The fear of God’s retribution has haunted me most of my life. I believe it arrived at the age of 11 when my father died of his third heart attack. Since he had divorced my mother three months earlier to marry another woman, I must have concluded that death was God’s punishment for betraying Mama and leaving us. Of course, I received little help from my religious training on that assumption; after all, the Old Testament god was a punishing god.
Soon I began to ask the big questions about the meaning of life and gravitated toward religion which appeared to have some answers. By 17 I was hooked, and over the next ten years I read the New Testament three times. Its words were very comforting, and gradually my god-image of retribution morphed into one of love. Consciously, that is.
But here’s the thing: It’s not just about what you see; it’s also what you don’t see. My conscious belief that God was about love, not punishment, did not convince the wounded child whose fear of retribution never went away. In fact, the more I sided with a gentle, forgiving god-image and disowned its opposite, the more power my punishing, masculine god-image acquired until it became an overly scrupulous spiritual bully whose job was to criticize and repress me. And this hidden character in my inner cast of players began to influence me in equal measure to his opposite with one important difference: he did it without my awareness!
Psychological realities have energy. When we deny them honest expression they become like weeds that find their way out through cracks in the foundations of our personalities. My father’s death created a crack in my psyche and my bully took advantage of it. Instead of focusing on my good qualities and reminding me of my worth and lovableness, he’s the part of me that delights in emphasizing my mistakes and flaws.
He thinks he’s doing me a favor. After all, you know the saying, “Pride goeth before a fall.” He believes self-criticism is good for me and constant awareness of how “bad” I am will keep me humble! And therefore safe from God’s retribution. But thinking we’re bad, hiding our light, and squelching our soul’s truths lest we attract God’s wrath or upset others are not good uses of our precious time on Earth. Might as well crawl into bed and pull the covers over our head.
Our soul’s reason for being is to live fully, love wastefully, and become all we have the potential to be. That’s hard to do when we’re being pushed around by a spiritual bully. So how do we handle that negative inner voice? I choose to believe my Wisewoman, who, after 22 years of dreamwork, I can now hear in waking life. She’s the alpha mare who says to my spiritual bully stallion when he gets too inflated, “I hear you, buddy, but I’m not buying what you’re selling. I think it’s time you got a new job. How about helping me follow my bliss instead of criticizing me for being human?”
Taking our inner characters and disowned realities seriously is a choice to live our life fully instead of trying to kill it. What was Wisdom’s response when I finally saw my bully and started challenging his authority? Failure? A bolt of lightning? Loss of love? Abandonment? No. Actually, it was more like, “You go, girl!”
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“Man, like the other animals, is originally simply the puppet of instinct, just as the infant is. Unless he is moved by instinct, he remains