, which I have been progressively healing/growing back over the last few years. The animus is commonly known as the ‘male’ or masculine part of the psyche, but is also associated with the warrior or rescuer archetype. If you didn’t have a present or adequate father/male role model, you may well be in the same boat.

Early on, we who need to rescue ourselves tend to fall into the trap of becoming the rescuer – of being attracted to wounded puppies who we think we can save with our love and guidance. This is a massive exercise in projection and gets quite circular. We are seeing our own damaged animus reflected back through damaged people and damaging relationships. Without a healthy animus, we are doomed to repeat this cycle. The good news is that, eventually, we can heal the major inner fractures in ourselves (if we need to). We can piece one together from the aspects of healthy ‘masculinity’ and strength we encounter in our lives. We can make a frankenstein animus and bring it to life – or re-grow an under-developed animus archetype until he reaches maturity – along with culling all the unhealthy/predator/shadow aspects we may have internalized from having painful or exploitative experiences with men.

Even when we have cobbled together a healthy representation of animus inside ourselves, we may find that we still feel tensions and anxieties arising from attachment and relationships – even with healthy significant others who are not wounded puppies. While being attracted to healthy (rather than damaged) people is a sign of significant healing progress, it doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing from here. Our new healthy animus still needs to be socialised. Invite him to sit down for a cup of tea. Build a good relationship with him. If you are projecting anxiety onto an external attachment, transfer this projection, along with your needs and desires to your inner animus and practice relating to this inner ‘other’ in a healthy and loving way. He can be there for you, love you, support you and rescue you in an insecure world. Through this inner transformation, the external world can mirror harmonious relationships back to you.

Doing Shadow Work

I was about fourteen the first time I was introduced to the concept of the shadow through Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea Quartet, in which Ged split off a part of himself out of a foolish desire to prove himself and spent many years running from his shadow.  Later, when I was sixteen, my counselor, Fiona (who was also practiced in Celtic shamanism) explained the shadow as all the parts of a person they don’t like – that they are afraid of – that they don’t want to deal with. She talked about bringing the shadow into the light of awareness and encouraged me to write a list of all the things in myself that fitted this description. It was easy to pinpoint external things: the things I felt guilty about, the obvious things I struggled with. It was harder to dig deeper than that, into the tangled unconscious web of depression and trauma that I wasn’t ready to face. I wanted to make things special and spiritual. I didn’t want to deal with the raw ugliness of reality.

The shadow is the realm of nightmares and the parts of psyche that are hard to face: pain/sadness, fear, rage, the horrific: too hot or too cold for comfort.  A friend of mine who was who was practiced at lucid dreaming was warned never to try to meet his shadow. He took that as a challenge and so one dream, while he was flying along, he decided to do it. Suddenly a figure appeared, a doppelganger of himself, but darker, with a malicious grin. The dream abruptly morphed into his worst nightmare and my friend, an arachnophobe, was being eaten by an enormous spider while his doppelganger laughed.

The shadow is a terrifying concept, yet compelling. We might know there is something there but we don’t know what, and perhaps there is another level of naivete, or several more layers, or hundreds. We will never know until we begin the arduous task of peeling them back. We may hope for specialness, for treasure, but that is unwise because it opens us up for unhinged delusions and losing our path.

I think of shadow work as stumbling in the dark, like the le Guin’s priestess in her underground labyrinth, there is danger in rushing in: the danger of being lost to the blackness, of starving to death. We have to feel our way, to edge carefully around the walls until we learn the map. Then we can be at home in the dark landscape of unconsciousness.   That is why the work is worth doing: because when you face the most terrifying parts of self, there is nothing left to fear and as if we can process these things in the light of consciousness, they don’t need to manifest externally.

Letting go of symbolic parents

Many stories begin with letting go: one must let go of the safety of one’s home to adventure into the woods, a sacrifice is made, the protagonist surrenders their dreams only to rediscover them later, the good parents must die in order for the transformational journey to begin. There are so many stories of orphans (or half-orphans) – the Little Match Girl, Harry Potter, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Vasilisa, and so on. Aside from the fairy-tale romanticism with orphans, there is a necessity involved in the death of the ‘too good’ mother, as Clarissa Pinkola Estés calls her, and sometimes the ‘too good’ father as well.  The safe world created and maintained by good parents is torn away and the story really begins.

If you came from a safe, nurturing family, there is a point at which you are likely to break free of the comfort zone and begin your own journey. Internally, you let go the ‘too good’ parental archetypes, they have become suffocating in their love and you need room to grow. Just as Maui split his parents apart, you crack open the protective world of childhood and emerge into a more dangerous place with more opportunities for suffering and learning. This is the process of the bud blooming into the flower, the seed sprouting. After a while the safety of the shell gets to be too restrictive, the pressure build and a new metamorphosis must occur.

If you had a tumultuous childhood, however, you may not know where to start. If you didn’t get enough of the ‘too good’ mother or father archetypes there is no pressure of safety to break free from, just a yearning for love and nurture and comfort.  If there are no parents with the ability to meet your needs now you may turn to friends, lovers or various addictions, no doubt repeating the same insecure attachment patterns you grew up with. To begin the journey you must let go of the ‘too good parents, but how can you do that if you don’t have them to begin with?

It is possible to cultivate the nurturer archetypes in oneself. I believe it takes practice and repetition – visualising and imagining what that delicious safety must feel like, the warmth, the love, the unconditional nature of the bond. Hold it, feel it and then let it go, bearing in mind that none of the fairy tale orphans wanted their good parents to die, but they all had to let go of the ledge to experience free falling.

