Fear of Retribution


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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0 Responses

  1. Wow, the humanity really comes through! Moving into consciousness in both sexuality & spirituality takes courage. It is the common problem after heirarchy of needs is met. When I read a bible-story book in the 30’s and saw pics of angels cutting off the heads of children who failed to do God’s “bidding”, I knew I was on the other team no matter what. In the 60’s I began to see it was an attempt to motivate through fear and so started began to deal with sexuality (I’m a crossdresser) and spirituality (agnostic maybe). It was the Unitarians who helped me aim for the positives. The anima/animus from Jung, the Shadow, Archetypes and other concepts were very helpful. I’m to be the organizer for a PFLAG chapter and I’m also sponsoring philosophical discussion groups in the UU churches and at local libraries. I’m now 81 and still have things to do before I die. There is much more that I’d like to cover with attachments, but writing has been a path to self-understanding (just as for you).
    James Q. Burgess

  2. Thanks so much, Que. Talk about humanity and courage! Your comment, like your life, contains an abundance of both. Consider me your newest fan.
    Thank goodness for Unitarians, Jungians, and writing! What would people like you and I do without them? We have been so fortunate to have discovered how healing and expanding self-understanding is while we still have plenty of time to enjoy our lives and do more and better things before we die!
    Warm blessings to you,

  3. Wow, my decision to check in and read this was timely.
    Re: horse metaphor: a week ago I tried putting a mare in with our stallion, neither of them have ever done pasture breeding, and both are mature horses with lots of opinions. The stallion horrified me by becoming very aggressive with the mare, who usually is the meekest one on the ranch. He chased her around for a while biting her and harassing her. When he’d finished his business and was all worn out, she decided that they were not through and demanded more attention. This led to fighting and kicking.
    That’s when I decided I had had enough of this and separated them. The mare called to him later in the day, she wanted to go back to him. She had left her mark on him but she got the worst of it. Clearly the fact that she was all chewed up from their violent rendezvous did not bother her. But it bothered the heck out of me.
    On a practical level, I did the right thing to cut the date short. But on an emotional level it made me realize I am not nearly as tough as I thought I was. Macho aggressive behavior still shuts me down, even if it’s a horse displaying it.
    Re: dreams and being “bad”: I have had dreams about people telling me I am bad or worthless or should be afraid of everything since I was very small, and many are still vivid in my memory. Only recently have some characters started showing up to argue (literally, they argue while I watch) that I am not so bad. I consider this a good sign. I wish I could feel more in control of these characters and less like a spectator. Probably I am still letting others determine my self-image. Sigh.

  4. Hi Petshark,
    Thanks for stopping by. Your horse story is great! How neat that you’re still learning about yourself from your horses after all this time. Aren’t they the best teachers? I’m planning on writing a post about how much my horse taught me. Actually, I could write a couple of books about that!
    And I love it that you’ve developed an inner protector to argue with your bully. I would take that as a good sign too. One of my favorite dreams was when my dream ego stood up to an intense woman trying to bully me and she backed off. That’s when I began to realize how hard I was being on myself and started choosing to give myself a break. My dreams have not only been helpful in showing me unknown aspects of myself, but also enormously validating. In fact, I would say that they have been more influential in improving my self-image than any other factor.
    Warmest wishes,

  5. I am so inspired to know that your work has led you to be able to see and hear your Wise Woman in your daily life. What a gift. It gives me hope that one day I too will be able to connect with her.

  6. Hi Annette,
    Oh, I’m sure you already do, and here’s something to look forward to: it gets easier with age! Seriously, it does. Plus, as a writer, you have a very important gift that can help you recognize her more quickly and often. Do you by any chance keep a journal? Writing about my dreams and insights has been invaluable to me. The important thing is to take your inner life seriously and find a practice you like and then just keep at it.
    Thank you for taking the time to comment. I’m so glad to know I’ve written somthing that inspires you!
    Much love,

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