Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

The Feminine Symbolism of Vessels February 16, 2016

Our relationships with nature and matter are closely connected to our relationships with our bodies. In certain orthodox religious circles, love for God as remote masculine spirit has gone hand in hand with physical self-loathing. For example, Moses Maimonides, the greatest Jewish medieval philosopher, was merely stating a commonly held belief when he said that “all philosophers are agreed that the inferior world, of earthly corruption and degeneration, is ruled by the natural virtues and influences of the more refined celestial spheres.” Likewise, St. Augustine considered his body to be the major source of his spiritual problems and sufferings.

This attitude is an obstacle to the fullest development of our spirituality. In Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore writes:

“Spiritual life does not truly advance by being separated either from the soul or from its intimacy with life. God, as well as man, is fulfilled when God humbles himself to take on human flesh. The theological doctrine of incarnation suggests that God validates human imperfection as having mysterious…value. Our depressions, jealousies, narcissism, and failures are not at odds with the spiritual life. Indeed, they are essential to it….The ultimate marriage of spirit and soul, animus and anima, is the wedding of heaven and earth…”

Vessels are classic symbols of feminine matter. Of the many vessels symbolizing feminine containment, one that is particularly dear to Christians is the chalice or grail, the highest level of spiritual development and heavenly and earthly happiness. The female body is a vessel which receives sperm and produces eggs. A womb is a vessel within a vessel, the cradle of life that receives, holds, nurtures, and protects a growing embryo. A breast is a vessel which creates and dispenses milk. A skull is a vessel containing the brain, itself a vessel teeming with creative potential. In Christianity, Mary is a vessel for new spiritual life.

Another vessel-like symbol is the tower. A tower’s elevated position links it to heaven; its impenetrability to virginity; its vertical aspect to the human figure; its roundness to the womb; its containment to creative new life. Hence, towers that are closed and windowless were once emblematic of the Virgin Mary. In early Christian times a tower was often used to suggest the sacred walled city, another feminine symbol. The Herder Symbol Dictionary notes that a tower with a light is a lighthouse, which has long been a symbol “of the eternal goal toward which the ship of life [is] steered across the waves of this existence.” Its light suggests Sophia, the divine spark of life within us.

For Jung, too, the tower was a feminine symbol with sacred meaning. In his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he describes the stone tower he built at Bollingen, a small town on the upper shores of Lake Zurich, and writes that it “represented for me the maternal hearth.” He wrote,

“From the beginning I felt the Tower as in some way a place of maturation — a maternal womb or a maternal figure in which I could become what I was, what I am and will be. It gave me a feeling as if I were being reborn in stone.”

Vessels accept, contain, protect and preserve the birth/death/rebirth cycle of life at both the physical and metaphysical levels. Our planet Earth is a living vessel whose life cycles mirror the soul-making processes of psychological and spiritual transformation. The matter (L. mater) of which our bodies are composed is our mother, teacher, partner and guide on the spiritual journey. For that, it deserves our everlasting gratitude. How do you honor and thank your mother/body for nurturing the life of your soul?

Photo Credit:  “Chalice” by Barbara Sorensen

Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Kobo, Barnes and Noble,  and Smashwords.

 

What Principles Do You Live By? February 2, 2016

Unknown-1This past weekend I attended a symposium featuring the internationally renowned poet, David Whyte. As the subtle beauty of his words and images—and even more, the silence behind them—washed through me, an intense inner resonance asked to be heard. “This is a fellow traveler,” it said. “Pay attention,” it said.  “You can learn from this one,” it said.

He told stories, he recited poems, and over and over the same three threads ran through.  One was “the conversational nature of reality.”  This reminded me of an observation from the American Buddhist, Jack Kornfield,

“All of spiritual practice is a matter of relationship:  to ourselves, to others, to life’s situations…Whether we like it or not, we are always in relationship, always interconnected.” ~Jack Kornfield

David Whyte would no doubt add, “…always having a conversation.” Everything we see, hear, touch, taste, smell, think or feel initiates a relationship, a conversation with otherness. Otherness that sparks our imagination.  Otherness that provides clues, if we’re observant, to who we really are.  Our ongoing conversations—sometimes between ourself and another, sometimes between Inner Ego and Inner Other—motivate us to reflect, form questions, discover new insights, and ultimately, act on what we know to be true.

