We all have within our psyches all twelve of the primordial universal archetypal energies that I’m presenting over this year, month by month. Each of these archetypal character forms can express in masculine or feminine form and also in either Strength or Shadow modes. This next few days I invite you to consider Shadow aspects of your own Elder Leader persona.
Many of us acquire SHADOW ELDER LEADER messages as a result of having encountered Shadowy elder leaders in our lives, most often in the form of parental figures but it could also be from experiences with other “shadowy” leaders. I can own that my father, a complicated man, often displayed negative attitudes in the family by expressing a very challenging, critical point of view. The middle child of five, I was quite often the target and recipient of his sharp criticism. My older sister Lee has told me that one of her first memories of me was when I was four and stood up to my dad’s abuse, saying something like, “You can hit me, but you can’t make me cry.”
My relationship with my father was really quite a mixed bag. He was often an exceptionally GOOD parent and leader, but he exhibited as well a mean streak and a quick temper. Since I was the child most able to “stand up to him”, I was also the child most targeted for his disdain or rage, even though he and I also sometimes shared very deep private conversations that showed me he valued our connection as I also appreciated his complexity.
One terrible memory that I will share to explain the sort of Shadow Elder Leader example I am developing here happened when I was maybe 4 or 6. I remember it like a nightmare and even thought for many years later on that maybe it really had been a dream; but no, it was real. I was the only child at home, alone with Dad. I was in the front yard at our family home in Cincinnati. He came out and called me with a tone I immediately felt was accusatory and threatening. I remember running as he chased me around the yard and carried me into the hallway near the living room, enraged because I had tried to run away.
“For every word you say, I am going to hit you with this.” (brandishing a belt in his hand).
“But Dad, what did I…” (followed by five excruciating slashes on my four-to-six year old rear end.)
He led me into the living room and forced me to sit in an armchair while for what felt like several hours (who knows how long it really was), he sat facing me from another chair, glowering at me, ready to strike again at any word I might utter.
This nightmarish reality penetrated to my core and lodged deeply in my psyche. I must have dissociated to some degree in the moment of that experience, as I don’t remember anything more except sitting in stunned terror and turning inward, of course not speaking and not looking in his direction at all. I never did learn what he was even angry about, although I have a dim sense that it was about something my sister had actually done but he had thought it was my wrongdoing.
Many years later while I was in graduate school, I shared an adventure with my father when he sold me a used car (for a good price, by payments), and he drove all the way from Buffalo to Phoenix to deliver the car to me. We met halfway (me riding by bus to join him in New Mexico during a blizzard), and we drove together to Arizona. At some point I reminded him of the childhood trauma I had held onto since the event described above. He denied that it had happened at first , supporting my thought that maybe I had only dreamed the encounter, but then he admitted that he remembered the experience too, and he apologized.
I shared with him then that moments like that one had haunted my psyche since childhood. I became fearful of ‘adults’ or even of fully becoming an adult myself, developing somewhat of a Peter Pan complex (“I’ll never grow up!”). But sharing about this painful memory and having my father acknowledge its occurrence helped me to gradually resolve the feelings associated with those sorts of encounters with my father. Later in his life we talked much more about his own punitive attitudes and behavior and I came to understand the difficulties he himself had also carried from his own childhood and later harsh experiences. By the time of his passing we had fully resolved our early conflicts and we reached a very loving, mutually respectful relationship. But it has taken many years yet for me to separate out positive from Shadow Elder Leader attitudes and traits, both in my relationships with others and in myself. My general tendency for many years was to deny anger until it might explode within me, usually at only the frustrating final end of a close personal relationship. Eventually I have resolved most of this, but only after I had dealt with these Shadowy memories and fears could I enjoy developing the full potentials of my own most positive leadership potentials.
So what I am sharing here is about how others might often come to represent or mirror archetypal traits that through such encounters may also lodge within your unconscious psyche orientations. It helps and is even necessary to confront these sorts of buried impulses in order to illuminate their influence directly so as to arrive at a more realistic assessment. Forgiveness is possible when we expose these shadowy residues to the light of our conscious understanding and mature perception. Then we can release these Shadow impulses once and for all, or at least we can learn to integrate these memories within a more positive understanding that might help us to develop empathy for others going through such experiences themselves, strengthening our own positive leadership roles.
I welcome your comments and stories at the SAFE SPACE that I hope this blog site has become. I thank Brenda for commenting about this site as one exhibiting “solidity”; that has inspired this personal sharing that I hope might stimulate some productive reflections in others.