The Feminine Shadow – Part 2, The Split
“Don’t let them in, don’t let them see,
Be the good girl you always have to be.
Conceal it, don’t feel it, don’t let them know.” – from the song Let It Go, Frozen
I have had a hard time writing this second article. It surprised me and I’ve written several drafts all of which I found to be more conceptual and self-protecting. Over the weekend, I was speaking with a very dear friend and she encouraged me to write of my own experience – as I typically do. But this is a hard story to tell and not one that I have shared widely until now. And while it’s a story of a healing journey and integration, this article taps into my own experience with violence and oppression as a girl and a woman.
Is there some part of being Feminine that we find unacceptable or maybe even feel shame about? How did we get to this place of needing to conceal our Feminine Ways?
There is a long history of the violence and oppression of women leading up to the times we are living in today. Violence against women is a global pandemic. Click here to read the infographic created by UN (United Nations) Women at unwomen.org.
My Personal Experience With Violence and Oppression
As a child I experienced the contempt for women from my father in how he treated my mom and me.
We were there to clean the house, do laundry, cook, and take care of “the boys”, my younger siblings. There were so many rules about what “nice girls do and don’t do” and I always seemed to be doing it wrong. My dad was also a violent man inside his home. His punishments were not just physical but also psychological as he would find ways to bring in degradation and shame.
At the age of 11, I was attacked by a boy at school. We were in the classroom and he had some kind of a breakdown and became violent. Myself and another girl in the class were hurt pretty badly. Ironically, my dad was furious and charges were filed and we had to go to court to testify – yet another form of degradation – particularly for an 11-year-old.
Very early on, I got the message that there was no place that was safe for a girl. Not at home, not at school, not the justice system.
When you’re exposed to angry, unloving mindsets as a child, regardless of the degree, you don’t think of it as coming from the other person – you think of it as something you have created. In fact, and here comes the complicity, my mom would coach me on how to manage my dad and blame me when he acted out.
Is it any wonder why we conceal the parts of our Feminine nature that cause us to feel vulnerable or wrong?
By the time I grew into a teenager, I began to sense my own power.
At 17 years old, my oldest brother and I had been at a friend’s house. We were partying a bit and one thing lead to another and we all ended up drunk. When I got home, my parents were furious with me (by the way – not my brother). My dad exploded, he grabbed me, slammed me against the wall, he pinned me to the wall with one hand pressed against my throat, and drew back his arm, his other hand in a fist. I just looked straight into his eyes and remember thinking “this is finally going to be over; he’s finally going to kill me”. In that moment, I also found something inside of myself. I locked eyes with him – and felt my own courage and will. I could feel it connecting in that moment as his fist stopped barely an inch from my left eye. I was never afraid of my dad again and that was the last time he ever put a hand on me. Something inside of me had been awakened.
I met “my father” in the boardroom.
I thought that when I finally left that house, that I was free. But I had already experienced the violence and contempt that some men held towards women in the outer world – and it rose its head again many more times.
I had learned something about men’s power and how to meet it. Not through physically violent responses or arguments, but through some energy inside of myself that demanded “you will not do this to me, you will not talk to me this way”. For many years, this earned me the reputation of being “difficult”.
In my early 30’s, I was working at a Wall Street firm in my first corporate HQ role. I was so happy in my Learning & Development role. I supported the sales side of the business and had colleagues that provided training services to other parts of the business.
In the early 90’s, this company was replacing the old stock monitors with the very first desktop PC for all of their financial advisors. This was a big deal! The technology was so new. There was no ready-to-go training available, no track record of reliability, no precedent. So for financial services, this equals big opportunity and big risk. And if you have worked with sales people, you know they do not like having their business disrupted – even when the argument is “it will make your life easier”!
My boss called me in to say that the President of the retail business wanted me to lead the training side of this initiative. While you may think “what a great recognition” – this was not my wheel house. I didn’t own a computer and we didn’t have them on our desks yet either. And deep down, I knew it was going to create a problem with the CIO.
I made the argument that there were people in Operations/IT organization who were responsible for technical training and that I was not the right person. But the decision had been made. The response for having me lead this training initiative was that I knew the business, how financial advisors worked, and the executives believed my leading the training of the rollout would minimize disruption to the sales force. So I prepared for the first meeting to present a proposal for how to train for this rollout.
I can still remember how small I felt walking into this boardroom of 30 people – alone. My boss didn’t even come with me. I didn’t know anyone. They were heads of IT departments and they were outside vendors.
The CIO began by introducing purpose of the meeting – to discuss how training would be provided during this rollout – and this 6’7″ man turned to me and angrily stated “I DON’T WANT YOU HERE…!”. In that moment, I metaphorically met my father once again. Powerful, strong, and using humiliation and public degradation to get his way. I remember that “secret” feeling – how I relaxed into my belly, met his glaze, and I found it within myself to calmly but unwaveringly respond – “I was assigned to this project by ..”
