The Instinct-Injured Woman

Women Who Run with the Wolves opens with the stories of La Loba and Bluebeard. La Loba is the all-knowing woman who lives deep inside our psyches. She is ancient. She is wise. She collects the bones of deceased wolves and pieces them back together in her cave.

“Today the old one inside you is collecting bones . . . What is she re-making for you?”

Once she has an entire skeleton, La Loba sings the wolf back to life promising . . . “that if we will sing the song, we can call up the psychic remains of the wild soul and sing her into vital shape again.”

In stark contrast, Bluebeard, a gruesome French folktale first published in the late 1600’s, represents the predator inside of us. At first glance, it’s a shallow tale of a silly young woman who succumbs to curiosity thereby disobeying her husband’s wishes. While he’s away, she uses a tiny key to open a small door in the castle which reveals a dark room filled with the bloody corpses of his previous wives. Her disobedience nearly gets her killed when her husband returns, but her brothers swoop in to save her right at the last minute.

Many modern interpretations keep the story shallow and off-kilter to say the least, but Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D. dives much deeper.

“Women who are gullible or those with injured instincts still, like flowers, turn in the direction of whatever sun is offered,” she writes.

In this tale the maiden is naïve and she does turn towards the charming suitor at first, even though he has a bad reputation and that strange blue beard. But once they’re betrothed she’s not obedient or submissive as would likely be expected. Instead she is independent and curious. I can definitely relate to that.

This happened to me twice. First, when I was 23 years-old (read : gullible) and completely convinced I had already missed the boat on everything important in life, I got into a relationship for the sake of no longer being the dreaded “S” word: single. Second, when I was 30 years-old (read : injured), literally seconds after I ended that first experience.

Just when I thought I was set to soar, I crashed with a thud into a wretched relationship with a compulsive, alcoholic liar. So many nuggets that Estes drops ring true for me. Silencing my internal alarm bells (because I knew exactly who and what he was) and turning instead towards whatever scrap was offered. I let reasons like ‘he hugs me’ justify a relationship I knew was bad for me even though it was quickly heading towards marriage and permanency. But my previous relationship had been almost entirely devoid of hugs, so to my injured instincts this made sense.

Also this new man appeared to ‘believe in me’ whereas my previous captor had been frying my goals on the back burner in order to pursue his own. There was no room in our house for us both to be successful and happy, so he won out and I shrank into a frustrated heap of tired anger. This new man was going to pick me up and help me fly again. That was my perspective at the time and, while it may not be how I view the past now, it was very much what I was experiencing in that moment.

In both cases I willingly affixed my blinders and proceeded into the dark room with the tiny key, into a sort of spiritual death.

But there is always a light, isn’t there? Estes goes on to say:

“Though there be injury . . . there is still left adequate energy to overcome the captor, to evade it, to outrun it, and eventually to sunder and render it for their own constructive use.”

It’s true. I observed the darkness, came to my senses and got the hell out of each situation. The second time I moved much faster than the first go round (a mere nine months vs. seven years). In a way it was good that the experience was so much worse because it allowed me to wake up faster. I wasn’t the frog being slowly boiled in the pot as I had been in my twenties. Instead I was crossing hot coals in bare feet and subsequently ran like hell.

“In many cases what is required to aright the situation is that we take ourselves, our ideas, our art, far more seriously than we ever have before.”

And that is exactly what I did. I moved to Portland, OR where I promptly started writing and running my own business.

Years later, I am recognizing where I got stuck. Not at the beginning behind the wall of a predator, but in my own heart where it’s safe because I don’t let any monsters in. It’s also intensely boring and lonely in there because, well . . . I don’t trust myself to tell the difference between the monsters and the good guys. So I don’t let anyone in.

For many years I’ve lived in that no-man’s land of not trusting my instincts enough within the realm of romance. I’ve learned how to recognize the bad almost immediately, which has served me tremendously—in life, on OKCupid dates, at work. I’m safe and I can take care of myself in a crisis. But the second half of the equation, the part where I learn how to recognize the good ones and enjoy them . . . I’ve avoided that almost completely.

In this way the Bluebeards stop being actual men and manifest as the thoughts and fears in my head. That is to say, I had physical captors and once I was released from them I took on mental/emotional ones to fill that void. Can you relate? Anyone out there survive something awful just to sabotage yourself because you couldn’t handle existing in a state of happiness?

So what did I do in the romantic/intimate relationship area of my life? It seems I poured every one of my bad decisions, along with my inexperience and immaturity, into a pot and boiled it down to a thick opaque soup. Then I subconsciously put it into a jar and labeled it: All Men Are Inherently Dangerous.

Oops. My bad.

As I do my best to start taking 100% responsibility for the course of my life, La Loba is resurfacing to remind me that evil men aren’t keeping me single. I am. I’m not responsible for any horrible events that happen, but I am entirely responsible for how I react to them and what label or meaning I give them.

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