Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

The Wilderness of Our Emotions July 21, 2015

getPartIn the early years of working with my dreams my focus was almost entirely on head work: thinking, reading, discriminating, clarifying, understanding, analyzing symbols, and so on. I had heard that dreams were pictures of emotions and I enjoyed dreams that left me feeling happy or good about myself, but others that left me feeling bothered after I woke up were deeply puzzling.

As a child I learned to ignore uncomfortable emotions, or ones which, if I expressed them, would earn the disapproval of my family. By the time I entered junior high school, instead of responding authentically to each situation as it came, I automatically — and completely unconsciously — processed my reactions through a filter of how I thought I was supposed to act, which was calm, nice, reasonable, and, above all, unemotional.

I assumed — again, I was not aware of this assumption at a conscious level — that what I thought and how I appeared to others was more important than what my heart felt. I thought if I was tough enough to take whatever was handed to me and didn’t let it get to me, it simply wasn’t a problem. I thought it was just a function of mind over matter, and I was rather proud of my will power. The habit of being emotionally stoic was so deeply ingrained that I was almost completely unconscious of it as I was doing it, although I could sometimes see it after the fact.

It wasn’t until about 18 years ago that I finally began to see it as it was happening. The catalyst was a dear friend and gifted dreamworker, Justina Lasley. After I related a dream to her, Justina focused in on a part where some men were treating me unkindly and asked me how that made me feel. “Oh, fine. It’s no big deal,” I said offhandedly. Justina just sat there looking at me. “Really,” I said. “That’s just the way some men are; I understand that.” She just looked at me. I squirmed a bit under her penetrating gaze, and then the lightbulb went on. “Oh,” I said. “You mean, how do I really feel about this down deep? Oh, I get it! Well, I guess there’s a part of me that feels… sad? Hurt? Maybe…a little angry?”

I was stunned at this revelation. For the first time, I really got it in my gut that my automatic denial of uncomfortable feelings was part of my persona, the social mask I had built around my inner self to cover up my vulnerability. This was a huge breakthrough for me. I had always assumed that ignoring painful feelings was the right thing, the noble and spiritually desirable thing, akin to not being a whiner or complainer. But I was wrong. Why? Because our emotional realities are as important to our well-being as mental ones, and repressing them saps the life out of us. When we lose touch with our feelings we lose touch with our souls. Indeed, in our compulsion to elevate logos over mythos/eros we’ve lost our souls.

This is a major reason for the epidemic of anxiety and depression in Western society today. We have long believed that the path to healing, spiritual growth, and happiness can be found by accepting mainstream beliefs and devoting our energy to straight-forward, one-sided, stiff-upper-lip, upward-striving, people-impressing mental effort!  But, the true path takes a wandering way deep into the dark forest of our unconscious selves. This is where we’ve been dumping  unacceptable truths about ourselves, especially painful emotions, in the hope they’d go away. Unfortunately, they don’t, and they never will until we can find and face them.

Fortunately, our dreams send pictures of the contents of our personal garbage dump every night. Sometimes they are images of angry, cruel, sad, suffering, self-pitying, or fearful people, animals, or objects.  Sometimes it is we, our dream ego, who feel these and other disowned emotions. Either way, recording and reflecting on these images, paying special attention to those that bring up uncomfortable emotions, and trying to see where they show up in our waking life, is how we find the treasure buried beneath the garbage.

Once we can see and admit to our true emotions, the next step is simply to allow ourselves to feel and grieve them without having to act on them.  This is how, step by step, dream by dream, picture by picture, we walk the path of healing our pain and moving into the fullness of our lives. I wish you well on this healing adventure into the wilderness of your true Self.

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.

 

Conscious Parenting May 6, 2014

Marveling at my first granddaughter.

Marveling at my first granddaughter.

I am so proud of my children: how they turned out, who they married, how well they are raising their children.  Their parenting styles are different in many ways, yet both sets of children are delightful: sweet, funny, bright, good-natured, well mannered….(I could go on, of course, but I’ll spare you more grandparental gushing!) My time with them reminds me that no matter how well-prepared we may believe we are for the role of parenting, much of what we bring to it comes from unconscious factors over which we have no control.

I loved and respected my mother. I saw her as an intelligent, well-meaning, independent woman with an unemotional personality and a hands-off parenting style. Having a full-time job, she was never involved with my brother’s or my education or social lives, trusting us to get along fine without her participation or advice.  And we did.  Get along fine.

Well, except maybe for a couple of little things…  As a child I longed for her to attend my plays and concerts at school.  How good it would have felt if she had been a room mother or attended PTA meetings, how nice to come home to a clean house and find her waiting for me, perhaps with a tray of cookies or freshly baked bread. But I understood and forgave her for having to work and vowed never to let my work interfere with my children’s happiness. Other than that I assumed raising my children with the same love and trust I had received was about all that was necessary.

