Healing the Mother Complex or Learning the Power of No

images-1Beware. Many therapists, social workers, ‘do-gooders’ and ‘good mothers or fathers’ have a raging mother complex lying underneath the calm, kind exterior, and it’s a killer. This complex knows no gender boundaries and can be equally present in both  men and women. In my blog on The Inner Community, I talked about complexes in general, and how they can raise their ugly heads when you are least expecting it.

Well the mother complex can be one of the most surprising and disturbing of all the complexes, because it seems so, well, out of character. And when the mother complex is raging, you don’t want to be around. If it is raging in you, walk out that door. If it is raging in a significant other, walk out that door. Wait until the waters have calmed down before you try communicating, and if you are the one grappling with it, do everything in your power to try and understand it. The ONLY way to dismantle or at least disempower a complex is to bring consciousness to it.

Here’s how you know if you have this one running in the underground of your psyche. A big part of your conditioning has taught you to ‘turn the other cheek’ and put everyone else’s needs ahead of your own. You feel that you should be good and kind to others even if that means you put your needs aside, to your own detriment. You are much better at discerning the needs of others than you are at identifying your own needs and desires at any given moment.  You do, do, do for others and then inexplicably feel burnt-out and resentful. You feel guilty when you do assert your own needs, and then are especially guilt-ridden and hurt when others get annoyed that you aren’t being the ‘good mother’ anymore.

When you are caught in the great mother complex, you become so focused on the needs of others that you are not in touch with your own needs. In other words, YOU are not taking care of YOU. On some level, you have abandoned your own inner child and feel hurt and angry that no one is taking care of you the way you are taking care of others.

So here’s the deal. Ultimately we all have to become responsible as mature adults for taking care of our own needs. It is unfair to put that responsibility onto someone else. Of course it is lovely when we have the time, energy and grace to extend to others in kindness and with a generosity of spirit,  but when it comes out of obligation and a big ‘should’ for too long, there is hell to pay.

Another problem that surrounds this complex is that if it has been a large part of your persona (the image you present to the world), the people around you come to expect you to always be there as the good mother. When you stop buying into this image of yourself and begin to become more authentic, it can feel like a rude awakening to those who want you to continue in your old role. However, the individuation process wants you to be in touch with your deeper Self and purpose, and not be trapped in any persona. You will know when you are not being authentic and true to your Self when you feel that you are going through the motions because of expectations from others. You might begin to feel a fierce rage and frustration because you feel trapped in this role.

So what to do? In the myth of Amor and Psyche Psyche (which means soul in Greek) has to journey into the underworld. She has been given many impossible tasks by the raging Aphrodite. (In this story she is not the beautiful goddess of love, but the raging mother). In this final and horrifying task, she has to journey to the heart of the underworld and meet with Persephone, Queen of the Underworld. She is given some very sage advice before she embarks on this journey. She is told that many poor souls will clamor most piteously for help, but she will have to remain focused on her task and refuse to help any of them. If she extends her hand to help them, she will be dragged down and all will be lost.

This seems like shocking advice to Psyche because it runs against the grain of everything she has been taught. But she also realizes that the transcendent help she has been receiving all along in order to accomplish the superhuman tasks that Aphrodite has set for her, is the only thing that has been getting her through. So she follows the advice and is able to get to the heart of the underworld, meet Persephone and then return to the world above. In other words, Psyche had to learn the power of her No in order to deal with the raging mother.

So this is the lesson. You must dig deep into the heart of your complex and journey into your own underworld. You must understand it in yourself. If you are feeling an inner rage, then something is afoot, and only consciousness can bring it into the light of day. You have to take responsibility for your own feelings and stop blaming others. If you are operating out of a mother complex, you have to realize it and get in touch with your needs and your feelings and then determine what action you need to take. If it means saying no to what others have traditionally expected from you, try to do so in a kind but clear and firm way.

You may have to negotiate your way out of this. It is not an easy journey for you or for those around you, but tremendous growth and new responsibilities for everyone are in the offing.  As they come to terms with you as a full person, and not just the good mother, they will begin to see you differently and to respect you in a new way. It may be a rocky road in the beginning, but it is a journey worth taking.

Notes from Sophia – the Divine Face of Inner Wisdom

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Notes from Sophia – the Divine Face of Inner Wisdom

That still, small voice within…..can you hear it? Are you listening? When we first begin to attune to our own inner wisdom, it can feel difficult to discern. There is such a cacophony of voices from our inner community of conflicting interests, desires and repulsions, that the pure, clear note of Sophia, the wisdom principle, can barely be heard.(See earlier blog on Inner Community).

