In the Shadow of the Selkie

Have you ever heard of the Scottish myth of the Selkie? It’s a tale of a mythical, shapeshifting seal woman who sheds her skin and turns into a beautiful woman. A man becomes enamored of her and steals her skin, hiding it where she cannot find it. As long as he possesses her skin, the seal woman cannot leave. They often live as a married couple, having children and seemingly content. Eventually, the seal woman’s yearning for the sea becomes too much and either the husband, who truly loves her, restores her skin to her so she can return to the sea or she finds it herself and leaves him and their children behind.

I find these stories and the dynamics they express are still present in modern relationships, both interpersonal and communal; as above, so below.

Have you ever observed or found yourself in a relationship in which you feel your spirit is being held, hostage? Perhaps you initially agreed to the dynamics of the relationship but over time they shifted or your needs did and you find yourself unable to break free? I often note this dynamic in relationships where one partner is financially dependant upon another – often whichever is the stay at home parent raising the children or engaging in other traditionally feminine roles. I’m not referring to a SAHM or SAHD who feel this is their life purpose and who are treated as equal partners in the relationship. I’m referring to those in which the stay at home partner is treated unequally and told things like “It’s my money and I’ll decide how it’s spent” (you know what I’m talking about). Or relationships in which the more financially secure and established partner threatens to take away the children or the home if the other partner leaves. Some wonder how a woman can leave her children behind but if she has been forced to bear these children and their father and society determine they are “his”, then perhaps they are really a symbol of her imprisonment. How awful must it be to find yourself forced to bear children for someone who is imprisoning you?

I see this dynamic on a national scale in the US since the attacks on Sept 11th. So many are willing to give up their autonomy, right to privacy and independence for the illusion of safety and security Some have given up their skins in pursuit of the illusion of being cared for by the government and as a result those of us who were not willing to give up our freedom is being forced to anyway. Our skins have been stolen by those in charge. That is such a risky proposition. I think it’s what has to lead us to the situation in which we currently find ourselves and if we don’t fight to reclaim our skins we may find we are never able to return to that place of autonomy and independence and that way lies dictatorship.

So I asked the Divine via the Tarot:

Where am I a Selkie in my own life? 9 of Sword
How is Selkie energy being expressed in people’s lives? Page of Swords
How can we reclaim our skins? Knight of Pentacles
What can the Selkie teach us? 8 of Wands

So, my take on this reading. The first thing I noticed is that there are no Majors present. That suggests that changing this situation is entirely within our control. It’s about using our wits, our minds backed by groundedness and passion. This isn’t a time to appeal to hearts because people’s hearts (in many instances) are filled with fear.

In my own life, I think it’s more a fear of finding myself in a Selkie-type situation rather than a reality. The truth is that I’ll never willingly give up my skin and, in fact, would fight to the death to reclaim it. I’m also not in a relationship with a man who feels the need to dominate me in any way. In fact, he values and supports my independence and snarkiness.

The Page of Swords suggests that Selkie energy is the result of insecurity and an inability to trust in ourselves. We’re not sure we can protect ourselves and are trusting in others to do it for us. It seems logical to trust in the government to put our best interest first but history has proven that is risky and often unrealistic. Especially if the reality is that we’re being terrified into abandoning our skins. We’re not children (well most of us) and need to take responsibility for ourselves and our safety. If we allow anyone else to take away our freedom, we doom ourselves to losing autonomy over our lives. Can we really trust someone who has either captured, imprisoned or brainwashed us to ensure our rights won’t be violated?

The Knight of Pentacles offers the hopeful message that we can reclaim our skins but it will be an uphill battle. We will need to be stubborn, determined and focused. We can’t lose our heads or allow ourselves to be distracted by extraneous matters. Whether this is at a national or personal level, we need to stay the course and be willing to make the sacrifices and take the risks necessary to achieve this goal.

The Selkie teaches us that nothing is stagnant. New ideas and beliefs, new inspiration and energy are constantly entering our lives. Even if certain circumstances fit our needs right now, that may not be the case down the road and we need to be willing to fight for ourselves, for our autonomy and for our ability to breathe free. We need to seize the moment and be willing to burn down the house if all other options are exhausted.