As it happened, my choices, combined with a lot of good luck, an education in child development, help from a good husband, and a strong desire to be a good parent made me a good-enough mother.  But beneath the conscious aspects of my upbringing and later on, of my parenting, was an emotional undercurrent of which I was utterly unaware.

Helping my son change a diaper.

Helping my son change a diaper.

As a child I took my mother’s emotional reserve and unwillingness to discuss family problems for granted. I would never have guessed that her untaught lessons, unexpressed feelings and unrevealed truths would leave me ill-equipped to handle many psychological aspects of child-rearing.

I never heard or saw my parents argue. (Of course, that could have had something to do with the fact that Daddy was rarely home!)  Moreover, I can think of only two instances when my mother and I exchanged heated words. The time she used the word “damn,” I was shocked into silence. Intuiting her emotional fragility and wanting to spare her more pain after my parents’ divorce and Daddy’s death, I spared her the normal adolescent phase of rebellion by disowning my uncomfortable emotions.  For years I thought that was admirable. What a good girl I was!  Just like Mama.

Naturally, this influenced my parenting.  Without knowing it, I was so intimidated by conflict and anger that at the first sign of agitation my default response was, like my mother’s, avoidance.  Since my family rarely saw negative emotions from me, I believed I was very good at keeping them under control. I was, but that wasn’t a good thing!  On the rare occasion when shutting my mouth, swallowing my emotions or distancing myself didn’t work, I was quick to grow impatient, irritated and stern.  And if that didn’t shock them into silence, an angry eruption from me would. That may have been an effective way to relieve my anxiety, but it was a dismal model of emotional maturity.

Our parents’ unresolved issues flow into us through dark underground passageways, and if we don’t bring them to the light of consciousness we pass them on to our children. With every gain I’ve made in managing my anxiety,  I’ve gifted my family with one less problem to contend with. I’ll never be a perfect wife, mother, or grandmother, whatever these elusive creatures might be, but knowing I’ve lightened my family’s inherited psychological burdens gives me comfort.

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 Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and Diesel Ebooks 

 

Conscious Parenting July 15, 2011

I’ve just spent two weeks with my five grandchildren and their parents. I am so proud of my children: how they turned out, who they married, how well they are raising their children.  Their parenting styles are different in many ways, yet both sets of children are delightful: sweet, funny, bright, good-natured, well mannered….(I could go on, of course, but I’ll spare you more grandparental gushing!) Our time together reminds me that no matter how well-prepared we may be for the role of parenting, much of how we approach this most difficult of all jobs is the result of unconscious factors over which we have no control.

Many of these factors result from the way our parents raised us. For example, I thought of my mother as an intelligent, well-meaning, independent kind of person with an unemotional and trusting parenting style. Having a full-time job, she was never involved with our education or social lives, trusting us to get along fine without her participation or advice. I took this for granted as a child, but as an adult I realized how much I had longed for her to attend my plays and concerts, how good it would have felt if she had been a room mother or a member of the PTA, how nice it would have been to come home to a warm, clean house and find her always waiting for me, perhaps with a tray of cookies or freshly baked bread. So these were things I vowed to do for my children. As it happened, my conscious choices, combined with a lot of good luck, an education in child development, help from a good husband, and a strong desire to be a good parent made me a good-enough mother.

But beneath the conscious aspects of my upbringing was an emotional undercurrent of which I was utterly unaware. For instance, I never heard or saw my parents argue or fight. (Of course, that could have had something to do with the fact that Daddy was rarely home!)  Moreover, I can think of only two instances in which my mother and I ever exchanged heated words. And when she used the word “damn,” I was shocked into silence. Intuiting her deeply repressed anxiety and emotional fragility and wanting to spare her more pain after my parents’ divorce, I by-passed the normal adolescent period of rebellion and unconsciously developed a deep-seated fear of anger and conflict.

When I became a parent, these factors had a powerful influence on the way I treated my children.  I had no idea I had inherited my mother’s anxiety and emotional fragility. But the reality was that agitation and conflict made me so anxious that too often when my children argued with me or each other my intervention was based more on appeasing my anxiety than on patiently seeking the most fair and just resolution.  It took years of inner work before I could see my anxiety and  understand the part it played in the unhealthy aspects of our family interactions.

The unresolved issues of our parents are handed down to us through underground passageways that connect their emotional flow to ours, and we pass them on to our children the same way. With every step forward I’ve made toward seeing and resolving my anxiety, my attitudes and behavior have changed for the better. Best of all, my family no longer has to bear the burden of my unconscious “stuff” of which I’ve become aware. I’ll never be a perfect wife, mother, or grandmother, whatever these elusive creatures might be, but sparing my family the worst of myself has been more than enough reward.

 

 
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