Today’s installment of “the personal is f*cking political” is brought to you by the letter “G,” for “gaslighting.”
For most of my adult life, my “dharma,” as they say—the primary realm of my central life-lessoning—has revolved around issues of owning my shame and holding on to self-worth despite that shame. And I do not think I am alone on that particular road. Far from it. This is the dharma of most of us hanging out on this planet right now. And I think we need to address it directly if we have any hope of surviving the Mango Mussolini and his tyranny of alternative facts.
Over the years, I have internalized every little bit of gaslighting and distortion and toxic sarcasm and diminishing shitgibbonry that I have encountered—and I have encountered it endlessly, from birth. So have you. We are immersed in it and trained in it and unthinkingly reproduce it. Drunk relatives, crappy teachers, insecure peers, controlling partners, the entire high-modern-patriarchal-managed-democracy-industrial-capitalist-complex itself. It accumulates and proliferates and generates its own gravity that pulls us down with it.
For a time, I pushed back against the instruments of toxic shame with a satisfying sense of self-righteousness. Culturally, I was amply rewarded for playing by that script—I was a “strong woman” with a “mind of my own.” Such a perception brings goodies and social rewards in my particular educated white lady culture. So I internalized that, too.
But at some point, the outrage stops working. Our righteousness becomes just more fuel for more diminishing, marginalizing ridicule. The pussy hat is transformed from a badge of courage to a scarlet letter. We are back where we started.
And that’s when shame sets in. And silence becomes the only strategy that makes sense anymore. Silence, retreat, psychic self-preservation. And even then, we are blamed. We are bitches, ice queens, we have “ghosted.”
My shame drove me to silence, and then beyond silence, to total withdrawal and isolation and a shadow life in the fear-realm. And then to such extraordinary depths of self-loathing that it completely rearranged my expectations of what I deserved and what I was willing to accept. And it very nearly pulled me under all the way, as it does to so many of us. It is a long road back from that that I am still walking. But now I see it was training.
At this moment, we still have outrage. But as we are learning, day by day, our righteous moral outrage—while important for its own sake—does not cut to the root of the dynamic we face, which is a dynamic much, much larger than Babyfists. Stomping our little feet and shaking our own little fists and crying “but LOOK what he DID, he said THIS and now he’s saying THIS and it’s not FAIR he’s WRONG” is the energetic equivalent of powerlessness on the playground when the smirking bully lifts your skirt up with a yardstick “only because he likes you.” (That sort of thing still happened back in my day, which was all horses and buggies and the cold war and presidents who stuck to their lies. Now the smirking bully just takes a photo of you in the locker room and snapchats it.)
We do need our outrage, to keep us sane and to ground our solidarity. But only outrage will make us bitter and fragile. We also need a little more alchemy. A little more Jungian wisdom. A little more divine feminine energy. A little more witchy shamanic mojo. We need to go into the darkness and find the shadow—our own and the collective—and lead it back gently by the hand so we can fully integrate that motherfucker once and for all.
That begins with each of us locating within us our own Babyfists. He is in there, I promise. His whole little cabal is. Somebody put Babyfists in a corner. Sad! Why is he in there, in your own heart? What is he doing in there, raging away like an angry little baby who wants his bottle? Ask him to talk to you. Ask him to tell you what he’s afraid of, and what he is trying to protect in your own soul. Do it this weekend, while the moon is full and the veil is thin. I don’t care if it sounds woo-y. We live in woo-y times, my friends, and we are not getting out of this pickle without it. The whole energetic game has shifted.
Babyfists did not emerge in a vacuum. We put him there, and something deep and repressed within us benefits from him. At some point, our shame gave birth to a little orange guardian in our psyche, and here he is pooping all over the carpet and blathering on like an unwanted dinner guest. As Carl Jung wrote: “when an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside of us as fate.” Our task, which we have chosen to accept by being here on this planet at this time, is to transform shit into gold. In ourselves and in the world. As within, as without. We’ve been training for it our whole lives.