The Body Never Lies (#TarotfromtheDarkSide)

I’ve been reading Alice Miller’s “The Body Never Lies” I felt it resonate within me. In the book, Miller addresses the damage abusive parenting can cause in our lives. Specifically, she connects diseases in adulthood, ranging from asthma to mental illness, to harsh, cruel parenting styles. Miller uses the histories of well-known writers to support her theories and, while I think she makes some overly enthusiastic leaps of logic, her premise rings true.

One of the points Miller makes that I find intriguing is that we block these abuses from our memories because adherence to the 4th Commandment (honor thy father and mother) is so prevalent in our society that we don’t even realize its impact. We can’t reconcile our need to honor our parents with the realities of the abuses we experience and this manifests in physical and mental ailments. Our souls and psyches are broken on the wheel of obedience to our parents’ wills and societal demands that we honor our abusers.

I know in my own life I was frequently told not to speak ill of my parents; that I didn’t’ understand what they had gone through. Depending upon my age and attitude at the time I might ignore the comments or I might choose to unleash a rage-filled diatribe against the offender, explaining to him or her that they were talking out their ass. In some respects I consider myself blessed because I seem to lack that personality trait that requires me to absolve my parents of their sins against me. I may have learned to forgive my parents but it doesn’t ameliorate the abuses to which they subjected me. However, my goal here is not to revisit these abuses or even to explore Miller’s theories. Instead, I want to use Tarot to explore my own responses to this childhood abuse and how I can heal from it.

So my question is: How have childhood traumas impacted me:
Physically? Dancer of Money & the Material World
Emotionally? Muse of Self
Psychologically? Sage of Money & the Material World Rx
How can I move forward and heal this damage? Muse of Money & the Material World Rx


Looking at these cards the initial message I receive is that as a result of my childhood experiences I have a chip on my shoulders; always struggling not to lose myself beneath the weight of those experiences. I can also be emotionally closed off and protective of my heart. At the same time, I am willing to keep struggling uphill and I’m comfortable exploring those dark places within myself; to explore my shadow side. I’ve also put a lot of time and effort into mastering and exploring my psyche so the damage has been exposed, explored and expunged.

Moving forward, I think the key to dealing with this is to remember that it is in the past, it can’t hurt me anymore. I know how to balance the anger and betrayal I feel towards my parents because of those traumas against the love I genuinely do bear them. I can understand some of what damaged them and lead to this abuse but that doesn’t exonerate them. I think the primary difference between my experience and those Alice Miller writes about is that I never accepted it was okay. I never forgot or tried to downplay those memories. I was also fortunate enough to have a husband who bore witness and reinforced that I had every right to hate my parents for what they did to me. So, although I am certainly damaged by my childhood trauma I have also healed and learned to move forward.

#TarotfromtheDarkSide – December 2018 Dark Moon Spread (#BohemianGothic)

What is revealed in the darkness this month?

How can I best work with this energy?

What must I be cautious about during this time?

What serves me about this energy?

Wow, this is very interesting to me. I have been thinking about focusing some of my blog posts on the dark side of Tarot and the human psyche in general, hence the #TarotAfterDark. This reading certainly seems to support this idea.

The reversed 5 of Wands suggests that it’s time to put my creative struggles behind me. I’ve found my niche and now I need to begin exploring it further. All those ghostly self-doubts and inner critic can’t hold me back anymore. It’s time to move beyond those spectral annoyances and explore my new domain.

The Sun – how ironic! I’m in my natural element in the dark; it’s my native milieu. I am a Leo sun sign so this card is even more appropriate and impactful. I have always connected more with solar energies than lunar ones and yet I am also drawn to the darker side of human nature. I love exploring the darkness. I even pursued a masters degree in forensic psychology because I wanted to learn what contributes to some of the less pleasant, more horrific elements of human nature and behavior. Maybe this focus will be my platform to share some of my explorations with other interested parties.

The Queen of Pentacles nudges me to be careful about continuing to care for myself; nurturing my creative energies and manifesting them in ways that don’t exhaust me. I sometimes jump into the deep end and don’t consider long term ramifications or burning out. I think the Queen of Pentacles reminds me to go slowly; be practical about how often I can post and how often I want to post. I want this to be fun and enjoyable not become one more fucking thing I gotta do.

The Star reminds me that this is a way to re-energize my connection to Tarot; an opportunity to further explore the relationship between Tarot cards and the human psyche. The Star also gives me hope that this is doable and may even be another tool in my healing journey. Perhaps (if this isn’t too arrogant) this work will allow me to be a beacon in the dark for others who feel overwhelmed or lost.