Which brings me to a second thread that colors his poems:  the importance of asking “beautiful questions.” Again, not just of other people, but of all hidden otherness everywhere. For example, while sharing a story about the thoughts and feelings that an ancient stone carving of a woman’s face evoked, he said, “We stand on the threshold of what has not yet occurred…a possible future.  What is the invitation?” What is the invitation of this joy? These tears? That yearning?

A question like this invites us to take a new step, in a new direction, to a newer, truer reality.  Toward my growth. My truth. My reality. Toward the life I was born to live.

A third thread binds the others into the artful fabric of a life:  “Beauty is the harvest of presence.” It’s true. The seeds of our beauty are sown with our presence.  The bud of our beauty opens petal by petal as we practice presence moment by moment, day by day, year by year.

 “Start close in.  Don’t take a second or third step.  Start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take. Take a small step you can call your own. Start with your own question.” ~David Whyte

If we’re not listening to the Other right now there will be no conversations worth having. If we’re unaware of standing on the threshold of what has not yet occurred, of a possible future, we will never ask the beautiful question, “What would it mean for me to be the ancestor of my future self?” If we don’t stay present long enough to see and take the step we don’t want to take, the fabric of our lives will never flower into a work of art.

Inspired by the beautiful poem that is David Whyte, I have a beautiful question for you: “What threads run through your life?” Or as my friend Rachelle Mayers, a gifted videographer and media consultant, asked me three months ago:  “What principles do you live by?”

Here was my response:

 

Image Credit:  Pinterest, unknown.

Jean Raffa’s “The Bridge to Wholeness” and “Dream Theatres of the Soul” are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. “Healing the Sacred Divide” can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications.

 

Which Masculine Archetypes Are Strongest In You? November 17, 2015

Fascinated by the inner forces that influence human attitudes and behavior, I’ve spent years trying to understand archetypes. Nobody can describe them with any certainty because they are deeply unconscious. However, there are many theories based on research and careful observation of human nature.

My perspective is based on Jungian psychology.  Like Jung, I think of the archetype of the Self—our core, circumference and God-image—as an alchemical blend of so-called “masculine” Spirit (animus) and “feminine” Soul (anima). Obviously, Spirit and Soul have nothing to do with gender; everyone contains both. However, using “masculine” and “feminine” to describe these foundational forces of every psyche can be helpful.  As metaphors, they help us understand differing and often conflicting forces in ourselves and others. But when, in our ignorance, we assign them to the genders and reject the qualities of our opposite, we repress our fullest potential and obstruct our growth.

I’ve found it helpful to think of four main feminine archetypes as Queen, Mother, Wisewoman and Beloved. These serve our drive for  species-preservation and relationship/wholeness. The masculine King, Warrior, Magician/Scholar and Lover serve our drive for self-preservation and individuation. Since the masculine archetypes are more familiar to most of us, I’ll begin with them and discuss the feminine next time.

It is by no means necessary that we all agree with any one way of imagining our instinctual energies. Indeed, the fact that I’ve found it useful to organize them into mental categories simply reflects my masculine penchant for clear, logical distinctions. I could just have easily focused on experiencing them in my body, nature, relationships, needs and emotions. But I was educated with the left-brained academic bias which has dominated Western culture for thousands of years. This does not in any way violate or diminish the power of feminine energy. It simply blinds us to it.  Which is why I believe that clarifying the differences that divide us is a necessary step to integrating them.

I also want to note that while everyone is furnished with the same basic patterns of psychic energy, how we and our culture see, activate and manifest them differs.  Moreover, each archetype changes as our egos mature through three phases of self-awareness and self-knowledge.

