by Alyce Barry –
As many of you know, I take care of my mother, who is 87 and bipolar and currently very depressed.
I wouldn’t describe Mom as a person who has ever been very self-aware. But in recent weeks I’ve heard her say some startling things — startling because she seems to be expressing some of her deepest emotional wounds in the most basic words that we listen for in a Shadow Work® process.
CLARIFYING A PART IN A PROCESS
When a person in a Shadow Work® process does what we call a “split” — that is, gets perspective on a part of themselves by asking a role player to embody that part in the room — we try to make the part as accurate as possible a representation of what’s going on inside the person.
We often start by determining where the part should stand or sit or lie down in the room, what sort of posture it has, and if it uses any gestures.
Perhaps the most definitive way we clarify a part is to discover a verbal message that the person hears coming from that part (even if it’s a part that wouldn’t normally speak aloud).
GETTING A GENERIC MESSAGE
It often happens that the words first chosen for this message feature details about their current circumstances, or reflect an adult’s vocabulary.
In such a case, the Shadow Work® facilitator or coach helps the person find words for the message that are more “generic,” that is, words that would be recognizable at other times and places in the person’s life besides the current situation.
We do this because we believe that when a person is struggling with a painful pattern of behavior they want to change, that pattern is usually found to have originated in an experience from early in the person’s life.
For example, a person who has worked in a series of unsatisfying jobs, and is now considering a career change, might have a part with a message like, “I hate this job, and I’m going to resign the first chance I get!”
While that message might sum up the person’s current reaction to their situation quite accurately, we would try to genericize it because it refers to an adult with a job and uses an adult word, “resign.” If the pattern originated in childhood, we want the message to capture the emotion of the situation without referring to a job or a resignation. For example, “I hate you, and I’m getting out of here!” might capture the same emotion and at the same time reflect a variety of situations in the person’s life.
DEEP SHAMING MESSAGES
When we’re young, we get hurt by things people say and do, and there are levels of hurt, from slightly bruised feelings to the deepest wounds that have such an enormous impact on our personalities that in Shadow Work we sometimes call them “identity wounds.”
Identity wounds can usually be captured in verbal messages that we call “deep shaming messages.” There can be a remarkable similarity in these messages from one person to another, which I attribute to the presence of the same archetypal energies in each of us.
For example, a very common message for a part of the self that’s suffering from low self-esteem is, “I’m not good enough.”
When the verbal message of a part of the self is so generic that it resembles one of these deep shaming messages, we find that the process is most likely to help the person shift their whole identity because it touches most deeply into the wound that’s being represented and healed in the process.
I’ve often heard depression described as anger turned inwards. In Shadow Work® we view anger as a natural response to some kind of invasion or encroachment of a boundary, and we believe that anger brings up our Warrior energy.
Since Mom is deeply depressed, maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me to hear her say recently, “I’m not a real person,” very basic words for a deep Warrior wound.
And I’m quite certain I’ve never heard anyone say “I’m not a real person” outside of a Shadow Work® process.
It left me wondering if depression over a long period of time has the effect of stripping away layers of the self and revealing the wounds beneath.
I’ve usually heard Mom express what I believe to be her Warrior wounds in sentences like, “I’m a big nothing” and “I’m in a no-win situation.” But now she was speaking out of what I believe to be the deepest kind of Warrior wound, the kind that says “I don’t exist, I’m not real.” When I walked into her room the following day, she said, “A human being.” When I asked her what she meant, she explained that I was a human being and she wasn’t.
I’ve come to believe that bipolar disorder reflects not only deep Warrior wounds but deep Sovereign wounds as well, so that in depression there is extremely low self-esteem and in mania there is its opposite, what I might call inflated grandiosity.
About a month ago I bought Mom some new clothes. She’d been complaining about wearing the same things all the time, so I bought her five new tops. As I took the first one out of its package, Mom said, “Oh, how pretty,” and then began to look distressed. She suddenly broke into tears and sobbed, “I’m just no good.” After talking to her for a while about it, it seemed what she was saying was, “I don’t deserve pretty clothes.”
“I can’t” is a classic message for a part in a Shadow Work® process expressing a deep Sovereign wound. Mom so often says “I can’t” that it is sometimes a litany of her day.
In Mom’s case, it is most striking when she says “I can’t” after telling me what she’s just done. One day she told me that she was nearing the end of her book, and then said, “I can’t read.” She has sometimes told me in detail the plot of an episode of M*A*S*H and then said, “I can’t watch TV.”
I once talked her into playing Bingo with the other residents. She did well, I thought, and even won one round. When we returned to her room, she said to me, “I can’t play Bingo.”
Most evident in Mom’s behavior toward other residents of the Assisted Living facility where she lives are what I believe are some very deep Lover wounds.
I’ve often heard her say things like, “I’m a little island” and “There’s nobody like me here.” What she sees as her deviation from all other people in the world has become a common refrain, expressed in a variety of ways.
She also says “I feel empty” on a regular basis, which seems to mean empty of connection either with herself or with others.
And expressing a deeper Lover wound, I’ve heard her say, “I don’t connect with anybody.”
A COMPASSIONATE VIEW
I suspect that I share with many other caregivers of elderly parents the experience of hearing emotional wounds that will never be healed.
As a Shadow Work® facilitator familiar with a useful map for detecting and healing emotional wounds, I’m grateful and relieved that I don’t suffer a lot of frustration about not being able to help Mom heal very much. I’ve been able to let go, to a pretty good extent, of the prospect of helping her change herself.
What helps me more than letting go, I think, is the compassion I’m able to feel for her that I’ve claimed and cultivated in years of doing Shadow Work®, which embraces a deeply compassionate view of human beings and their woundings.
Another tremendous help is my belief in a loving Divine who loves Mom and has given her emotional work to do in this life.
Alyce Barry is a Certified Shadow Work® Group Facilitator and Coach in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. She is the author of Practically Shameless, on Amazon.com’s Bestseller list of books about Jungian psychology for more than a year. The book is available in paperback and on audio CD and as an e-book.
This article originally appeared in our free email newsletter in October 2010. To subscribe, visit our subscription page.
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