Today’s post is Week 4 of 12-wk series, exploring the different stages of Joseph Campbell, Maureen Murdock, and Victoria Lynn Schmidt in relation to how a woman finds her voice, learns to be content, and shares joy. If you missed the previous posts, please visit: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3
- Campbell: Crossing the Threshold
- Murdock: Experiencing the boon of success
- Schmidt: The descent – passing the gates of judgment
What the experts say
Campbell: When the adventurer crosses the first threshold, he faces ogres, trolls, and seductresses that try to scare him into not continuing his journey into a more magnificent world. “The usual person is more than content, he is even proud, to remain within the indicated bounds, and popular belief gives him every reason to fear so much as the first step into the unexplored” (78).
“One had better not challenge the watcher of the established bounds. And yet – it is only by advancing beyond those bounds, provoking the destructive other aspect of the same power, that the individual passes, either alive or in death, into a new zone of experience” (82).
The adventurer uses weapons and familiar tactics to try to overcome these creatures, but he must recognize the power within him, a yet unrecognized characteristic, a forgotten strength. When he taps into this sixth sense and is released from ego, he realizes that he must let go of the polarities of life and death, good and evil that have kept him living in fear and being on the defensive, that he passes through to the other side.
The Superwoman Mystique. The woman who leaves the constraints of her childhood by pursuing excellence and autonomy through higher education, a career, starting a family or living an independent single lifestyle. She feels accomplished and strong. She has taken responsibility for her own life and builds her own world. She is a superwoman who has and does it all. Despite being strong within herself, she must constantly face an outer world that is hostile to her choices.
Reaction to the Feminine Mystique. In the 1950s and 60s, women had no choice to compete in a man’s world or to decide how many children she would have. She was always dependent on a man to support her. In reaction, she became a controlling, manipulative woman who demanded perfection from her husband and children and masked her own feelings of loneliness and loss with self-righteousness and rage, or she numbed her pain with excessive alcohol, food, or spending.
Girls who witness this feminine mystique swing to the opposite end and become the perfect mother and perfect career woman. They take on a female machismo which hides self-hate and weakness as they try to achieve goals and feeling like they could never be “enough.” They also begin to want “a wife” – someone to take care of them like women have taken care of men for years. When they cannot articulate this sense of loss, they self-medicate with more activity.
The Great Pretender. She continues to get adrenaline rushes through doing rather than being. She achieves degrees, promotions, bigger and better houses, more children. And with each let down that follows reaching her goal, she quickly moves on to the next one.
She has over-identified with the masculine need to achieve and be strong. She has lost touch with herself and her ability to build relationships with others. She forgets how to say no, ignores her own needs, feels oppressed, and lives on the brink of exhaustion. Trying to please an ‘internalized father’ or reject a ‘weak, dependent mother,’ she must liberate herself from these destructive images.
According to Jung, Murdoch says, the inner masculine is an ability to know one’s goal and to do what is needed to achieve that goal. But if a woman doesn’t consciously acknowledge her inner masculine, she will never be able to explore her creative process because he will “urge her to a blind pursuit of her conscious goals.” Once she is liberated, she can find her own voice.
The Myth of Never Being Enough. When the unconscious masculine takes over, a woman may feel that no matter what she does or how she does it, it is never enough.
Murdoch offers a simple exercise: “to silence this inner tyrant and to train the heroine in the art of satisfaction. Divide a piece of paper into three columns. In the first column write something that you have done today, for example, “I weeded the garden.” In the next column write “I am satisfied” and in the third column write “And that’s enough!” It may sound simplistic, but after doing this exercise for a month or so you’ll forget that you were ever “not enough.”
Acknowledging the many demands on a woman’s time, Murdoch asserts that “most women don’t like to admit they have limits, and women have a hard time saying no.”
She explains that a woman must spend the first half of life building her identity and establishing herself in the world because it prepares her to give more and need others less compulsively, which leads to her sense of power and autonomy. But the rewards of this outer journey of success can keep her from caring for her soul.
“When a woman can find the courage to be limited and to realize that she is enough exactly the way she is, then she discovers one of the true treasures of the heroine’s journey. This woman can detach herself from the whims of the ego and touch into the deeper forces that are the source of her life. She can say, “I am not all things . . . and I am enough.” She becomes real, open, vulnerable, and receptive to a true spiritual awakening.”
[Murdock, Maureen. The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness (pp. 61-69). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.]