In the first phase we see our King as a cultural Father figure, protector, and preserver of law and virtue who leads us with clear thinking and hierarchical order. The Old King is authoritarian and tradition-bound; questioning his law is taboo. But if we keep growing, he becomes a restless, searching, ego-driven Son/Prince who challenges outdated standards and risks breaking old rules. In turn, the Prince can become a mature and wise masculine sovereign of the psyche who, like England’s Queen Elizabeth I or the legendary King Arthur, actively promotes tolerance, healing change, order, virtue and justice in himself and society.

Our unreflective Warrior is focused on perfecting the body and the world. He proves himself and acquires power and success by influencing others with aggressive, impressive behavior while having little real concern for their feelings. In the Son phase he begins to question his motives, methods and values and struggles to channel his dynamic manifesting activity into work that provides a satisfying outlet for his true talents and ideals. In his final phase he is like Merida, the warrior princess in Disney’s animated film Brave, a Samurai Warrior, or a Star Wars Jedi master who channels his expertise, self-discipline, courage, and moral maturity into activities that heal the broken, protect the vulnerable, defend human rights, and preserve every form of life.

The unreflective Magician/Scholar seeks release from delusion by processing information with focused consciousness and logical thinking. He prefers the objective to the subjective and the known to the unknown and keeps the two sharply separated. In his Son phase he questions tribal wisdom and pursues unorthodox and occasionally original ideas and ways of thinking. The mature Magician/Scholar is a creative, reflective Wise Old Man like Hermes, Avatar’s Dr. Grace Augustine, or Professor Dumbledore whose “magical” knowledge, acceptance, and integration of the visible and invisible forces of life makes him an effective thought leader who can transcend boundaries between people and worlds.

Finally, the Lover is the idealistic and passionate dynamic principle in relationships. In his unreflective phase he seeks emotional release and physical love and pleasure with little compassion or moral responsibility. As Son he treats his Beloved with less selfishness and moodiness and more responsiveness to her differing feelings and needs. The mature Lover is a playful, romantic, aesthetically aware and psychologically balanced lover of life. Like Dionysus, poets Sappho and Lord Byron, or William Blake he appreciates the beauty, worth and inspiration of femininity and honors it in himself and his partners.

The negative poles of the masculine archetypes can be as contemptible as the positive are commendable. The shadow side of the masculine drive for self-preservation abuses and destroys otherness. Whether in a male or female, an unconscious King is a morally rigid, biased, rule-oriented and uncaring tyrant; a Warrior is an abusive invader and wanton destroyer; the Magician/Scholar is a cleverly manipulative, duplicitous, and critical know-it-all; and the Lover, a perverted, hedonistic addict.  But when all four are fully developed and partnered with equally mature feminine archetypes, the result is a profoundly powerful, uniquely creative, psychologically whole and spiritually enlightened being.

Next time I’ll address the basic feminine archetypes.  Meanwhile, if you’re in the mood for a little inner work you might reflect on which of your masculine archetypes are more fully developed and which could use some growing.

Jean Raffa’s “The Bridge to Wholeness” and “Dream Theatres of the Soul” are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. “Healing the Sacred Divide” can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications.

 

The Tao of Popeye November 3, 2015

It seems I’ve always wanted to know who I am and why I am what I am. I smile as I write these words because they remind me of the very first official Popeye the Sailor Man cartoon: “I Yam What I Yam!”

Remember Popeye? He’s a runty, uneducated, playful, squinty-eyed guy with a speech impediment who sails the seven seas, adopted an infant foundling he calls Swee’Pea, and is in love with a tall, skinny drink of water named Olive Oyl. Unfortunately, his nemesis, the musclebound bully Bluto, is also attracted to Olive Oyl and keeps trying to kidnap her. When Popeye comes to her rescue, Bluto beats up on him until he starts feeling weak. Then he eats a can-full of spinach (and occasionally the can itself), which immediately gives him superhuman strength and problem-solving abilities to defeat Bluto. Usually.

