By Patricia R. Adson, PPC, Ph.D.
As a long-time student and colleague of Carol S. Pearson, it has been my mission (and my great joy) to further the application of her hero’s journey twelve archetype model to the fields of psychotherapy and coaching. To that end, I have written two books based on my experience with this model: Finding Your Own True North and Depth Coaching: Discovering Archetypes of Empowerment, Growth and Balance (both available at http://www.capt.org).
In my blogs, I will write about the ways we can apply this material to situations that arise in everyday life. I will speak to you as if I am asking you to coach yourself, and I will give you practical ways to awaken archetypal resources you already have.
Archetypes and Issues: Abandonment and Rejection
Does the past always have to determine the future?
At lunch the other day, I overheard an artist admit to the group that she wouldn’t show her work because she had an issue with “rejection.” Another woman at the table acknowledged that she had trouble committing to a relationship because she had “abandonment issues.” Both women were working on these “issues” in therapy and hoped that someday they would have overcome their painful childhoods and be able to “get on with their lives.” I, too, hope they do, but I realize that many of us carry around these issues embedded in stories that limit our chances of happiness. What is your story? And, are you willing to look at it archetypally instead of pathologically?
Emotional Self-care: Handling Rejection and Abandonment:
Part I: The Caregiver
A relationship ends, someone betrays you, you don’t get the job you were so well qualified for. Do you feel abandoned or rejected? How do you handle these situations? Do you abandon or reject yourself? Or, do you call on your Caregiver.
No one likes rejection. No one relishes being abandoned. But, sometimes we set ourselves up for rejection and abandonment by abandoning and rejecting ourselves.
What do I mean by abandoning yourself? Let me give you an example. Suppose that someone you care about lies to you or betrays you. Consider how you might react. Do you focus on the other person and use all of your energy lashing out and describing their treachery? Do you hold long interior monologues asking yourself how that could happen, or wondering why someone would do something like that? Do you complain constantly to others?
None of these reactions is wrong; your complaints are legitimate—he was a skunk, she was inconsiderate, unfaithful, demeaning, “not there for you”–and your reaction is natural. But if you continue in this vein, you might find yourself, once again, alone and abandoned—abandoned by everyone, including yourself.
You also can reject yourself by extreme self-criticism. Do you find yourself asking, “How could I have let this happen? What’s wrong with me? How could I be so stupid?” Whether you feel abandoned or rejected, you need the help of your Caregiver.
To call on the Caregiver, you can begin by examining what happened and taking an objective look at your definition of the situation. Many of us define rejection in a very broad way. The artist who won’t exhibit her paintings because she fears rejection, the writer who says that she can’t handle criticism, the partner who doesn’t even want to listen to feedback—all are trying to protect themselves but end up not taking their own journeys. If I paint a painting and you don’t like it, are you rejecting me? No, you are expressing an opinion about the painting. I will give your opinion weight depending on your qualifications for making that judgment. If I ask you for something and you don’t want to give it to me, are you rejecting me? No, you are denying my request. If I want to read into that a rejection of me as a person, I have some work to do. I have just given you the power to determine my worth! No one likes criticism, but when we go out of the way to avoid it, we can end up abandoning ourselves.
The next step is to call on the Caregiver by experiencing and naming our emotions—whether they are anger, fear, sadness, or all of the above. By acknowledging emotions and feeling them fully, we can center some of our attention on ourselves (rather than the other). We can ask ourselves what we need and begin to set about getting it, whether we need support, comfort, legal advice, or a cup of hot tea.
The Caregiver allows us to stay with ourselves by feeling our feelings and calming ourselves. The Caregiver says: “Breathe into the fear, don’t act before you have a chance to think of what it is that you want, ask yourself how old you feel at this moment.” The Caregiver asks: “What are you afraid of now? Does that have to do with the here and now or is it a familiar reaction to things that happened many years ago?”
Tune in to your internal Caregiver and learn how she operates. Notice whether or not you are in touch with your own emotional needs. If you are having trouble with this, imagine that someone else, a child perhaps, or a colleague, has come to you for help with this “issue.” How would you comfort and care for that person? Most of us are pretty good at calling on our Caregiver to take care of other people. Now you turn this skill into learning to call on this archetype to take care of yourself.
When we keep an activated Caregiver on call, we can have productive conversations with ourselves instead of those imaginary conversations we have with the “other.” We call on the Caregiver to be the intermediary between the emotion and the action: not to dispel the fear but to understand it and act on it in an intentional way.
Take stock of your Caregiver; you can find her most often in your self talk. How often do you:
- acknowledge your own feelings, name them to yourself, and allow yourself to feel what you feel
- calm yourself down with breathing, soothing motions, or reasonable self talk
- remind yourself of past experiences you have handled successfully
- quiet or talk back to your negative self criticism
- stay focused on yourself and your feelings and needs rather than expending all of your energy on someone else who may have caused you pain or distress or who has abandoned you?
What is your image of the Caregiver? How do you awaken her in your life? What story do you tell yourself about your Caregiver, and where did that story come from?
Consider how it would be if you made a decision not to abandon yourself? How would your life be different? The Caregiver archetype (in partnership with the Warrior) enables us as adults to stick with ourselves and make sure that even if others leave us, we will be all right.
A well-balanced Caregiver doesn’t ensure lifelong happiness: people do betray us, lie to us, break promises, or leave. But the Caregiver can ensure that we never do these things to ourselves, and that when others leave or disappoint us, we may be sad but we are not diminished or destroyed.
Next step: Calling on the Warrior
Patricia R. Adson, PCC, Ph.D. is a psychologist, teacher, author, and coach. In addition to a private practice as psychotherapist, she served as a consultant to community corrections, community mental health facilities, and taught in the graduate programs for St. Mary’s University of Minnesota and the University of Minnesota. She is a certified Hudson Institute Master Coach and serves on the Leadership Team and as a mentor coach and coach supervisor for the Hudson Institute of Coaching.