As I think or meditate on what my next blog should be about, I wait for some inner guidance. If I don’t feel it, I can’t get motivated to write. When I get very quiet and just wait, something usually comes. It is often in response to some conversation or some reflection on a problem that has come up. This time it was in response to the question of how do I decide what to write about next? As I thought about it, I realized it was connected to this process of inner listening, and waiting for guidance. The idea of “Notes from Sophia” kept coming up, and I kept dismissing it! Who was I to talk about Sophia, the feminine face of divine wisdom? It felt like hubris to me, and greater thinkers and writers than I have done this subject much greater justice. And I wasn’t interested in launching a political discourse on why God contained a feminine principle. And yet, and yet, this idea just kept nibbling away at the edges of my consciousness. Two of my great loves in life have long been theosophy and philosophy, so there She was again.

Theosophy (Theo meaning God in Greek, and sophy referring to Sofia or wisdom) and Philosophy, (meaning love of wisdom) both honour the recognition of Sophia as the feminine wisdom principle. In The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky, who was the founder of the Theosophical movement , explains: “Cosmogonies show that the Archaic Universal Soul was held by every nation as the “Mind” of the Demiurgic Creator; and that it was called the “Mother,” Sophia with the Gnostics (or the female Wisdom), the Sephira with the Jews, Saraswati or Vach, with the Hindus, The Holy Ghost being a female principle.” (Blavatsky, H.B., The Secret Doctrine, Vol.1, p. 353) The Buddhists refer to her as Kwan Yin. The Christians refer to her as Mary, the Mother of God.

The difficulty of listening to the wisdom of the heart is that one must learn to become very quiet in order to hear Her. In my experience, that still quiet voice of wisdom just comes as a knowing or a quiet realization after we have parsed out and separated out all those other raging and troubling feelings and emotions. In my last blog on forgiveness I referred to the Focusing work of clearing a space. When you can put all the various issues troubling you outside of your inner space, even if only for a while, you will have a chance to receive that insight from your deepest Self. You will begin to recognize that ‘wisdom note’ because there is a clarity and a lack of emotional charge to it. There is the feeling of ‘Ah yes’ or an ‘aha’ moment. It is when you know that you know, and something in you can just settle. There is a feeling of blessedness and peace in the knowing, even if there is sorrow in the heart.

The feminine wisdom principle is within all of us. It has nothing to do with whether you are male or female, and women certainly do not have any particular ownership or advantage. And yet the getting of wisdom certainly does seem to come with a gentleness, a compassion and kindness – qualities which in bygone days were more associated with the feminine. There was a recent article in The New York Times about how men were kinder and more generous and in the presence of women (see link below). A world in which Sophia was honoured again as the feminine face of God would I think be a gentler and kinder world.

Free lecture on Blavatsky and the Theosophical movement by Dr. Stefan Hoelller
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New York Times article:

How do I forgive?

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How do I forgive?

This was a question that again came into focus as I talked with an old client I hadn’t seen in many years. Deep woundings of the psyche can fester for years, and probably even lifetimes. They are like the deeply entrenched psychic tattoos that simply don’t go away. And so how can we heal these wounds – can they even be healed? Or do they just scar over as we try to move on with our lives? Sometimes we see individuals who are so scarred, and therefore so armoured, that the scarring interferes with their abilities to have and to hold close and intimate relationships.

I think these are deeply personal soul issues that shape our lives, and so of course there is no easy answer. However, as a therapist I am always interested in how we can come into a different relationship with these old wounds so as to free the individual and help them move into an easier flow with life and with significant others.

To forgive or not to forgive? How do you forgive an atrocity or horrible abuse? Somehow we have this notion that if we forgive someone who has done something very terrible to another human being, they are off the hook. This is simply wrong thinking. We are never off the hook for something terrible we have done unless we truly regret or repent with consciousness. And if we don’t do that, and do our best to make amends, we carry that with us in our souls. The laws of karma will inexorably kick in. I have seen this over and over. And it’s not pretty.

But my focus here is not so much on the perpetrator, but on the one who feels victimized and harbours the anger and the sadness, and is unable to live life fully. It is a very human trait to hold onto grudges, and to mentally and/or verbally curse someone. We curse them every time we speak and think negatively about them. We are sending the offenders negative energy, and that will affect them to a degree. While that may be a satisfying thought in the vengeful sense, the deeper problem is that it harms you more. Holding onto anger and a feeling of victimization is very damaging to the person who is holding onto these dark and destructive feelings. We stew in it, dwell on it, and turn it over and over in our minds. It affects our moods, our behaviours, our relationships, our health and worst of all, our self esteem.