I find two characteristics of this flawed little guy of special interest. First, he has found, and regularly uses, a magical panacea which gives him strength. Second, according to Wikipedia, he has a “near-saintly” perseverance to overcome any obstacle to please his sweetheart, Olive Oyl.

Now of course this is just a silly little cartoon meant to entertain and amuse. But like every story ever told by any human anywhere, there’s also an underlying psychological meaning. Why? Because the way the psyche is made influences our every thought, word, and action. So in psychological terms, I could say that Popeye represents the ego which has embraced the vulnerable inner child (Swee’Pea), found a wonderfully helpful way (spinach) to strengthen and stabilize itself enough to overcome adversity (Bluto), and connected with the inner feminine (Olive Oyl).

Why spinach? Well, when I google spinach I discover that its main nutritional element is iron. And when I google iron I find that psychologically it can symbolize inner strength and the will and determination to see things through to the finish. What is it Popeye always says? “I’m strong to the finich. Cause I eats me spinach.”

But Olive Oyl? Surely the name of this goofy, gangly gal can’t mean anything important, can it? Check it out. Apart from its many health benefits, particularly for the heart, olive oil has spiritual meaning. Olives come from the olive tree, which in the Bible is associated with love and charity. And olive oil was used for anointing kings and priests (earthly and spiritual authorities) and for fueling lamps which, of course, bring light, and by association, enlightenment. So psychologically, Popeye’s beloved Olive Oyl symbolizes the healthy inner feminine authority which brings spiritual enlightenment! I love it!

If you’ve read my earlier posts you’ll know why I can relate to Popeye. I’ve adopted an inner orphan.  I strengthen my ego by regularly “digesting” Jungian psychology and dreamwork. I wrestle with an inner bully who’s always trying to steal my feminine authority.  And I persevere in my efforts to connect with the Beloved of my psyche. Like Popeye, I don’t always defeat my bully, but I am getting stronger. And like Popeye’s relationship to Olive Oyl, the partnership between my ego and unconscious is by no means problem free. In fact, my failures are sometimes laughable.

But I, too, am determined to be “strong to the finich. Cause I eats me spinach!” I yam what I yam. And that’s becoming okay with me.

Image Credit:  Google Images

Jean Raffa’s “The Bridge to Wholeness” and “Dream Theatres of the Soul” are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. “Healing the Sacred Divide” can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications.

 

Horse Crazy Part II: How to Heal the Separations October 20, 2015

My sweet Shadow.

My sweet Shadow.

While writing my first book, The Bridge to Wholeness, I had a dream.

I’m in the kitchen with a woman who personifies motherhood to me.  We’re standing before a low, double-doored freezer in the middle of the room.  As we open and close the doors, getting things out for a dinner party, my friend accidentally bumps the head of a dark-haired boy between ten and twelve standing between us.  He starts to cry.  I think she should kiss his head where she bumped him. But I realize she knows how to handle this, so I say to the boy, “She has children of her own.”  He looks up and stares deeply into my eyes and says, “Yes, but does she have a stallion?”

Like the woman in my dream, I grew up believing relationships with my husband and children would fulfill me.  So I gave up my passion for horses. Perhaps my friend’s passion for her family was enough.  Maybe she never heard the compelling call of the Self.  But the little boy whose eyes pierced my soul is my own inner boy and he knew that once I was horse crazy.  That I was the kind of woman who needed more than relationships:  I needed my stallion, too.

One might assume that because passion is such a powerful emotion it must be associated with the active masculine principle.  But this is not so. The word passion comes from the Latin passio, which means suffering, or being acted upon.  Thus it is associated with the passive feminine principle. (I’m not talking about men and women, but the feminine principle in all of us.) When one has a passion, one is acted upon—e.g. the passion of Jesus Christ—by a calling from or to some unknown power that cannot be ignored without endangering one’s very soul. Moreover, passion is an emotion, and emotion is associated with the dark, feminine, dangerous animal side of our natures, as distinguished from reason and light, which are associated with the masculine.

