July 5, 2016 Adson Blog: The Orphan’s Trance

By Patricia R. Adson, PPC, Ph.D.

Pat AdsonAs 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.

Did you ever notice how often we expect other people to meet our expectations and satisfy our needs? And, do you notice that when people don’t respond the way we want them to we ruminate, re-wind and re-play the experience, and then complain about it to others?

I became aware of this recently when a client I’ll call Annette came into my office brimming with anger and resentment. She was disappointed in all of the significant people in her life. No one seemed to be living up to her expectations. She began with her husband, whom she called inconsiderate and thoughtless, and listed many examples of his faults. She then moved on to her grown daughters and documented examples of their ungrateful behavior. She ended the family complaint list with her annoyance at her mother, who continues to favor her sister even now, when both she and her sister are in their late fifties. Leaving the immediate family, she turned to her workplace and cited several more examples of favoritism and injustice.

This was ground she had covered before and tried, unsuccessfully, to deal with by learning better communication skills, entering family and marital therapy, and even telling herself to buck up—“the world isn’t fair, get over it.” None of these solutions worked for long, however, and she was consumed again with resentments, comparisons, complaints, and anger at the unfairness of her life.

Because she had tried and failed to change the others around her or solve her problems with a rational approach, it was time to look at the situation in another light: to go beneath the surface statements and look at this situation archetypally. When in the grip of a shadow or low-level archetype, we behave as if we were in a trance. We regress in age and lose sight of our ability to call on any of the other levels of archetypal energies available to us. In an Orphan trance as Annette was, we feel helpless, and can look only to others for help.

Thus, when Annette’s husband is inconsiderate, her grown daughters thoughtless, or her boss favors another, she can see no option but to try to change their behavior, tell them what they are doing wrong, and expect them to change. When she doesn’t succeed, she becomes angry, continues to focus on them, and stews in her resentment. Whenever the other person comes into view or thoughts of them enter her mind, the resentments pop up, the low-level Orphan takes over, and it pulls her away from the present. She then asks the world to take care of her. “Look at me,” she says, “my husband, children, co-workers, parents, all treat me badly and don’t appreciate me. I work myself to exhaustion and they only ask ‘What’s for dinner?’”

Where does an overwhelmed Orphan turn in these situations? Many, appropriately, turn to therapy. We often need therapeutic help working through painful situations, but if the therapist remains a surrogate parent to the wounded child rather than helping her learn to take care of herself when painful situations occur, there is a danger of perpetual reliance on others to care for us. Even though Annette is hurt and angry, others cannot take care of her emotions; she must care for them herself by turning inward and acknowledging them to herself. Only then she can move forward and decide on the action she wants to take.

We can provide self-care only by realizing that we are adults, living in the present, not the past, and remembering that we now have access to archetypes and levels of archetypal energies other than the one possessing us right now. The overwhelmed Orphan needs what any orphan needs: parents. Archetypally, our inner parents are the Caregiver and the Warrior, the parts of ourselves capable of caring for, and having compassion for, and taking responsibility for ourselves.

Annette needs the highest level of her Caregiver and her Warrior, and she must learn how to call on them on her own behalf. In the past she called on her Warrior by lashing out at others or demanding better treatment and then felt disappointed and more powerless and back under the Orphan spell when it “didn’t work.” She called on her Caregiver to take care of others and then ended up feeling like a martyr. As children we learn to use these archetypes only in our dealings with others. In her Orphan state, she is limited to the levels of the archetypes that were available to her as a child. Now she must break this state of age regression and move into the present, where a range of options awaits her.

An exercise like this is not easy and requires a constant practice of refocusing from other to self, from past to present. As her coach, I can become her partner in the process by observing and giving her feedback on the way that she “Orphans herself” both in our interactions and those she reports taking place in other areas of her life. I can help her become aware of how and where she experiences these states in her body and how movement and posture can awaken archetypes and change her orientation. I can give her assignments of self-observation and practices of self-awareness, but I cannot break the trance. As long as Annette stays focused on “them,” she is powerless. When she learns to focus on herself and what she is able to change, she will have broken the trance for herself.

If you find yourself stewing over resentments or disappointed that others aren’t meeting your expectations, try the following:

  • Think of a resentment or a disappointment you are harboring that colors your interactions with others.
  • Check your emotional pulse as you dwell on the resentment
  • Enlist your Caregiver to allow your emotion to be there, to acknowledge it and notice what happens when you return your attention to yourself, to the present time and your adult state of being.
  • If there is an action you need to take, or a request you need to make, allow your Warrior to plan it and carry it out in an adult way that respects your own dignity. If there is none, explore the options you do have. Do you need to leave a bad situation? Do you need to lower your expectations? You might want to call on your Destroyer to help you rid yourself of things and kinds of relationships that no longer support your journey.
  • When you find yourself having expectations for others (which is normal), reflect on how realistic they are and how they relate to your expectations for yourself and your own behavior.

This is by no means a “quick fix” or “five easy steps to enlightenment.” All of the above suggestions are easy to say and extremely difficult to do. Moving into full adult status requires constant awareness. We do not snap out of trances immediately. The hypnotist asks us to wiggle our fingers and toes, to open our eyes, to breathe deeply, look at our surroundings, and feel the bodily sensations we were unaware of in a trance state. Try this, and see if your perspective changes and your options increase when you concentrate on the present and your expectations for yourself instead of others. You will have to do this over and over again to remind yourself that you are in the present, not the past: that you have agency over your own behavior that you did not have as a child.