Orphans

It started with the realization that my mother was flawed, that it was possible for me to get lost, hurt, or worse, because the one person in the world who was the source of my security was not all-seeing and all-knowing. Suddenly I knew that I existed. I was separate from my mother. I was alone in the universe and at the mercy of dark forces. And I was terrified. By the time my father's flashlight pierced the darkness, trust had been vanquished and a sacred wound had been born in my soul. Its name was fear. I say this wound was sacred because I believe fear is inevitable, and the suffering it causes is holy. Only when we have been wounded by fear and suffered its pain do we recognize that we are not sufficient, that we need help from a higher, divine authority.

Orphans


The Bridge to Wholeness:
A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth
Chapter 2 Orphans

IN THE PHYSICAL SENSE OF THE WORD, I was not an orphan. Up to the age of eleven, I had two parents who loved me very much. After that, I only had one, but I still had warm memories of the other, and I still had family security. But in a psychological sense, there was a period in my life when I was very much an orphan. My time of orphanhood began with my momentary separation from my parents that night on the shores of Lake Michigan, and it lasted for many years.

It started with the realization that my mother was flawed, that it was possible for me to get lost, hurt, or worse, because the one person in the world who was the source of my security was not all-seeing and all-knowing. Suddenly I knew that I existed. I was separate from my mother. I was alone in the universe and at the mercy of dark forces. And I was terrified.

By the time my father's flashlight pierced the darkness, trust had been vanquished and a sacred wound had been born in my soul. Its name was fear. I say this wound was sacred because I believe fear is inevitable, and the suffering it causes is holy. Only when we have been wounded by fear and suffered its pain do we recognize that we are not sufficient, that we need help from a higher, divine authority.

Fear is what made me feel myself to be an orphan, and later, when my father died, fear reinforced my orphanhood and made it stronger and more pervasive. The worst fear of most orphans is abandonment, and that was my greatest fear at first. But when my father

abandoned me by dying, I discovered that I could bear abandonment and, because of other things that happened at this time, I traded it in for a new fear: fear of exploitation. I, who had never met a stranger, who had always been confident, outgoing, and trusting, became very suspicious of others, especially men, because I believed they would hurt or betray me if given a chance.

Although I was certainly not consciously aware of my sense of being an orphan, unconsciously I was scared, hungry, and needy. I was scared to be bad, afraid of being punished by God. I was hungry for safety, for castle walls; for formulas that would ensure my protection; for the approval of my parents, my teachers, and God. I needed security, and when I was old enough to leave home and go off to college, I believed I would find that security in a man I could trust to love and protect me. I found the perfect man, and he carried me off to the safety of his castle, like a king on a white charger. I married him, and I demanded that he understand me, approve of me, and be a strong and dominant father figure, for only then could I feel safe.

For as long as I continued in this way, a period that lasted well into adulthood, I remained an orphan. Despite the love of a strong husband I trusted and the comfortable life we were able to provide for ourselves, despite my cheerful bravado in the face of difficulties and my insistence that I was tough and independent, despite our continuing good health and the birth of two healthy children, regardless of the security of my husband's job and the added security that a master's degree brought to me - underneath it all there lurked an orphan, an orphan who still didn't feel safe, even as queen of my own castle.

I still wanted authority figures to give me answers, to tell me what the truth was, and to save me from making mistakes. I continued to believe that if I was good, God would take care of me. I wanted permission from my husband and my religion before I dared to do something new or different. When they disapproved, I felt angry, but I rarely had the courage to rebel, for believing in these authorities was more important to me than my own desires. These authority figures made me feel safe and enabled me to deny my despair.

As an orphan, I had learned that I was separate from my mother, but even as an adult I still had no identity of my own. Because I did not know who I was, because I could not hear my own inner voice, I believed I must rely upon the good will of someone else to care for me. I did not believe in my own goodness, so I was willing to go to great lengths to trust, forgive, repay, and be loyal to my caregivers.

Luckily, the people to whom I gave my trust (first my parents, then my teachers and religious leaders, and later my husband) did not take advantage of my dependence, nor were they cruel or abusive. But if they had been, I still would have loved and defended them and their ways to the death. I would have had no other choice. An orphan must conform to the ways of those in authority, no matter how bizarre or unfair those ways may be; otherwise, there is no hope. To an orphan, conformity is the only way to stay safe, to survive.

Because I believed more in others than in myself, I denied my real needs. And as long as I sacrificed my real needs, I was doomed to be discontented, no matter how comfortable and secure the outward circumstances of my life might be. Had there been a lottery in Florida when I was in my orphan stage, I would probably have believed that winning it would solve all my problems. Certainly, like all orphans, I wanted a quick fix and an easy life and, although I could never have admitted it even to myself, I wanted it without having to work hard for it.

Carol Pearson, author of The Hero Within, says that in our journey toward wholeness, we all go through an orphan phase. Everyone has an orphan within. When we are young, and every time we are in unfamiliar situations or environments, it is our orphan who feels hurt, vulnerable, and dependent on others. No matter how loving or secure our home lives were in childhood, we all suffer a certain amount of disillusionment, anger, and fear when we begin to suspect that the world is not the safe place we had innocently believed it to be.

So we conform, because we believe conformity is our only hope of staying safe, the only way to avoid being abandoned outside of our castle walls. We cling to the customs and conventions of our caregivers with all our strength, never thinking to challenge the rules or stick up for ourselves. And we deny our despair and refuse to mourn; instead, like plucky little princesses, we put on happy, confident faces to convince ourselves and everyone around us that we are just fine.

Deep in our souls, we know we are not just fine. Yet we pretend because of a terrible secret we must hide from ourselves and others. The secret is that we are very bad, and our badness is the reason for our suffering. And why do we believe we are so bad? As orphans, we have to blame ourselves for our suffering; it must be our fault when bad things happen, because the alternative is unthinkable. Orphans are vulnerable victims who are not strong enough to accept the terrifying truth about the real grown-up world: that no one out there has the answers, that the forest is dangerous, that Mama is flawed and Daddy is dead, and that not even the thick walls of a castle can protect us from pain.

 



Dr. Jean Raffa is an author, speaker, and leader of workshops, dream groups, and study groups. She maintains a blog called "Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom." Her job history includes teacher, television producer, college professor, and instructor at the Disney Institute in Orlando and The Jung Center in Winter Park, FL. She is the author of three books, a workbook, a chapter in a college text, numerous articles in professional journals, and a series of meditations and short stories for Augsburg Fortress Publisher.

Her book The Bridge to Wholeness: A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth (LuraMedia, 1992) was nominated for the Benjamin Franklin Award for best psychology book of 1992.

Reviewed in several journals and featured on the reading lists of university courses, it was also picked by the Isabella catalogue as a must-read for seeking women. Dream Theatres of the Soul: Empowering the Feminine Through Jungian Dreamwork (Innisfree Press, Inc., 1994) has been used in dreamwork courses throughout the country and is included in Amazon.com’s list of the Top 100 Best Selling Dream Books, and TCM’s book list of Human Resources for Organizational Development.