“I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid…If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”― Joseph Campbell

I knew what bliss was.  I felt it every time I was around horses. Obviously I had a passion for them.  What I didn’t know was that a spiritual passion was also stirring. When I heard the call of the Self at a Billy Graham crusade at 17, I tasted a new kind of bliss, and I believed it could best be served by sacrificing myself in service to others. So from then on I used religious beliefs and ideals to fortify the wall I’d been building to separate me from my shadow side.

By 37 my wall was developing cracks. Despite my stoic self-discipline I could no longer ignore the dangerous new feelings and uncomfortable questions stirring behind it. Something was wrong. One night, torn by an agonizing inner conflict, I prayed the most authentic, heartfelt prayer I had ever prayed: Help me. Please, please teach me to love.

Thus began a ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ spiritual crisis. For the next nine years I consciously and painfully tolerated the tension between the life I had chosen and the life of joy I hoped was waiting for me. All that while I managed to ‘hold my horses,’ i.e. avoid rash actions that might betray my soul or hurt someone else.  Was this love?  I didn’t know.

This vigilant waiting, this alchemical tending of the fire, of keeping the passions in the crucible of my soul at a simmer…this was magical. Despite my mental suffering, I knew it even then. What I was doing felt important, right somehow. Sure enough. Beneath my conscious awareness, powerful transformations were occurring. Old dysfunctional attitudes and habits were dissolving. Tenuous new insights and connections were coalescing.  My wall was crumbling to ash.

“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.”― Joseph Campbell

With the joyful discovery of Jungian psychology at 47, a door in my mind opened. My suffering exited as my latent passions for self-discovery, dreamwork, and writing strode in. Since then doors have continued to open. The Bridge to Wholeness was published. Invitations to speak and teach about what I loved arrived. Dream Theatres of the Soul was published. Healing the Sacred Divide won the 2013 Wilbur Award.

UnknownAt 57 I fulfilled my childhood passion and bought a horse to train. Honey’s Shadow Dancer was neither black nor white like the horses I loved in my youth, but gray, the color that results from blending these opposites.  Shadow symbolized my choice to stop living in an either/or way and start embracing and living my truths. At 2 and 1/2 years old, he was ripe for training.  So was I. It was time to get out of my head and into my body and the physical world, and I knew he’d teach me how to do that.

I had learned I didn’t have to choose between Heaven and Earth, Spirit and Soul, others and self, head and heart, mind and body, safety and passion, meaning and duty, or masculine and feminine. I could find a middle way that integrated all the opposites: with consciousness.

And what about my prayer for love?  Did that work?  I’ll tell you next time.

Image credits:  Mandorla, Cicero Greathouse

Jean Raffa’s “The Bridge to Wholeness” and “Dream Theatres of the Soul” are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. “Healing the Sacred Divide” can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

Horse Crazy Part I: How to Build a Wall October 13, 2015

IMG_6068“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”― Joseph Campbell

One warm summer evening when I was five years old, my father took me for a walk down a dusty Tallahassee road. At the nearby stable I saw my first horse and fell passionately in love.  From that day on, I went to the stable as often as I could.  It was bliss just to be near these magnificent animals—to see them, smell them, and if I was lucky, to touch them.

From then on, I had one goal in life: someday I would have a horse of my own. Each year as my birthday drew near I fantasized about the horse that would be standing outside my window when I awoke on my special day. I nursed this fantasy when we moved to a big city. It continued throughout elementary school, where everyone knew I was horse crazy.  If I wasn’t drawing pictures of horses or writing stories about them, I was reading Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books from the school library.

The summer before sixth grade I wrote myself a letter to open when I was sixteen. In the envelope I included the best present I could think of to give my future self:  a picture I had drawn titled “A Wild Stallion Sniffing the Air.”  It showed a stallion standing high on a cliff overlooking his herd of mares far below.