We carry it in our bodies without even realizing we are doing so. This is called somatization, and it is very insidious because it becomes part of the unconscious fabric of our psyches. A very useful technique that is used in Focusing (a body-mind therapy first devised by the philosopher/psychotherapist Eugene Gendlin) is to get in touch with what is often called the ‘felt-sense’ of how we carry something in our bodies.

When I work in this way with clients we always start with some diaphragmatic breathing because it helps to bring the awareness down into the core of the body – the area between the throat and the groin – and which I sometimes refer to as the ‘processing plant’.

When you think about the whole thing, connected to x or y, you will probably become aware of some physical or energetic sensation in your body, such as a clenching in your throat, or a tightness in the chest, or a knot in your stomach – something like that. The next part is to explore the feelings connected to x or y, and allow yourself to really feel it. Then, it is always good to hold the question – ‘given that I am feeling this way, what is needed? Or what do I need to do to take care of myself?’

Sometimes, an important intermediary step is to imagine taking the whole thing connected to x or y, and see if you can imagine putting it outside of your body, just for now. Visualizing putting the whole thing all about the situation or the person in some sort of container, outside of your body can be very freeing. You can always bring it back whenever you want, but most people enjoy the experience of getting a little space or perspective on the issue! They also get to experience, often for the first time in a long time, what it feels like not to carry that issue inside them anymore, or even for a while. It allows them to glimpse what freedom from the issue might look and feel like.

One of the most important things to realize and to remember about forgiving, is that it will free you. It does not let the perpetrator off the hook, but you are not in charge of his or her karma. When you truly hand this matter over to the universe and mentally say, “Over to You. You deal with this – I can’t carry this around anymore”, Life will take care of it – sometimes in much harsher ways than you could ever imagine.

The blessing lies in the ability to let go of the old woundings and to be free of the toxic side effects that come with holding onto something negative. We need to access the inner good mother or good father and learn to take care of the inner wounded part or child. This is what you are doing when you hold the question of “what do I need to do to take care of myself right now?’

I don’t mean to over simplify this or to trivialize anyone’s pain. These are just simple guidelines that might be of help, as I am all too aware that not everyone has the means or opportunity to go into therapy. But if we can experience within ourselves how crucial forgiveness is to our own well-being, we can move more fully into the creative expression of our lives.

Pi and All of Life

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Pi and All of Life

Sometimes Life throws us into a boat with creatures that seem very foreign, strange or threatening to us in some way. Life of Pi is a beautiful, in some ways mythic story of the hero’s journey by author Yann Martel. As I contemplated the title, I thought about the meaning of Pi – which is a mathematical constant that expresses the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. I was moved to see how this story reveals the importance of embracing our wholeness as opposed to just the good, the bright and the beautiful upper half of the circle of Life.

At the end of the story, the hero reveals that there are two parallel stories – the one of his human survival, and the other a tale of animals in a boat with a boy. The great Aha is the realization that both stories are true.

Therein lies another interesting insight to my mind – which links up with something I was trying to express in The Inner Volcano. We all have a unique inner nature, which is connected with all of Nature. In Life of Pi this is beautifully portrayed as human beings who under duress reveal their animal natures. The cook is the hyena, the zebra with broken legs is the sailor who has been severely injured, the mother, the vegetarian orangutan, and the boy who discovers his tiger nature. In the end, this is what saves him. He discovers his inner ferocity, his power and his will to survive despite all odds. We might say he connected to the Dionysian side of his nature – his wild, passionate, dark, chaotic side.

In his seminar on Kundalini yoga, Jung talked about the fact that the soul hides in the symptoms of the body. Like Dionysius, an encounter with the Self can seem like a savage dismemberment in which we are forced to suffer and submit to some of the harshest realities of life. And yet if we can cling to the Self and who we most deeply are, there is the possibility of redemption, rebirth and renewal. This entails an embracing of our dark side and what is commonly referred to as the shadow.

Jung understood that our Christian mythos was too one sided in its glorification of all that is light, beautiful and true with no homage paid to the other wilder, darker side of life. In Aion he explores this problem of the Christ and the Anti-Christ in great depth. He felt that the pendulum had swung too far in one direction and that what we are seeing now in our recent history of world wars is a fierce backswing in compensation. He emphasizes that God or the Self does not want perfection but wholeness.

