Mirrors & Projection Screens; Fish Scales & Hummingbird Wings; Power Surges & Brownouts; Automatic Faucets — these are metaphors I’ve used to explain my own experiences as a subtle medial.
Mirrors & Projection Screens
When we look at a mirror we see a reflection. We don’t ‘see’ the mirror. When I think of a mirror, I usually associate it with my own reflection and checking on my appearance. But looking into a mirror could just as easily show a reflection of someone or something else. It depends on where one is standing in relation to the mirror — one’s perspective. The rear-view mirrors in our cars show us what is behind us while we are driving — both in space and time.
In our everyday lives we are often ‘mirrors’ for each other. Our interactions reflect our perceptions of each other. We generally trust that what we ‘see’ is ‘real’, and we adjust our behavior accordingly.
But what happens if the mirror gives distorted reflections or sometimes operates like a two-way mirror and sometimes becomes a window? What if what is ‘seen’ is not a true reflection of the other? What if the mirror becomes a projection screen?
In recent years I’ve described myself as a mirror that is more ‘reflective’ than most — a mirror so reflective that it is almost impossible to ‘see’. Most of the time this is not a problem. When I am centered; when I am grounded in my own identity; when I feel the support of Inner Resources, I am able to be authentically myself regardless of how others ‘see’ me. Like Delattre’s Great Hum, I can usually manage to “wear the mask the world places upon” me.
“…Assume any mask the world places upon you and wear it with ease. Only then will your own divine countenance shine through…”
I long ago stopped trying to explain myself to others. It’s more important that others know who they are. Sometimes I return a mask to the person who ‘placed’ it on me. I do this when it feels as if the person has given away too much their power to me. I try to be gentle in my refusal. I want them to feel empowered not rejected.
Not being ‘seen’ only becomes a problem for me when I am in the role of one being helped. Casual interactions with store clerks are usually uneventful. It becomes more troublesome when I need help with home repairs or car problems. The real difficulty is when I — the real person — need help.
When I really need help, my helper is rarely able to see me well enough to give me what I need. The help offered goes to a reflection. I thank my helper for his effort and explain that it’s not what I need. I ask again making my request clearer and more specific — at least from my point of view. My helper tries again from a different perspective but still doesn’t see me, and again the help goes to a reflection. The cycle repeats until my helper becomes frustrated and gives up: “I’ve done everything I can for you and it’s not enough!” Both of us are wounded by the experience.
Most of the time this kind of mismatch doesn’t progress to the point of frustration. I don’t let it get that far. I have learned to accept the caring intent of the help that goes to the reflection. When I am spiritually and emotionally needy, I go inward and receive what I need from Inner Resources. I can reach out afterward for validation from flesh and blood humans, and that is extremely valuable.
As I grow older and my body progresses in the slow decline of aging, being ‘seen’ becomes more of an issue. Eventually I will need to rely on others for what I can no longer do for myself. I am concerned about the quality of the medical treatment that will be offered to me, and I am concerned about becoming so much of a burden for my caregivers that they feel intense resentment toward me.
Fish Scales & Hummingbird Wings
I haven’t always interpreted the misperceptions from others in terms of Jungian concepts. More than fifteen years ago, I wrote about a ‘physical component’.
What if there is something about the physical being of a person that from birth sets up some kind of interference in the perceptions or subjective experiences of others? Others could be drawn to or rejecting of such a person based more on illusion than on reality. This ‘something’ could be brain waves; aura; pheromones; oscillations in molecular and atomic structures that are out of sync with the world, or something else currently unknown to us.
Perhaps this ‘physical component’; causes the person to be like a mirror or a movie screen that reflects the projections of others — either positive or negative. Others would treat the projections as if they are real and become frustrated, resentful, and rejecting when the person does not react in accordance with the projection.
There are examples of the reflection of illusion in nature. The beauty of rainbow trout and hummingbird wings is due to the way the scales and the feathers influence light. The feathers and scales are themselves colorless. What if a person has similar properties reflecting something that is illusion rather than reality — or a truth about the observer rather than the observed?
The beauty of rainbow trout and hummingbird wings is due to the way the scales and the feathers influence light. The feathers and scales are themselves colorless.
This theory of a physical component does not contradict the Jungian concept of the medial personality. Both could be different approaches to understanding the same thing.
Brownouts & Power Surges
These same differences of physical constitution and/or medial personality may be responsible for other problems in relationships. I have found that the quality of my presence influences how others perceive me and how they react to me — especially when I am experiencing intense emotions.
Maybe I operate on a different type of subtle energy system. We are all aware of what happens with electricity in our homes. Some electrical appliances draw more current than others. Household lights dim when those are turned on. Overloaded circuits blow fuses and trip breakers. On the rare occasions when too much electricity flows through power lines, lights initially become brighter and then burn out — along with our computers — unless we have them plugged into surge protectors. What if some of us have subtle energy systems that affect others in this way?
Brownouts: I have noticed 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. This is what I call a ‘brownout’, aka, ‘burnout’.
Power Surges: Something similar happens when I am euphoric. My euphoria is contagious and infects the other causing him or her to react in uncharacteristic ways: making exaggerated compliments; disclosing too much personal information; blurring boundaries; offering intimacy. When the influence of my euphoria wears off, the other experiences embarrassment and regret. I call this a ‘power surge.’