Who knows, this may turn out to be totally inaccurate but it makes me feel hopeful and excited and maybe at the end of the day that’s more important.

Poking around the dark nooks & crannies of my soul with Tarot

Before writing this blog post I asked the universe how I should approach this topic; where should my focus be? I drew the Page of Wands Rx – all sorts of potential creative and dynamic energy being blocked or channeled in wrong directions. Hmm, so is writing about the dark nooks and crannies of my soul focusing in the wrong direction or is are the dark nooks and crannies of my soul created when I channel my energies in inappropriate or unhealthy directions? I’m choosing to interpret the Page of Wands Rx as indicating the latter – blocking my creative energies creates the dark nooks & crannies.

So, now that I’ve established that where am I going with it? I’m doing to dive right in the deep end. Reality is that I’m not an especially introspective person – at least not on a daily basis. I tend to be more of a doer than a planner. I can plan but it’s not my first instinct. My tendency is to dive into the deep end of any endeavor and then just figure my way out. It’s been relatively successful so I’ve had little incentive to change this pattern. Which also explains the reversed Page of Wands – when I take on a new project or creative impulse I tend to jump right in to things. Poking around in my dark places is rather counter-intuitive to me.

I will say that using Tarot has been a great way to sneak into my subconscious. I can be quite good at rationalizing and intellectualizing my actions. Deflection and denial can be quite powerful so the only way for me to subvert them is a tool like Tarot cards. Tarot forces me to hold a mirror up to myself and address what I see. It often takes more than one attempt but eventually even my stubbornness cannot hold out against the slaps upside the head that Tarot offers. Each deck offers different insights and perspectives.

I realize now that I’ve used Tarot as a therapeutic tool. Despite my MA in forensic psychology, I have a resistance to therapy. I resist believing that I need another person’s input to my therapeutic process. I hate being told what to do, even when I know the suggestions might be useful. I am one of those people who has to stumble through the jungle on my own. I don’t value the experience unless it’s first hand. It’s the same reason I rarely find self-help books helpful – I may be glad that others have found their way to healing and wholeness but I need to forge my own path. I also have no interest in mentoring others. If you find something useful in these musings then I’m thrilled. If not, that’s okay too because it helped me.

Over the next few months I’ll probably share more specific tales of this journey through the wilds of my own mind. I don’t know if it will be especially interesting or edifying but I’ll guess time will tell. What I do know is that for some reason I’m compelled to share. Maybe just knowing that they’re not alone out there will help others who have similar experiences. Maybe at the end of the day that’s what helps us all stay a little saner – the knowledge that we are not alone.

 

Speaking with the Dead

I had a very strange experience last week. I’m not sure why I should be so surprised by it but I was. I had arranged for a Tarot reading with the wonderfully talented Mitchell Osborn. My reading with Mitchell was very different to they type of Tarot reading I’m used to giving and receiving. His style reminded me of a session with John Edwards. It was more as if he was channeling messages from the spirit world than interpreting cards.

Over the course of our reading, Mitchell described receiving messages pertaining to my hubby from someone he felt might be associated with show business or a comedian. Now my hubby had an uncle who worked as a teamster in the film industry but that didn’t feel right. Mitchell once again said he was getting a strong feeling of a comedian. I mentioned my brother Tom who has been dead since 1986 but was well know in my family as a clown. The 31st anniversary of his death was two days after the reading. As soon as I mentioned him Mitchell almost shouted “Yes!” I explained that Tom had died when he was 15 but gave no more details. I just shared how Tom had been a practical joker and one statement that Mitchell had offered from the spirit world sounded exactly like something Tom would have said.

For the rest of the reading, Mitchell gave me messages from Tom that I didn’t even know I needed to hear. He explained that Tom was showing him his head hitting the ground as a way to explain that he died instantly and felt no pain. What I did not know at this point is that my brother’s skull had been fractured in seven places by the attack on him. Mitchell also shared that Tom was showing his spirit standing next to his body in shock – he didn’t realize he was dead, and that he stared at his attacker wondering what had made him so angry and full of pain. This sounds so much like something Tom would think that it brought tears to my eyes. Any skepticism I felt immediately drained away.