And so what this means for us is that the sacred work of our time is not to blindly pursue the good, the pure and the beautiful while ignoring our own shadowy attributes, pretending that they are not there. In Revisioning Psychology, James Hillman summarized Jung’s understanding of evil in this way, “ Integration of the shadow is an emigration. Not him to us; we to him. His incursion is barbarism, our descent is culture.”

When we thoughtlessly follow our animal nature, we are locked into our biological, egoic existence. We are ruled by unconscious processes and are a victim to our symptoms and a slave to our desires. The work is to bring Apollo and Dionysius into right relationship, the light and the dark, the yin and the yang. We must honour both sides within ourselves before we can even think about extending this consciousness into our communities.

When Yeats had the vision of the Beast or Anti-Christ slouching towards Bethlehem, he was horrified and deeply troubled. His poem, The Second Coming, describes this vision. Listen to it here: The Second Coming.

Trailer for Life of Pi

The Inner Volcano: Can It Be Managed ?

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The Inner Volcano Can It Be Managed?

Lately, a higher number of people than usual have been contacting me about “anger management” issues. Perhaps it has just become another buzz word. Either these inquiries are on behalf of significant others (who never call) or they are calling about themselves, but then for some reason or another, they usually fail to make it in for the appointment, or we get lost in the back and forth of phone messages that go nowhere. I think there is a good reason for this.

If people are calling about their own issues, it is often because significant others have been telling them for a long time that they have to deal with their anger, but they don’t really see it as a problem. They might make the token phone call to the therapist, but the will is not really there. It takes tremendous energy and courage to face the volcanoes and swamplands of the inner terrain. I often think of the psyche as an inner landscape. When there has been an emotional wounding of some sort, or when there is an inherent sensitivity or passionate nature, simply because of who we are at a deep soul level, the psychic landscape reflects this. I have always found it helpful to use the image of the landscape when talking about our inner soul qualities, because most people can understand it – this is just how nature is. And it is also just how people are.

The trouble with the volcanic nature, however, is that they tend to make themselves sick and often alienate others. Constant inner eruptions wear out the adrenals and the endocrine system for starters, and exhaust the immune system and damage the heart, to name the most obvious problems. But worse still, they push away loved ones who get exhausted by the constant upheavals.

If you think of a boil, which is an angry eruption on a very small scale, there is a wounding or disturbance that festers. On an emotional level, this would represent a wound of some kind that is not or cannot be dealt with at the time of occurrence. And so the psyche pushes it down because that is human nature. This is repression of the first order. And then of course, like the boil, it continues to build on itself, getting worse and more infected over time. Hopefully, at some point, the boil can be lanced, allowing the poison to seep out and the skin to heal. Therapy forces the client to go within and lance the wound, and through consciousness come into a new place of healing and resolution.

I always loved Scarlett O’Hara as a literary figure. I loved her for her courage and her tenacity and her ability to fight to protect what she loved. But she was a master of repression. “I won’t think about that today, I’ll think about it tomorrow” was the line that she was most famous for. However, anytime we continually repress that which is calling out to be addressed, you can be sure it will come back and bite you. Scarlett did not have a volcanic temperament; she was more like Niagara Falls – a relentless force to be reckoned with, but she too had to deal with the consequences of not facing up to her own shadow. She lost her only child and the only man who ever truly loved her.

Ultimately, we all only have our own nature, and our own psychic landscapes. Sometimes I use the image of animals rather than landscapes to help people come to terms with themselves. If, for example, you have the nature of a rabbit, there is no use trying to pretend you are a tiger. Or if you are a fish, why regret the fact that you are not a giraffe?

Each nature has its great gifts and its own weaknesses. And within that framework, we are all more susceptible to certain types of wounding than others. What is traumatic for one child within a family constellation, is a non-event for the other child within that same family. There is no rhyme or reason to this. It probably has more to do with karma and the deep soul lessons we need to learn in this lifetime. But for the person with the inner volcanic landscape, the psyche is pushing for an externalization and resolution of the energy. It must be dealt with, or there are devastating consequences for all who live within that person’s environment, but most particularly for the person himself.

The person with a volcanic temperament has a big energy field, which if properly channeled, can be a tremendous force for positive change and leadership. Like Kali, who can be both a destructive force and a tremendously generative one, the volcano can lay waste to the old and bring about the possibility for tremendous renewal and change. A landscape that has been strewn with volcanic ash is tremendously fertile and ready for vibrant new growth. Those with volcanic inner landscapes must learn this important lesson of leadership: a leader must learn the lesson of emotional patience, both with him or herself, and then with others. This often means keeping the lid on, walking away, taking a time out, and thinking and counting to twenty before you speak.

Watch Benjamin Zander on Passion and Leadership