My father died that winter and I began to lose my unrealistic dreams (Chink! go the bricks as they are added to my protective wall: “Playtime’s over;  it’s time to grow up!”). I was also losing my utter confidence in myself (Chink! “Face it, kid;  you’re a victim!)  Occasionally, however, I got to be with horses, and the month I spent with my mother’s Michigan relatives who leased a black-and-white pinto for me made for the best summer I ever had.

By high school and college my love for horses took second place to boys.  I married after graduation, got a job as a third grade teacher, and dreamed about having a child of my own.  But the horses were still there, running around in the shadowy summer pastures of my mind, and I still dreamed of owning one someday.  Five years later my dream came true when my husband bought me a white albino gelding with light blue eyes. But my dream was short-lived: I was pregnant within a few months and my cautious doctor warned me against riding.  We sold Bamboo before my daughter was born.

It was the only thing to do. Motherhood is a full-time job. Isn’t it? When we grow up, we need to be reasonable and give up our unrealistic childhood dreams.  Don’t we?  Passion is a foolish and dangerous emotion.  Isn’t it?

It can be enlightening to examine the symbols that prevail in our outer lives; sometimes they have an amazing correspondence to our psychological development. My youthful confidence and self-sufficiency were symbolized by my fixation on the black stallion, the epitome of powerful masculine energy, combined with dark, feminine, instinctive passion. Had I lived in another place and time, I might have continued to develop the capabilities of this powerful symbol, but, wildness and darkness were not quite acceptable in my world which preferred reason to passion and masculine to feminine.

As I grew older, my symbol acquired some balance and became a tamer, more reasonable, and less passionate (lighter-colored) black-and-white pinto.  (Chink!) By the time I was a wife, mother and teacher and had accepted the restrictions placed on women, my symbol was a colorless gelding.  Passion and dark femininity were lost and masculine light and reason overshadowed my horse energy, which had become dormant and impotent. (Chink! Chink!)

1649041“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Joseph Campbell

My choice to be a teacher was guided by my needs for security and societal acceptance, not my real interests or skills. I didn’t even know what these might be. And although becoming a wife and mother were the right choices for me, I was not fulfilled in either capacity. Why? Because I was conforming to ill-fitting, societally transmitted renditions of these roles.

I lived on the surface of my life for several more years. I was a good sport, a good wife and mother, a mediocre tennis player, and an enthusiastic church- and party-goer, looking outside my Self for answers, approval, and temporary relief from my discomfort. Unaware of the wall that covered my true Self, a place where my passion for the black stallion was still alive and well, I assumed I was who and what I appeared to be. What I really was, was a woman following a path laid out for her by her forebears, a woman living her life for others.

Let go of the life I planned?  Out of the question….much too dangerous to even think about, for in the first half of my life I was obsessed with building. Rebelling and tearing down weren’t even on my radar.  Fortunately, the life that was waiting for me wouldn’t be denied.

More about that next time……

Image Credit:  The Black Stallion, Google Images

Jean Raffa’s “The Bridge to Wholeness” and “Dream Theatres of the Soul” are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. “Healing the Sacred Divide” can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

Excavating A Wounded Child with a Mother Complex September 22, 2015

child-walking-on-beachMy parents have rented a vacation cabin on Lake Michigan. I’m playing by the shore and realize it’s getting dark. I look around. I’m alone. I begin walking along the water’s edge toward a distant pinpoint of light. Could that be my mother looking for me? How could she lose me? Will she find me? Will anyone find me? Will I have to live with a stranger?  Will they feed me? Could something bad happen to me? After what feels like an eternity, Daddy and Jimmy come up behind me. Daddy explains. He and Mama left the beach separately, each believing I was with the other one. I’m safe, but I want Mama! Why didn’t she come for me? Doesn’t she know how afraid I’ve been?  That I’d want her to look for me? 

