“Life insists on being lived, and anything that belongs to one’s life which is allowed to lie dormant has to be lived by someone else.”
The above quote is from Knowing Woman by Irene Claremont de Castillejo.
My lack of academic education and clinical experience in Jungian psychology suggests that I am a “someone else” living out what others have “allowed to lie dormant”. Most of what has been written about the medial personality is in the form of academic papers hidden away in the libraries of Jungian institutions. It shouldn’t be. The world has need of it. My writing is a poor substitute for that expertise. Yet it is “the little I can do”, and I would regret not doing it.
I have been tormented by this project for the last three and a half years. I feel intense pressure to complete it. Perhaps I can manage that it just one more article. I want to be done with this! It has been an extraordinarily painful process.
Because my only expertise is my own life, I am continuing to use material from my journal and from personal correspondence revised for clarity and confidentiality. And I will continue to reiterate what I wrote in the first article of this series:
“Listen for the echo of your own lives in what I’ve written. That is what is most important! Each of us knows more than we realize. Our ‘knowing’ is not something anyone can teach us. It is something we already have; it is ours to discover or rediscover.”
Rationale for Narrowing the Focus
By our very nature those of us with medial personalities make available to others material from the collective unconscious. We need to know about this function. We need to know that we are doing this. Then we need to understand as much as possible how it is happening and how it is affecting others. Otherwise we may cause unintentional wounding. We will hurt people because of who we are. And we will be wounded in turn by their reactions to us.
There are schools for vivid medials — those with obvious gifts who would qualify for training as psychics and mediums. Shamanism addresses walking between worlds and has its own traditions of training and initiation. Managing how these gifts affect others would be covered in such training.
Self-help books for ‘empaths’ and ‘highly sensitive people’ come the closest to addressing issues faced by subtle medials. However, these are usually written from the perspective of traditional mental health practices, and they focus on managing the effects from others. Little is written about managing the effects on others.
I suspect that many — if not most — subtle medials have little difficulty in learning to manage the transmission of material from the collective unconscious. It is experienced as a gift that is beneficial for themselves and for the people around them. Learning to manage this medial function may have come so easily, that they were hardly aware of having done so at all.
I’m not one of those. Throughout my life, my medial nature has caused many difficulties for me and for those around me. It has taken a lifetime to understand this. Along the way I sought help from therapists and from spiritual directors. I learned what I could from each of them, but they usually fell victim to unintentional wounding caused by my medial nature. And I was wounded in turn by their reactions to me.
It has taken most of my life — I’m 72 — for me to become healthy enough to realize that if I go to someone for help when I am emotionally and/or spiritually needy, I draw from that person more than he or she is prepared to give — even if I am careful about personal and professional boundaries and clear in my communications. I no longer put others at that risk. Inner sources provide for my immediate needs, and I can reach out for human support afterward.
In the 1970’s Catherine Doherty’s book, Poustinia, gave my life sufficient meaning and purpose for me to continue living, and it provided the loose structure I needed to organize my life. The following decade, Irene Claremont de Castillejo’s book, Knowing Woman, helped me understand much of what I was going through, and Ira Progoff’s Intensive Journal gave me a way to confront and learn about my medial qualities. And of course, I’m still learning. But there is a completeness to my life now and more wholeness than I ever imagined possible.
From ‘Psychic Typhoid Mary’ to ‘The Great Hum’:
I’ve been through a lot of therapy! Much of my work there has been about overcoming shame. In my earlier years, I labeled myself a ‘Psychic Typhoid Mary’. I was a carrier of something that hurt others even though it was never my intention. I didn’t know what it was, but I felt intense shame because of it. Therapists taught me that my shame was based on a false idea that influenced my behavior, and therefore, it was my behavior and not my ‘being’ that caused the difficulties in relationships.
I did a lot of intensive work on healing shame and changing my behavior, but it didn’t help all that much. Learning about ‘undifferentiated’ medials gave me another way to approach the problem. Below is an entry from my Poustinia Journal for June 1989.
My image of myself as undifferentiated medial: It’s as if I were wearing all sorts of little windows and mirrors all over me and not knowing they were there. The various perspectives of the people around me would cause them to see many different things. Each person would be seeing lots of windows and mirrors, but not everyone would see the same things. The multiple images would cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms — burning eyes, headaches, nausea, and confusion. Few would be able to look past the visual barrage and see me. I would either be invisible to them or associated with the unpleasantness of the assault on the senses.
I’ve known that people were uncomfortable around me and tried to change everything about myself — except my clothes. I brushed my teeth and used mouthwash, showered and used underarm deodorant. I worked at improving my manners and conversational skills. None of these things helped.
What I needed to do was to cover and label each little window and mirror. Then people would have been able to see me. And if they wanted to look at a mirror or through a window, they could choose where to look and could lift one cover at a time and really be able to see something and make use of it.
I have never managed to “cover and label each little window and mirror”, but I have developed strategies for managing others’ reactions. That is a subject for another time.
A few years ago a wonderful story by Pierre Delattre gave me a more helpful image — one that taught me to accept the reactions of others with compassion. The title of the story is Ten Conversations at Once, and it tells of a young (fictional) Dalai Lama who seeks help from a more advanced lama who can carry on ten simultaneous conversations. The simultaneous conversations sound like humming, and so that lama is nicknamed the ‘Great Hum’.
In the story, the young Dalai Lama was troubled by others’ reactions to his appearance rather than his reality. He sought advice from the Great Hum who responded in part:
“Once you’re free from bondage to your face, you’ll be able to take on as many faces as you like — not just two or three but a thousand. The more faces you assume, the more your expressions will remain the same. Eventually, when you try to resemble me, as you are doing now, you will find that I have come to resemble you instead. But you have much to learn before then. You are faced with contradictory feelings about your role and will remain so until you can assume any mask the world places upon you and wear it with ease. Only then will your own divine countenance shine through…”
Since then I’ve aspired to be more like the Great Hum and to accept with compassion misperceptions and projections from others — while also working to acknowledge my own failings in perception and the projections of my own shadow. It is always a work in progress.
Corson, Roberta Bassett. (1998). Wounds of the Medial Woman in Contemporary Western Culture. Santa Barbara: Pacifica Graduate Institute
de Castillejo, Irene Claremont. (1973). Knowing Woman: A Feminine Psychology. New York: Harper & Row.
Delattre, Pierre. (1971). Tales of a Dalai Lama. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Doherty, Catherine de Hueck. (1975) Poustinia: Christian Spirituality of the East for Western Man. Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press.
Progoff, Ira. (1975). At a Journal Workshop: The Basic Text and Guide for Using the Intensive Journal Process. New York: Dialogue House Library.