The Queen of My Self

By Carol Tandava 

…continued from yesterday’s post…

I read once that any emotion, fully and honestly experienced, will always return to love (i.e. positive emotion). So if something upsets me, I can usually find something in myself — some belief I have about the world, myself, etc. that says, “You will never be happy/have what you want/etc. because you are/aren’t/have/don’t have such-and-such…” that is causing me to have the negative emotion.

Now, because these processes operate at psychical levels that are far deeper than intellect or will, simply isolating the limiting belief is not enough. You need some serious force to blast it away — or melt it down.

I particularly like the metaphor of melting — of emotion being an intense heat that helps us reform our psyches to grow into what we need to be, what we are meant to be.

Think of it like this:  Imagine the psyche as a portal through which this energy is flowing. In its initial state, it is small and connected strongly to the beings supporting its existence (i.e. the parents), it is open and flowing … until it isn’t. It gets hungry or cranky or it’s not being soothed enough or it’s being discomfited in any number of ways.  Its world is quite literally falling apart; it is in pain and for all it knows will be in pain forever.

The child is in a primitive agony, what pediatric psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott called a state of “unthinkable anxiety” — a dread of annihilation.

In response to this state it writhes and screams and cries. Now, yes, I agree that a tantrum is a method of communication geared towards getting a caretaker’s attention, and therefore the crying can be seen as evolution’s way of guaranteeing survival. But I believe it is more than that…

Tears are to the injured psyche what bleeding is to the injured body.

In a physical injury, blood rushes to the wound and in doing so it cleanses and brings clotting factors that allow the wound to heal.

In a psychical injury — where a young psyche encounters circumstances that tear at its grasp of self and world — the psyche bleeds, and in doing so brings healing factors to the wound.

Imagine the psyche, and in particular the ego (the sense of self that knows itself to be itself — say that three times fast), as a portal-like physical construct composed of beliefs about self and world. As it goes through life experience, it must needs encounter circumstances that confound, contradict or altogether violate those beliefs.

At each such encounter, a “tearing” occurs; the ego construct begins to collapse, indeed a kind of death is experienced as the psyche cracks apart, and so a great force of life energy is needed first to keep the portal open, and second to repair and expand the ego so that it can accommodate the “new” world it has experienced. And the process by which this happens is a tantrum.

So really the parent’s role in a tantrum is to do nothing more than simply contain it; to let the child know that its expression is not destructive, that in fact it is very natural, and that it will resolve itself if it is merely borne through, and that s/he will be loved unconditionally throughout.

If the child comes to believe that this expression is destructive, however (as many of us have), then s/he will try to gain control over it and, in doing so, numb the pain of the body — which is a short-term solution to the pain which ultimately and unfortunately causes greater and more untenable pain in both psyche and body.

Paraplegic yoga teacher Matthew Sanford eloquently describes how this process metes out with his young son (segment starts at 26:05 of this interview in On Being), and the consequence of not allowing pain to be felt and expressed:

There is a reason why when my son — he’s six — is  crying, he needs a hug. It’s not just that he needs my love, he needs boundary around his experience. He needs to know that the pain is contained, and can be housed. And it won’t be limiting his whole being. He gets a hug and he drops into his body.

And when you drop into your body, paradoxically, typically pain gets less. Pain gets more intense … [when you’re afraid and pull out of your body] .. it really denies freedom. And it’s a great short-term strategy. That’s what I did as a thirteen-year-old [in the wake of my accident]. I pulled out of my body to get it, but that’s a short-term strategy and a lot of the process of my life is … embodying again and surrounding what’s going on, so I can be part of the world. 

If the child is not made to feel safe in the trauma of this experience, if s/he is not allowed to “drop into [his/her] body,” then not only does the necessary process of healing, growing and transforming not occur, the unprocessed experience remains in the body. Rather than allowing the psyche to transform to accommodate the experience, the experience and accompanying emotion gets shunted off into the unconscious, leaving the psyche worse than its initial immature state: Not only has it not grown, it has learned to fear the very pain that makes growth possible.

To a psyche in this state (which, to greater and lesser degrees is pretty much everyone in our culture), emotion becomes very dangerous indeed.   As we learn to conform socially, we are taught to further suppress emotion, and indeed may be shamed and rejected for its expression — further compounding the damage done in childhood.

To be continued… Read Part 3 on Friday, July 8th.

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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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