There is mourning here, because with loss and life shattering change there is always grief. If you grew up with insecure attachments to your primary carers you experienced that loss over and over again and developed protections against it. You may be chronically tired – chronically mourning the loss you suffered repeatedly, continuously. It is perhaps similar to re-living a nightmare every night. With every new attachment comes piercing anxiety for the inevitable loss. Perhaps you avoid attachments all together, or chase them, or perhaps you have closed off against the pain. Either way, acceptance is always the best medicine.

Of course, I speak from personal experience, and in exploring this archetypal journey I’m treading on my own damaged emotional nerve-endings. This is an attempt to re-wire my brain, to heal my damaged or under-developed archetypes and to move past the acute pain.  I have transferred my often unmet childhood needs for love, attention and nurture onto lovers and particularly nurturing friends, repeating the same painful cycle. It is so hard to cut yourself off from people you feel you need. It is a terrible sacrifice to let the ‘too good’ mother die, but one that is necessary in order to break out of the dependency cycle. I suppose it’s a bit like psychological weaning; it creates the space for solid sustenance and growth.

The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton: astrological archetypes through literature

I thoroughly enjoyed this 800 odd page novel, set in gold-rush New Zealand. The astrological symbolisim is obvious from the outset with star charts drawn up to represent the planets at the time. It doesn’t include Uranus, which was discovered some seventy years earlier, just the old astrological planets. Incidentally, Neptune was being discovered around the same time the novel is set (1865). I just found out that Eleanor Catton read the collected works of Jung before she embarked on the novel and had the idea that 12 characters would represent the zodiac while others would represent the planets. It’s very clever but doesn’t cut in on the story which is wonderfully well written, so much so that it has been shortlisted for the Booker.

I do believe Catton used the movements of the planets to guide the plot and decide the scenes she was writing.  It would take much re-reading to figure out all the intentional synchronicity.  She takes great care to describe each character, slipping in the properties of the astrological archetype in a way which could easily go unnoticed. Of course every zodiac sign and planet has many different facets and Catton seems to draw on a few of these for each character and also incorporates other characteristics which might better fit the story.  I won’t go too much into what is obviously stated, I will focus instead on broader reflections of the novel’s symbolism.

This story begins in the 12th house of the psyche, whereupon Walter Moody (Mercury) unwittingly interrupts a secret meeting of 12 very different men at the crown hotel. It must be in the 12th because we are so in the dark, and where else would we find 12 men, symbolising the twelve zodiac signs, than in the natural home of Pisces? In fact, this whole story belongs to the 12th house as the character symbolising the sun and psyche, Emery Stains (fantastic name) is literally stumbling around in the dark for the almost the entire journey.  Therefore, treating this novel as a Jungian journey means delving into the exploration of one’s psyche in the dark, with minimal illumination that grows as we progress.

Despite not being represented, the archetype of Neptune is obviously in the room, probably sitting in the back corner smoking opium. Opium is very prominent in this story both in the pipe and in laudanum tinctures.  There are many delusions at play, of grandeur, of love, of mysteries and plots that might actually not exist. This story also has a very strong Pluto/Scorpio theme, secrets, suspicion and paranoia add tension to the narrative. There is gold involved as well as prostitution and death. You can’t get more 8th house than that.

I would indeed like to re-read this novel and observe the characters in relation to my own personal archetypes in the style of Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It promises to be an interesting and illuminating journey into the dark recesses of the subconscious.

Deconstructing the Psyche: the animus in the wall

 

 

A wise woman once told me that the psyche is a lot like a wall: if the bricks aren’t laid properly at the foundation, it doesn’t matter how many bricks you build up, the wall will always be wonky. Now, I have a great appreciation for wonky things, but when it comes to my psyche I would prefer it to be strong and resilient.  Most of all, I would love to be free of the feeling that there’s something wrong or broken that needs to be fixed. Apparently it’s possible – all you have to to is deconstruct the wall, brick by brick, fix the problem at the foundation and then you can build yourself a strong, stable wall.

The wonky bricks might come from a number of things: childhood trauma, neglect or needs not being met.  I have been slowly processing my traumas as they emerge, and I am getting good at recognizing them when they’re projected on to other people close to me. I can tell because when trauma is triggered I get intensely emotional – angry, sad, scared – in a way that outweighs reason.  The more awareness I build, the more I can move on. But it’s not only trauma wonky-ing my wall, there are a few bricks missing.

One of the main things I have (recently) realised about my childhood is the absence of good male role-models. People often worry about the lack of male role-models for boys, but rarely do they consider them for girls.  How are we to draw a healthy animus (male part of the self), with no artists model? I grew up with a tyrant of a step-father, a dad who lived far away, no close uncles and a distant (but kind) grandfather. It’s really no wonder that as an adult I have had so many bizarre, and not-very-healthy relationships with men. So, bearing this in mind I have been embarking on a journey to re-construct a healthy animus. Externally, I have built good friendships with psychologically balanced and self-aware men.  Internally I have worked with archetypes – the father, the hero/rescuer, the lover.  I have even started to see this work reflected in the outside world – for example, I have actually started getting appropriate crushes on healthy and well-rounded men for a change.

I don’t know much about this, really, but apparently Jung talked about different stages of development for the animus archetype. The first is very physical, progressing through to psychological and spiritual awareness. At the moment, my animus is still in a petri dish, but it’s growing – and it’s healthy – and it’s a breath of fresh air.