He sat down and told me to proceed. I confidently walked through a proposed design for the training and at the end of the presentation he agreed to it and we all moved forward.
I left that room and crumbled. I couldn’t wait to get to the nearest rest room as I burst into tears out of fear and humiliation. While the project proceeded on, this was not the last test that I would experience at the hands of this leader. Was it about me? No. It was never about me. It was and is so much bigger than any one person.
But every time I had an experience like this, I put another part of myself away. I’d make a new rule like “I’ll never let anyone ______ to me again”.
The Last Stand
I had hoped for years that my relationship with dad would change. That having grandchildren would soften him and that we might one day find a peaceful way to be together. This never happened.
I remained in contact with my dad until my late thirties. The contact was minimal and the way he spoke to me in public remained sarcastic and sometimes vulgar. Not long after having my third son, we were on the phone and he became attacking and abusive. And something inside me just said “no more!”. I remember telling him that I was raising sons and I could not allow my sons to think that it was ok for anyone to speak to their mother this way, or that it was ok to for a man treat a woman this way or that it was ok for a woman to have to accept this kind of treatment. My husband is a loving man and has been a wonderful father to our children.
I gave my dad an ultimatum – unless he could speak to me respectfully, that I would no longer be a part of his life.
I never spoke to my father again. When he entered hospice at the end of his life, I sat by his side, held his hand, prayed for him, sang to him, forgave him, and let go of the dream for a relationship that could never be. The Feminine in me was growing.
The Feminine demands growth and evolution.
There is great strength in the Feminine will, in her advocacy, and in her sense of justice. She has the power of compassion which allows her to go into unknown territory full of care and love. And, she has power in her mind – not just from the knowledge she has acquired – but from her deep intuition and insight. When these three centers of power ignite in a woman, great change is possible. Transformation is possible. Alchemy occurs.
I have spent many years in therapy and doing the personal work to heal the traumas of my childhood and integrating the rejected parts of myself. The more I do this work, the more I sense the integration of these three power centers within myself and the potential to bring healing to other women, to our societies, and to our planet.
What we reject in ourselves, we reject in others.
When we try to conceal a part of ourselves, it does not go away. It lies dormant and can sometimes become a distorted expression of the quality. It doesn’t get developed and can stay immature even as we grow into adults.
It goes into the shadow. Dr. Carl Jung described the repressed or unlived sides of our potential as the shadow. Through lack of attention and development, the unlived and repressed qualities remain archaic or can turn dark and threatening. These potentialities are both positive and negative.
In other words, every choice we make represents something not chosen. Thomas Moore in “The Care of the Soul” says “The person we choose to be automatically creates a dark double — the person we choose not to be, a psychic twin that follows us like a mirror image.”
The shadow is an active part of the personality. The qualities within the shadow might want to be deeply hidden and unseen and you may see this in yourself when you try to be invisible. There are other qualities in the shadow that are tired of being tamped down and are aching for expression and you may see this when you have an outburst or say something you later regret.
Later we may feel the shame and vulnerability of those “weakened” moments. Shame and vulnerability are like locks on the vault door of the shadow.
So how does this play out in real life?
We get triggered. There are many people are walking around triggered by the behaviors of others but often blame the other person rather than seeing it as a reflection of their own shadow.
If we reject our compassion, we will likely be triggered by people who want compassion from us. This can show up as annoyance towards that person or perhaps an even stronger reaction. If someone rejects their intuition, they may get triggered when others operate from their intuition and aren’t able to provide facts and historical data.
There are many ways that these rejected sides can show up in our lives. As a starting point, it can be useful just to track and reflect upon what triggers you in the course of a day. A triggering is noticeable when negative emotions arise. You might feel annoyed, frustrated, or angry. But rather than look to the other person who you think may be the cause of this annoyance, you hold the mirror up and look inside yourself. You can gain some perspective by asking yourself:
- Why am I annoyed, what is the situation?
- Who is involved?
- What feelings are coming up for me?
- What is the psychic twin of this feeling?
The way out is through
As women, we have an opportunity to retrieve the parts of ourselves that we have put away and integrate these parts/qualities/powers so that they flourish harmoniously within us and through us. In fact, I believe we are being called to do this work today. Our societies and our planet need the healing powers of the Feminine. We have entered the workplace, we have developed our masculine qualities, but many of us have left our feminine qualities in the shadows. Let’s go free them!
Freeing ourselves requires us to go to our interior world and do the great work of the Hero’s Journey. My final article in this series will be about accessing the interior world and igniting this unlived potential.
Want to learn more about how you can get the transformation you desire? Click here to discover Women Connected Coaching and sign-up for a FREE 30-minute coaching session with me.