A few things Mitchell mentioned didn’t make any sense at the time. He asked if my brother ever drove a car or liked cars because he kept seeing a red Mustang. Now, I assume my brother Tom like cars as much as any teen boy but living in NYC meant very few people we knew owned cars. My hubby was one of the few and although Tom like riding in them he showed no special attachment to them. Of course, the odds are that the longer he spent with my hubby the more likely that would change. Mitchell also asked if Tom had a girlfriend. I explained that as far as I knew he didn’t, at least not when he was killed. Mitchell said he kept mentioning “the girls that wasn’t included” but I had no idea who that might be. Once our reading concluded I immediately called my mother and shared that portion with her. We both cried at the confirmation that Tom hadn’t suffered. I think we’ve carried that burden for 31 years and never realized how heavy it was.

Now here comes the part where I got messages from Tom. I kept thinking about the “girl who wasn’t included”. It bothered me. So as I laid in bed thinking things over it hit me – Tom meant my sister-in-law Tracey who had died last year. She wasn’t included because she was not yet part of our family when Tom was killed. I became convinced that was who Tom meant. I believe he was trying to let us know he was watching over Tracey in the afterlife. I mentioned this to my family and got non-committal responses. They didn’t want to disagree but didn’t really agree either. So I went to my default divination tool, my Tarot deck, and simply asked Tom for clarification. I asked, “Who was the girl who wasn’t included?” I drew Death. That seemed pretty clear to me but I wanted additional confirmation. So I asked Tom “I want to be sure, we’re talking about Tracey, right?” I drew The Hierophant upright. This is significant because I indicated that an upright card would be a positive response and The Hierophant is my birth card. So Tom was clearly saying “Yes, you are right”. I once again shared this with my family and we all agreed this was Tom’s way of reassuring us. Even my brother Billy (Tracey’s husband) said he felt a little better after receiving that message.

To add even more layers to this, I began thinking about the car connection. Now, as I mentioned, Tom certainly enjoyed spending time around my hubby’s cars but wasn’t a “car guy” per se. Then I remembered something. Tom was scheduled to start high school the September. The high school was called Automotive High School! Then, while driving up from NYC, my hubby passed a spot where he has noticed people place cars that are for sale. This time as he passed by he saw a red Mustang! We took that as another sign Tom was around and wanted us to know it.

This was a very powerful and mind-altering experience for me. I’ve always wanted to believe that we can communicate with loved ones who have passed on but I’ve also always been skeptical. This has definitely eradicated that. It occurs to me that perhaps our loved ones on the other side are often trying to communicate with us but we don’t pay enough attention or understand the signs and messages. Going forward I am definitely planning to keep my eyes, ears, and heart open to future signs. I already know my father is good at finding us parking spots when none seem available so simply being more aware would probably help this process.

When we carry shame that is not our burden to bear

Okay, deep, dark revelations time – my childhood was pretty dark much of the time. I know I’ve alluded to some things and outright stated others but to say it was a clusterfuck would be an understatement. My family was poor – I mean Mom sold blood for money poor. My parents were underage when I was born (16 & 17) and by the time they were 22 there were four kids. My father was an immature ass and bully for most of his life – at least as far as his family was concerned. We put the “fun” in dysfunctional. Only it really wasn’t funny.

I was battered and bruised physically, emotionally, psychologically and sexually. For many years I believed that this was my fault; that I had done something or said something to bring this on me. Even most of my friends had no idea what went on in my house because who the hell wants to be the freak at that age. All I wanted to do was fit in and believe me that was already difficult enough without all of that shit being exposed. As a result of these experiences, I engaged in some very risky behaviors. I drank a lot! In fact, while in high school I had a few incidences of black out drunks and can’t remember anything. I was smart enough or scared enough not to try drugs more serious than the occasional joint but I took enough risks and chances to ensure that I could have easily become a statistic.

My parents had no clue how to handle me. Even my father, who was quick to beat the crap out of me should he feel the need, didn’t know how to stop me from going in the local bar. One night, after learning that I had been hanging out in the bar (I was about 15 at the time), he brought me back down to “prove” to me why it wasn’t safe. When we walked in my father was greeted by a number of patrons (including some who were rather criminal). When they learned I was his daughter they assured him they’d keep an eye out for me. So, I pointed out to my father that I was probably safer in that bar than anywhere else in the neighborhood. The fact that he accepted my statement and started playing darts rather than outing my true age to the bartender gives you a good idea how clueless he was as a parent.