This is my earliest memory, described in more depth in my book, The Bridge to Wholeness. I was three. Something new was set into motion that evening. I had become conscious of my separate existence in a very big, dark, and scary world. In their book, Into the Heart of the Feminine, Jungian analysts Massimilla and Bud Harris write:

“…early infancy is the time when the world of the family begins imprinting itself on our tiny psyches, and this is a critical time in our emotional development.  We know by now that much of a baby’s view of the world is filtered through the mother’s body and the emotional attitudes her body reflects. Of course this means that the child of a mother who is overly anxious or is resentful of the birth will feel out of adjustment psychologically, and such feelings will be the beginning of a negative mother complex.  When we grow up this way, our personality will be founded on a deep sense of anxiety, scarcity, and a mistrust of the world.  In contrast, if our mother is sufficiently gentle, loving, and emotionally secure, she will help us develop a basic sense of trust in life and in our place in the world.”

This memory resurfaced after last week’s post in which I described an example of how my mother complex influenced a relationship. Since practically everyone has mother issues of some sort—whether positive or negative, recognized or not—it seems appropriate to share more of what I’ve learned.

Every child experiences anxiety when it becomes aware of its individuality and vulnerability, and mothers vary in their ability to assuage this, our earliest wound. Good mothers are naturally gentle, patient, good-natured, affectionate, reassuring and loving. They make their children feel confident, safe and secure. Mothering can be more difficult for well-meaning women with mother complexes, jobs, other external stressors, or undeveloped “maternal instincts.”  Nonetheless, a well-intentioned woman with a powerful desire to provide loving care and ongoing reassurance can be good enough at meeting her child’s basic physical and psychological needs.

Unfortunately, many mothers are too wounded, stressed, narcissistic or oblivious to give their children enough basic nurturance.  Some are angry, jealous or resentful. Some are unstable, mentally ill or abusive. Some are not there.

My mother was more than good enough. Although anxious and emotionally fragile, she was kind, gentle and loving. I admired her, loved her, and felt loved in return. She tried hard to provide me with a safe and comfortable life, and I did feel safe until she and Daddy divorced and then he died. But when she was pregnant with me and throughout my childhood, Daddy was rarely home because he was having an affair. The strain of this plus her full-time job left her with little energy for me, physical or emotional.

I wasn’t neglected. Mama boarded women students from the nearby university in exchange for minimal rent and baby-sitting. But she was rarely available during my waking hours…and I missed her. As I grew older it got easier to lower my expectations and ignore my need for her. By the time Daddy died, I was proud of my independence and saw my ability to hide my hurt as a strength. But deep within, a three-year-old child still felt sad, lonely, deprived, and sorry for herself.

Me at 5, recovering from the measles.

Me at 5, recovering from the measles.

It’s taken years of digging through layers of rationalization and denial to see her. Besides feeling the aforementioned emotions, she tends to (1) project Mother onto self-confident and accomplished men and women she admires, (2) feel deeply disappointed and unforgiving when they fail to measure up to her ideals, and, most insidious of all, (3) assume she’s unworthy and unloveable.

I’m sharing the causes and effects of my mother complex to help others excavate theirs. Mine doesn’t compare to ones that were shaped by rejection or abuse, but this doesn’t mean I should deny my honest feelings. It’s too easy to fall into that insidious trap. Conventional wisdom urges us to toughen up, ignore our pain, and stay on the “sunny side of the street.” It advises against “self-absorbed navel-gazing” and “blaming your parents for your problems,” leading us to equate acceptance with blame.

This isn’t wisdom.  It’s escapist rationalization. I know the pain of assuming I don’t deserve to live my own life, that I must hide my true self. And I’ve experienced the exhilaration of escaping that dark prison. We can’t become the mature individuals we yearn to be until we make peace with the inner forces that made us who we are.

Image Source:  Google Images, Flickr.com. 

Jean Raffa’s “The Bridge to Wholeness” and “Dream Theatres of the Soul” are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. “Healing the Sacred Divide” can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

 

 
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