The Queen of My Self

By Carol Tandava

But no matter how much we have learned to suppress, control and deny our expression, rest assured: Each of us has a full complement of these “shunted off ” pieces of unprocessed emotional experience, which can emerge, indeed forcefully erupt, when triggered by experiences that resemble or resonate with the initial experience. And then watch out!

Very often, when these unprocessed complexes emerge, they overtake the psyche and leave one feeling quite helpless. Worse, the complex is in whatever level of maturity the psyche was in at the time it was created. Have you ever wondered why an otherwise rational, mature, even impressive adult can suddenly become a squalling 5-year-old if, for example, someone cuts in front of them in line? Well, an unprocessed complex is the reason.

Now, as awful and humiliating as it can be to be held in the throes of a complex, we can still be good parents to ourselves and give ourselves the containment that had not been available in our formative years.

Here is my prescription:

If something happens that drives you looney, for whatever reason — and do not judge, try to rationalize, justify, or even figure out the reason — just let it out.  Try, of course, to create a safe space for this. If you are in mixed company, or in a situation where expression could cause undue damage, try to keep the feeling in stasis until you can seclude yourself. But once you are safe, just let it rip.

And when I say rip, I mean RIP.

Wail, scream, cry, punch a pillow (I am a big fan of pillow-bashing) — but most of all trust that as bad as the pain may be, and as ridiculous as you may feel in letting yourself revert to your two-year-old self, if you let it do its thing, you will emerge safely on the other side.

I liken it to the way a pilot brings a plane out of a stall.

When a plane goes into a stall, it starts to nose-down and the pilot loses control. You would think that bringing the nose up would be the right thing to do; but it isn’t. As aviation legend Lincoln Beachy learned, if you push the nose down into the stall, your wings will gather enough lift to recover.

And so it is with the complex-driven tantrum: If you dive straight into it, look squarely into the eye of whatever has got you by the short-and-curlies, and bawl/scream/grieve your face off — in essence, if you let yourself die a little — you will get through it, and you will grow.

So, how do you know that the tantrum did the trick? Usually, I find that whatever had triggered the episode will not bother me as much — or at all.

A good example of this happened in my mid-20s.

I had quit my job to pursue theater as my parents had agreed to let me move back in with them for a few years. One night I came home very late from a show and found my mother had done something that upset me terribly. I don’t recall what it was, but whatever it was triggered something HUGE in me. (As Paul Reiser quips: “Want to know why your parents are so good at pushing your buttons? It’s because they installed them!”)

I wanted to go absolutely ballistic at her, but she was sleeping — and I knew enough by that point to realize that beating up on another person, even the person whom I held responsible for the injury, would resolve nothing.

So I took a moment, stuffed my face in a pillow (so as not to wake anyone) and screamed and cried. My body wrenched and writhed and I found myself biting the pillow… there was something about biting that was important here. Well, I didn’t want to destroy the pillow, so I grabbed the next best thing: a 2-week-old copy of the NY Times Magazine — something no one would miss.

And I shredded it with my teeth!

Yes, I really did that.

There I was… a mature, sensible 25-year-old, ripping, gnashing, tearing saliva-soaked pages with bestial fury. Tears poured down my face as I crumpled fistsfuls of slick tooth-made confetti, mashing them into the living room rug.  A long breath shuddered into me; I gurgled out a few more sobs … until the sobs turned into laughs. And I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was I was so upset about.

My mind was completely blank for what seemed like several minutes. I had to reach around, fumbling through my thoughts as I was at that moment fumbling through the confetti, trying to clean up the mess. And when I finally remembered what had moments before been my mother’s terrible-horrible-unforgivable act … I laughed again. “That is what upset me?? Damn….”

And the storm was over. I scooped up the mess, chuckling to myself … how silly, small things can loom so large when powered by the grief of a tormented inner-child. Having been given her due, the child was calm, contained, cared for and happy. And my mothers momentous offense had returned to life-size.

It was some oversight … knowing her, she probably meant to do well by me in doing what she did, but guessed wrong as so many parents do. But I can’t say for sure.

Within moments, it was forgotten — processed and integrated — to this day, I can’t tell you what it was.


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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to


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