Why am I bringing all this up? Simple, because one of the epiphanies I had at the 2016 Readers’ Studio is the fact that I was carrying the shame and guilt for events that were not mine to carry. I did nothing wrong. I was blameless in what was done to me. I was a child, powerless and defenseless. Even admitting that now is giving me palpitations. I preferred to take the blame on myself because it gave me the illusion of having some control, some power in this situation. What a load of crap! I was a child. I should have been protected by my parents not needed protection from them. Even as I write this I can feel rage flood through me at how bruised and beaten that poor little girl was. It took me a long time to realize that I was still that bruised, beaten, traumatized little girl.

Those experiences made me feel weak and made me determined never to feel that defenseless and weak again. Instead, I became aggressive – each offense resulted in a physical response. That often mean I got into fist fights with boys I knew. I eventually acquired the nickname “The Nutcracker” because I did not appreciate being groped by adolescent males. Believe me, taking punches from those boys was nowhere near as painful as taking them from my father. I probably would have continued down this path of aggressive, self-destructive behavior and binge drinking but I met my husband. I realize how amazingly lucky I was in meeting the hubby. I was 16 at the time and he was 24. He could have easily controlled and abused me – I was already primed for that kind of relationship. Instead, he defended me, protected me and made me question some of my more self-destructive behaviors. He encouraged me to do things for me not because of the expectations of others.

So here I am at 50 (facing 51) and I’ve finally been able to accept that none of that was my fault (well okay the binge drinking and aggressiveness but I’m giving myself a break because I had poorly developed coping skills). I don’t need to bear any of the shame or blame for those situations. I did not ask to be abused or molested. There was nothing inherently “wrong” with me that drew these types of people to me. Who knows, maybe my light was so bright that they felt jealous and had to dim it, tarnish it in some way. I cannot understand their motivations and no longer care. All I know is that I have shed myself of the blame and shame I carried for years. I feel lighter and more hopeful. I’m a survivor; I’m strong and resilient and I won’t let those experiences define or defeat me anymore.

I embrace the shadowed darkness but flee the brilliant light

Once again, this is something that has been incubating in me since last year’s Readers’ Studio. All three presenters (Heatherleigh Navarre, Barbara Moore & Sasha Graham, who were all amazing!) focused on shadow work. It was an awesome experience because each session managed to enhance and build upon the energy from the other sessions. Quite a lot of magical power was unleashed that weekend. As we worked through the exercises and listened to the presenters I had a bit of an epiphany. I realized that I had no problem working with the darker side of human nature because I’ve been so exposed to it during my lifetime; it’s familiar territory.

I’ve probably hinted or even outright stated this before on this blog, but the fact of the matter is that much of my childhood was exposed to the darker side of human nature. My household was one of alcoholism, abuse (emotional, psychological, physical and sexual) and poverty. Most of my childhood friends came from similar backgrounds. We didn’t realize things were screwed up because this is the way it had always been for us. It’s not until I share tales of our exploits and get horrified looks from listeners that I realize how violent, dark and different my childhood was compared to many others.

I have learned to thrive in darkness, like a flower that blooms at night. It has become my milieu; I am comfortable in its environs. What I tend to avoid is the light, the gentle, the calmer approach to things. While sitting at Readers’ Studio I realize that one of my strengths is that I can help someone find their way through their own darkness. I can embrace and accept this side of their nature and help them work through it and find their way to wholeness. I can serve as the guide across the River Styx but I prefer not to accompany them back to the light. I prefer the shadows. I trust the darkness; I know what to watch for and what to expect. The light is something unfamiliar and untrustworthy. Random acts of kindness and spontaneous acts of generosity make me twitchy and a bit suspicious (something I am working on changing).

This realization also forced me to understand that my ability to endure and survive this experiences does not mean everyone can do so. It doesn’t make those who get lost in the shadows or who fear them weaker than me, simply different. I a bit like a colorblind person who doesn’t miss color because she has never seen them. I don’t miss the light side because it isn’t something I had a lot of experience with growing up. As an adult, I’ve been lucky enough to make friends who have slowly exposed me to the benefits of the light side and I am more grateful to them than words can express but it hasn’t shifted my orientation much.

Maybe in a way, I’m like the Tarot version of a sin eater. I can absorb the darkness or shadow side that others fear so much and help them learn to become more comfortable with it too. Hmm, maybe I’m more like a dark side Brita filter, helping purify the dark side so it’s more fully appreciated.