For Schmidt, the woman who begins the journey after her perfect world has left her feeling betrayed and disillusioned, sees before her a descending staircase with gates of judgment. At each gate, she faces a fear and tries to fight with one of the weapons or adornments she’s brought for the journey – manipulation, blackmail, her sexuality, her wounds, but a gatekeeper confiscates it until she is finally alone and naked in the dark. She outlines seven issues that a heroine might face on the journey.
- Issues of Facing Fear, Surviving, and Finding Safety and Security: afraid of intimacy, fear of abandonment, afraid to depend on someone else
- Issues of Facing Guilt, Expressing Sexuality and Emotions, and Knowing One’s Desires: fear of rejection, unable to say no, prefers to remain distant, has a hard time setting limits – wants to please others, sabotages relationships
- Issues of Facing Shame, Defining Power and Will, and Gaining Her Own Identity: highly critical of self, a perfectionist, controlling, might overindulge or binge, struggles with power issues
- Issues of Facing Grief, Giving and Receiving Love, Being in Relationships, and Accepting Herself: feels like she doesn’t fit in, self-conscious in social situations, needs others to tell her what’s the right thing to do
- Issues of Facing Lies and Communicating and Expressing Herself: struggles to speak her mind, afraid to stand out, rebellious, overactive, buys into other’s negative statements about her? suppress her creativity
- Issues of Facing Illusion, Honoring Intuition and Imagination: in denial about who she is, lacks imagination, ignores gut feelings and intuition
- Issues of Facing Attachment and Finding Self-Awareness: blindly obey others, inner critic sabotages her success, struggles with learning from her mistakes, unaware of her own motives, over-attached to family or job to know herself
On the journey, she may be tempted to turn around to the safety of the world she knew. She may settle for something less than her true desires. Only if the betrayal she experienced was bad enough, will she continue the journey and get to the other side.
[Schmidt, Victoria Lynn. 45 Master Characters, Revised Edition: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters (Kindle Locations 2264-2352). F+W Media. Kindle Edition.]
In My Experience
The underlying issue for the hero/ine’s journey seems to be that in life we get caught up in proving ourselves to be strong, accomplished, perfect, worthy until something calls us to a deeper journey – to recognize that we no longer need to ‘do’ but simply ‘be’.
Nothing is inherently wrong with setting and achieving goals, establishing our autonomy and becoming independent. It is only when we don’t recognize the need for inter-dependence and building emotional connections, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, admitting when we are exhausted, accepting our limitations and our fears that we become the Great Pretender.
We face the ogres, the gatekeepers, the trolls along the way – whether they are people or circumstances that provide the life lessons needed to break down our egos and force us to face our true selves.
In my own experience, it wasn’t until the third or fourth round of “why is this happening again” that I broke the cycle. I had to face my fears of abandonment, of rejection, of being ‘less than’ others. When I looked back over my journey, I began to realize that I possessed the strength, the grit, the skills to survive on my own, to take care of myself, to share myself with another.
At some point, I finally realized that I had the power to choose. I no longer needed to put others’ needs first, be chosen for some job or accomplish some life goal or ignore my desires. Instead, I had the power to choose. From the outside, much of what I do might look the same: cook meals for my children, go out of my way to do someone a favor or accomplish career and personal goals.
But with each betrayal, disillusionment, and failure that I faced along the way something happened. Each time, I got a bit closer to my own truth. Each time I fought the ogre, let go of the weapons protecting my ego, and finally – over the last few years – have reached the freedom and power that comes from choice.
Isn’t this the magic of midlife? Perhaps a better image for midlife than “the top of the hill” would be Campbell’s ‘crossing the threshold’ or Schmidt’s ‘descending to pass the gates of judgment.’
We hopefully will come out the other side no longer needing to be the Great Pretender.
Whether I was reading Campbell’s metaphors of overcoming ogres and trolls by tapping into unconscious strength and a sense of the divine, Murdoch’s Superwoman and Pretender who needs to believe she is enough, or Schmidt’s fears that must be faced to come to our true desires, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Marianne Williamson, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.”
Your Heroine’s Journey Experience
- Have you fought demons that led you through death, evil, and darkness to come out the other side stronger?
- Do you relate to Murdoch’s Superwoman or Great Pretender? Do you think facing your inner masculine will help you to tap into your soul-making creative side?
- Do you struggle with the Myth of Not Being Enough? How do you face it head on?
- If you were the protagonist in a work of fiction, which of Schmidt’s issues would be your driving motivation?
Next week we’ll reflect on:
- Campbell: Meeting allies and enemies.
- Murdock: Heroine awakens to feelings of spiritual aridity/death.
- Schmidt: The eye of the storm.