I’ve been diving into these ideas lately: of being told we are “too much,” or “not enough” and how shame plays its role as we internalize these stories, as our own Inner Critic gains control in our heads and hearts. I’ve been thinking about patriarchal culture and how its goal is to keep us all small, isolated, living in shame. I’ve been thinking about what internalized misogyny looks, feels, and acts like.
I explored some of this in a video I made the other day. (It’s part of a series, and if you are on my mail list you will be receiving all four, spread out over two weeks, starting Tuesday. Alternatively you can sign up to receive just the series over ten days by filling out the form here). And this video series is only the tip of the iceberg in exploring these ideas, where they came from, what they mean.
I’ve been reading Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes book Women Who Run With The Wolves (we’re reading it in my Alumna group for our book club this year, slowly chipping away at it one chapter at a time). In it she shares the story of Bluebeard and then goes on to talk about the “natural predator of the psyche.” Every paragraph where she explains and explores this archetype has me screaming “Patriarchy!! That’s what patriarchy does to us!! Of course it’s considered an archetype – it’s that insidious!”
In psychological interpretation we call on all aspects of the fairy tale to represent the drama within a single woman’s psyche. Bluebeard represents a deeply reclusive complex which lurks at the edge of all women’s lives, watching, waiting for an opportunity to oppose her. Although it may symbolize itself similarly or differently in men’s psyches, it is the ancient and contemporary foe of both genders.
It is difficult to completely comprehend the Bluebeardian force, for it is innate, meaning indigineous to all humans from birth forward, and in that sense is without conscious origin. Yet I believe we have a hint of how its nature developed in the preconscious of humans, for in the story, Bluebeard is called the “failed magician.” In this occupation he is related to figures in other fairy tales which also portray the malignant predator of the psyche as a rather normative-looking but immeasurably destructive mage. *Emphasis mine.
She continues talking about how there are stories where questioning the status quo is punished and how there is a desire for control and power over others.
How is this not patriarchal culture? Is this truly an archetype? Is this truly an aspect of our inner workings or is the not-so-side effect of millennia of patriarchal culture, teachings and internalization?
At what point do we declare the split between outer forces and inner? When do we bring into our consciousness what we have internalized? When do we allow our awareness that our Shadow aspect is made of something that was never meant to be our nature?
The inner workings of our minds are complex, to be sure. However our mind does not act as a separate entity from our body. There is much research in regard to how physical health affects our mental health (for example, untreated hypothyroidism can cause symptoms of depression and anxiety). Researchers have also shown us that the effects of trauma, when unprocessed and unhealed, are passed down generation after generation through our epigenetic (i.e. changeable) DNA. These markers live in our bodies and they affect our mental, physical and spiritual health. Knowing how women have been treated historically, how we have been tortured, raped and murdered for opposing the status quo, for fighting back against our oppressors, I believe we could all agree that the trauma of these experiences, over millennia, lives in our DNA today. Our anxiety, depression, rage. Our autoimmune issues, reproductive organ cancers, heart failures. Our isolation, detachment from the truly spiritual and acceptance of immature masculine religion.
I’m asking the question: this archetype of Bluebeard, is it truly an archetype? I would say, given current scientific research, no. This particular archetype is not something that is “in our head.” It is a force that is still very much alive in our culture still today, an experience many women and men are fully aware of.
Let’s look at the definition of “archetype.” In Jungian psychology (remember that Dr. Estes is a Jungian analyst), an archetype is “a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., universally present in individual psyches.” But is what Bluebeard represents, the oppression and torture of women, an “unconscious idea”? Is it not a reality for millions of women, even today? Was this not the reality, to varying degrees, of our mothers, grandmothers, and great-great-great-x10 grandmothers?
So, when do we start to call a spade a spade and stop side stepping around the ideas and realities of how oppression plays a very pivotal role in our every day lives? When do we both stop claiming that our lived experience isn’t real and is only in “our heads” (that our unconscious mind is making us think things that aren’t true), and acknowledge the very real trauma that is passed down generation after generation, and becomes exponentially more intense with every generation that healing does not occur? (Due to the compound experience of any one person’s lived life and personal traumas combined with those of all the generations before us).
When will we start to acknowledge the very real effects of the past on us today? When will we acknowledge the truth of our history: both how we have oppressed and been oppressed throughout history?
More importantly, when do we acknowledge the truth of our own lived experience? Of the various forms of oppression we have each experienced as women, even in the modern year of 2016?
Joseph Campbell writes “Myth is much more important and true than history. History is just journalism and you know how reliable that is.” I would say this is both true and not true. The history in the books we were fed in elementary and high school is very much unreliable and biased journalism. However, we each have history living within our bodies: we hold the stories of the men and women who came before us, without whom we would not exist. True, within our body we do not have dates or times or specific details. What we have within us is far more important: the feelings of both the wounding and the strength and power of those who came before us.
We may not know the “facts” of the rapes, abuse, torture, belittling, of our mothers or grandmothers, however, we have living within us the truth and feeling of these experiences. The pain. The Shadows of fear, anger, and sadness. The very real feelings of terror, rage, and deep body wracking grief. We have within us the stories of how the women before us wanted different, for themselves and us, how they either fought the system of oppression or played along to survive. How either of these scenarios twisted and formed their views of the world, of themselves and of the children they bore.
Looking at depression, anxiety and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress, when can we stop accepting that these symptoms are in “in our heads” and start acknowledging that they are the results of true and real lived experiences, both by us and our ancestors, and are part of the very physical fiber of our very being?
I believe in our ability to heal. I believe that as we acknowledge our “Shadow” self, and the dark experiences that created her, we can finally process the trauma and wounding that lives in our bodies and move forward, embracing our strength and power and light. However we can’t ignore our Shadow self, or the experiences that created her. I believe a possible first step in this process is understanding that the culture we live in helps to create our feelings of being “too much” and “not enough;” how it feeds our shame; how we are continually and repeatedly traumatized; and how the experiences of our ancestors helped to form who we are today. Healing is deep work, it is at times, challenging work, and yet, as we are able to uncover these layers, to understand our Self and our “unconscious” motivations better, we are able to live in the world more fully, to walk through it with more ease, and to embrace our power and make the changes we want to see in the world.