Let’s face it – there are a lot of folks out there working the light side of the street. They try to convince us that it’s healthier and more positive. In my experience, it’s much healthier to embrace both sides. As Star Trek (yes I love classic Star Trek, Gene Rodenberry was a genius, and I plan to use examples from the show as often as possible) showed, humanity needs its darker side; messier, more violent shadow side. Without it we risk becoming indecisive martyrs, trying to harm none – that’s just not possible. I think we need to accept that every action has consequences, some good and some bad. In some ways, every choice we make has the potential to harm others. That is just how life works. If you are offered a job that means all the other applicants were rejected – someone was harmed. Get over it. Instead of ignoring or denying the shadow side, try working with it a bit. You don’t need to immerse yourself in it but try accepting and acknowledging it and learn what its energy can do for you. I think you’ll be surprised.

Death’s Handmaiden

 

As some of you out there may know, I spent the last 5 years caring for my elderly, dementia-ridden mother-in-law. I lived with her 24/7 and took care of all her needs. Although not a fun experience by any means, I will say that I learned a lot. Most of it I was unable to process until after she had passed, in fact I’m still processing. One thing I did learn is how to appreciate death. I realize this may sound a bit out there but the truth is that there comes a time when death is a blessing and this was definitely one of them.

In life, my mother-in-law was a fiercely independent and self-sufficient woman. She detested asking for assistance and would have despised what her illness did to her. Towards the end she was unable to recognize any of us (although she did still occasionally respond to my hubby’s voice); she had no control over her movements or bodily functions and no awareness of what went on around her. It was horrible to watch as she deteriorated over time and be unable to do anything about it. In her final days her doctor came for a home visit and told us that he felt she didn’t have much time left – days to months at the most. Ironically she died within two days. At the time we were arranging for in-home hospice care for her. We joked that she found the idea of strangers in her home so repugnant that she decided it was time to move on.

After she died she laid in her bed for several hours before the funeral parlor folks were able to pick her up. Although no funeral services were planned, we did want her to be cremated. The hospice agency sent a nurse so that time of death could be declared (it was actually 4:30 although legally the time was recorded as 6:30). The nurse also change my mom-in-law and cleaned her up. Now this is where things got strange for me. I am one of those people that has always refused to touch a dead body – visions of corpses sitting up and trying to grab me have always filled my mind, blame it on too many zombie flicks. Even when my father died I could not bring myself to touch his corpse. With my mother-in-law it was a very different experience.

Perhaps because I had tended her daily for the past few years (there was literally no part of her body I hadn’t seen), I was able to stroke her head and help prepare her for the funeral hearse. I helped the nurse change her and clean her. Before the nurse arrived I found myself entering her bedroom numerous times just to say goodbye and reassure her that her son, my deaf, mute & retarded brother-in-law, would be fine. There was something soothing about this ritual. It made me understand why having a loved one waked in the home makes more sense than a funeral parlor. Doing this for her made me feel like a priestess.

This experience also taught me not to fear death. Although dying can be traumatic, especially to those left behind, it is a natural part of life. If there is no death then there is no room left for new growth. Death can also be a blessing in disguise. I am often reminded of the classic Star Trek Season 3 episode The Mark of Gideon. The basic plot is that Kirk is beamed down to a fake Enterprise where he meets Odona. It turns out her planet is suffering from overpopulation and in an effort to control it Odona hopes to become infected by a disease Kirk carries but to which he is now immune. To these people, death has become a promise of relief, a surcease. For some people who suffer from a long-term debilitating illnesses or dementia, death but start to become a welcome experience.

What I have learned is that even if I have times when death seems cruel and capricious, there are also times when it is a boon signalling an end to suffering. Yes, it is a journey to the unknown but I now believe there comes a time in our lives when what is known is no longer tolerable and it is our choice to embrace this transition. Instead of fearing death and putting off the inevitable, we should speak to our loved ones and make our wishes known should certain situations arise. We should have the right to consciously decide if and when we chose to make this transition and the only reliable way to make our wishes known is through legal documents. These conversations may be painful but knowing how my mother-in-law felt about such matters make caring for her final days much more bearable.

Just take the freakin’ compliment

While at Readers’ Studio, I was chatting with Elinor Greenberg and Diane Wilkes. During out chat Elinor turned to Kooch Daniels and commented that several of my blog posts incorporating Tarot and psychology were some of the most insightful writings on the topic that she had read. I immediately made a self-deprecating comment along the lines of “knowing my own bullshit”. Elinor commented “Just accept the freakin’ compliment”. That stopped me dead in my tracks. Like a lot of people, I find it easier to take criticism than praise. Why? What is there in my soul, my ego, that cringes at compliments?