All of us at one time or another have had the experience of another’s need drawing a response from us when we didn’t feel that we had anything to give. Well, maybe we didn’t. The other’s need drew a response through us the way putting hands beneath an automatic faucet draws forth water. Subtle medials have an enhanced ability to perform this function. Others draw through us what they need — even to the extent that our personalities may change in response to that need.
None of us are tempted to glamorize the function of the automatic faucets we find in public restrooms, but it is not the same when people function that way. Rather than recognizing the human automatic faucet as just an instrument, we tend to attribute the help received to the human being. We focus our gratitude, admiration and respect on an instrument and not on its Source.
When those of us who operate as human automatic faucets are unaware of our function, our egos will accept all of this as our due. We own what flows through us as our identity rather than our function. When no one activates the flow, we feel empty — because we are.
The traditional label for finding one’s identity and validation in helping others is ‘codependence.’ The concept grew out of addiction treatment. Beginning with Alcoholics Anonymous the term applied to those who ‘enabled’ the alcoholic’s addiction. Eventually the term was applied to those who sought validation in helping others because their dysfunctional family system did not provide this for them when they were children.
I suspect there are different types of codependence. Sometimes codependent behavior is caused by growing up in a dysfunctional family — with or without addiction as a contributing factor. Sometimes it is due to the value a culture places on care giving — especially for women. Sometimes it is the inherent function of a subtle medial personality. And sometimes it is from some combination of these sources.
It is important for subtle medials to understand that we have identities separate from and more than what flows through us in response to others’ needs, expectations, and projections. Otherwise we become possessed by the medial archetype and lose ourselves to our medial functions.
Subtle medials have identities separate from and more than what flows through us in response to others’ needs, expectations, and projections.
Strategies for Managing My Own Medial Nature
Those of us with subtle medial personalities have a different way of ‘being.’ We need to understand this well enough to function in the world around us. While medials are defined by the traits we have in common, we are sufficiently different from each other that we each need to develop our own ways of functioning in the world.
What follows is a strategy I developed for myself. Again I advise you to “listen for the echo of your own lives in what I’ve written.”
Clare’s Strategy for Dealing with the External World of the Consensual Reality
1. I accept that what I am affects my relationships with others as much as — if nor more than — what I do.
2. I assume responsibility in relationships. I accept that others will not ‘see’ me, and I make an effort to respond to misperceptions with tact and compassion. I am careful to establish and maintain clear boundaries. I set limits on other’s efforts to help me because they may not know when they have reached theirs.
3. I work at compensating for my effect on others. I attempt to use good communication skills and to evaluate what is appropriate behavior for various situations.
4. The misperceptions I attract cause difficulties in conflict resolution. To compensate, I try to contain my emotional reactions. If possible, I leave a volatile situation to calm and to evaluate what happened. I may write about it in a letter to the person before discussing it with them. This gives the other time to reflect before responding. It also removes the influence of my physical presence. Sometimes I just write the letter to process what happened and never deliver it. If I feel that more is needed, I will follow the letter — delivered or not — with a face-to-face discussion. I may invite a neutral witness to assist with this.
5. Because I, too, misperceive others, I need to do reality checks with people whose judgment I can trust.
6. I need frequent time alone without outside influences to be myself and think my own thoughts.
7. I attend to my inner life and rely on Inner Sources for support and guidance. When I experience intense emotions, I go there for help. I wait until the intensity has dissipated before reaching out for validation from flesh and blood humans.
Clare’s Strategy or Dealing with the Inner World of the Other Consciousness
1. I practice maintaining a moment-to-moment awareness of this inner world. I pay attention to thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. I have inner conversations with the concepts that have become my companions and guides.
2. I evaluate those inner experiences using both intellect and intuition to discern if, when, and how to translate those to the external world. I’ve learned that I need to question whether the intense emotions I feel are mine or some else’s or both. When it’s ‘both,’ separating mine from another’s is more difficult. I also question impulses to action. Is this genuine intuitional guidance or some totally personal response? How could my actions affect others? Would they be harmed if I acted on the impulse? Can I cope with the consequences if things don’t go well?
3. I manage boundaries in the inner world. I ask for guidance within and from that place. How do I help this person or this situation? Is it necessary that I take action in the external world? Do I reach out from my interior place to theirs? Do I boundary myself in my own depths and ‘hold space’ for the other in doing so? Most often I’m directed to boundary myself. My boundaried presence there facilitates others’ access to the depths within themselves. Reaching out from my space to theirs could interfere with their process.
4. I pay attention to my body. My body is an instrument for discernment. Are muscles relaxed or tense? Butterflies in my stomach? Tightness in my throat? Dryness in my mouth? Tunneled vision or panoramic view? Sometimes my body signals a shift in my state of consciousness. I may feel subtle energy flowing through me. My body may convulse around my abdomen. This often occurs when I’m directed to ‘go deep’ or told to ‘loosen the connections.’ ‘Going deep’ is entering my own depths and being boundaried there. ‘Loosening the connections’ is making my inner boundaries permeable so that material from the depths flows through me. I experience ‘going deep’ and ‘loosening the connections’ as slightly differing states of inner consciousness that I also feel in my physical body.
5. I continue to learn from and about this inner world and how I operate there.
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
Progoff, Ira. (1975). At a Journal Workshop: The Basic Text and Guide for Using the Intensive Journal Process. New York: Dialogue House Library.