But what happens if you are not taking care of yourself? You may become the shadow archetype of the caregiver...the martyr. Think, the mother that devours her young to protect them, or Christ on the cross dying for everyone else’s sins when he was sinless. Being a caregiver is often a thankless task, and you may hear things come out of your mouth like “after all I have done for you…”, “no one is ever there for me when I need them.”, “you are an ungrateful and selfish brat.” All these statements are wrapped in resentment and serve a big helping of guilt to the people they are spat at. Giving our of a depleted cup can create a vicious cycle of co-dependency that entwines all those playing along in a web of drama.
Have you ever heard of the Drama Triangle? It is a nasty little merri-go-round with sharp edges that keeps spinning and drains all your creative energy until you don’t know which direction to go in. There are three peaks, each occupied by an archetype: victim, protector, persecutor. And at some point everyone plays the victim.
For years my mother and I have done this dance. I remember soaking the bedsheets with my sobs as she played protector, my father lashing her backside with his belt. I starred in the role of victim. And my father got to play persecutor after playing victim himself (I'm not respected, no one care's about my needs). My mother’s remarks of her lack of need for him now that she had children cut his heart to the core. My father could never live up to her idealization of her daddy who had pampered and adored her. My father’s mother did it too. Feeling under nurtured by my Grandfather she poured her time into church and care taking for the community. There she found appreciation, but it left her with less to give her family and my father was too much like my Grandfather.
But a lot of this is hear say and what I have attempted to piece together of old family patterns in order to explain why I am the way I am in partnership and when relating to others. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture. I wanted everyone around me to change so that my world would be more comfortable. To get at this end I manipulated, coerced, even got to the point where I almost sacrificed myself through depression and mental illness when I turned the rage within. As I lay in a pool of my own blood on the floor of a mental institution in south Georgia tonging my broken teeth I thought “I am the sacrificial lamb… "so shall the children pay for the sins of their fathers".” It was all very dramatic and I was lucky to be alive and only have a hairline fracture in my jaw. If only I could have expressed calmly and directly a month before how all the drastic changes with my mom getting remarried were affecting me and requested time to process these shifts maybe things would have played out differently. I learned many lessons from that experience:
1. Trusting my care to someone else could be fatal or at least damaging, physically and mentally.
2. Pushing and rushing leads to things, or people breaking.
3. Sometimes it takes a shock to finally opens communication so that compassion and forgiveness can be sought.
Ultimately I had to take responsibility for decisions I had made and allowed that led me down the path to that end. And as I have began to change so have my relationships with other people and my family. Though it continues to be a work in progress. Self forgiveness is a great start to the transformation process.
So, what if there was a better way of relating? What if beyond guilt, manipulation, burnout, and resentment there was hope?
I believe there is a better way. I believe you can care for people while caring for yourself but it takes courage, communication, and respect. This way entails developing a strong relationship with yourself first. If you cannot honor the various energies intermingling inside of you to make you the multifaceted magnificent being you are, how can you possibly honor these various energies in other people? If every time you perceive an imperfection or wrong step you have done you take out a metaphorical flog and beat yourself, will you not do the same to another person who mirrors this behavior through your words or your actions (to their face or behind their back)? What would it be like to ask directly for what you needed without expectation or attachment to outcome or the form by which what you needed comes to you? What would it be like to give because you had more than enough rather than out of guilt?
What shadow archetypes are lurking in your psyche? Are you ready to bring them into the light? I’m interested in giving the dragons of our unconscious purpose rather than slaying them. Are you with me?