I wasn’t always this way. As a child I was very much a solar baby – soaking up all the attention and praise that I could get. I was a very good student and relatively well behaved child. In fact I was often embarrassed by teachers telling my mother they wished they had a “classroom full of Debbies”. Looking back now I realize that I began shying away from praise when it began to cause mocking by peers. One incident in my junior year of high school is still seared into my psyche. I took typing and steno (because why the hell not?). During one class the teacher asked for volunteers to read the transcription we had just completed. I can’t remember if I volunteered or was selected but as I was reading it I could hear a voice from behind me mimicking and mocking me as I read aloud. I felt so hurt and defenseless. I started tearing up and knew I couldn’t let them see me cry because (as I’m sure many of us remember) high school can be quite a dog eat dog environment. Another classmate sitting next to me realized I was close to losing it and told the mocker to cut it out. I will always appreciate her defense of me. I managed to finish reading without breaking down but it really took the joy out of that class for me.

Looking back I realize that kind of thing happened a lot to me. Not as cruel as the mockery and mimicry but being teased for being a brainiac, egghead, using $100 words. Even friends would make comments about my vocabulary so instead of feeling proud about it, I ended up feel embarrassed, shamed. Even in my family I’ve heard comments like I “think too much” or that I’m the “smart one” as though it makes me an outsider. I sometimes joke that I’m a Lisa Simpson in a Bart & Homer kind of world. It’s funnier to say than it is to experience.

This is just my roundabout way of explaining why I resist compliments – because I always assume they’re actually backhanded insults; ways to mock and tease me. I hate feeling that vulnerable and exposed so I go into an offensive position – I make fun of myself before they can do it. I treat it like a joke so they won’t realize how much it truly hurts me. It’s amazing and sad to me that after 30+ years that incident still causes pain. It’s not as painful as it once was but there is still tenderness and soreness attached to the memory. It’s ironic that when I was on FaceBook I got a friend request from the same person behind that incident. Just another reason I prefer to not be on FaceBook.

Empress Rx – When being kind to yourself is scarier than punishment

 

Blue Rose Tarot EmpressHave you ever found yourself looking at the Empress card and feeling irritated and resentful? I have. I often receive gentle (and not so gentle) nudges from her reminding me that I need to care for myself as well as others in my life; that sometimes I need mothering too. That triggers a host of negative associations – I actively resist being mothered.

I suppose I can lay the blame on my familial dysfunction (isn’t that always the easiest answer). My mother could be passive-aggressive and veer between smothering and deliberate obtuseness. My father was just aggressive, demanding and harsh. Let me be clear – I knew they both loved and supported me but on their bad days they could each be quite awful in their different ways. My father set a high academic standard for me and I rose to the occasion. Unfortunately, while quick to criticize if I didn’t do well, he was not so quick with positive feedback when I did. My mother preferred to stay out of that quagmire altogether. If I complained to her about the unfairness of my father’s expectations and treatment (he once gave my sister $10 for getting a B average report card while my A- average was criticized – “why the minus?”), Mom would shrug and comment that’s how my father was. I’m sharing this to explain why I find criticism or punishment easier to accept than nurturing kindness – it’s just what I became acclimated to receiving.

Mythic Empress

One of my biggest struggles has been learning to accept kindness, support and praise without brushing it aside or downplaying my accomplishments. It’s an uphill battle. I still find it very difficult to accept kind words from friends. I brush it off, make light of it. Accepting that I may be worthy of praise or comfort sits awkwardly in my psyche. I’m no one special – anyone in my place could do this. Maybe that’s true and maybe isn’t. I’m not sure. What I do know is that it’s still a part of myself that needs work. I’m not criticising or denigrating myself, simply acknowledging a truth. Even the Tarot has pointed out that this is an area that could “use improvement”.

So if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, know that you’re not alone. I will bet there are plenty more of us out there resisting praise the way toddlers resist nap time. We can change, improve our self-image so we feel deserving of praise and kind words, but for now we’ll probably keep squirming a bit. For those who have friends & loved ones like me, be gentle with your praise and positive feedback. We’re more used to cruel than kind and there can be quite a learning curve.