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 a 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 of the Christian Bible 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. This is fabulous, Jeanie! Perhaps it is because it hits so close to home…you have such a wonderful way with words. I am sending this on to other wise women who need to boot out the bully and claim their wise woman!

  2. Jeanie, I believe that some of my ignored psychological realities are taking over my garden. I was wondering, before I read your post, what to do about it. About the fear and anger I feel surfacing. Now I see I need to find a way to give them expression. Give them a voice and listen but if a bull shows up to say what your wise woman’s said,, “How about helping me follow my bliss instead of criticizing me for being human?” I am going to remember that one. Pass it along to my inner wise woman to use in times of need.

    1. Yes, indeed. Giving them expression is by far the most effective way of dealing with them. I’ve found rituals, art, active imagination and journaling — I carry on dialogues with inner characters that show up in unwanted emotions, give them names, ask them to describe their feelings and tell me about their issues, etc. —to be very effective. Good luck with this. I hope you’ll let me know how it goes!
      My best,

  3. Hi Jeanie,
    Spiritual bully…so that’s what it is…or who he is! Anyway, I hear what you’re saying! I’m not sure how to use inner dialogue though or even who to dialogue with! Would some of those inner characters be the wounded child, vampire, and other negative aspect of the archetypes?
    Also, I’ve read that my personality type needs to develop rituals and I’m not quite sure what that is. I know what church ritual is but I’m not as clear on a personal level. Before writing, I read certain passages in The Artist’s Way and light my beeswax candle-is that ritual? Why is it important to spirit to have ritual in one’s life? bett

  4. Hi Bett,
    Yes, some of our inner characters are the ones you’ve named. And we all have several others. Every conflict we experience is about consciously figuring out how to meet the needs of whichever ones have been activated and are involved. Our egos tend to see some as good and others as bad and wants to write the bad ones off, but it needs to learn to listen to both and then figure out compromises based on love and respect that cause as little pain as possible to ourselves and others.
    Ritual dialogues with our inner characters help us (our ego) see them more clearly in the strong emotions they arouse in our daily lives. Because personal rituals involve the whole mind and whole body, they are often more personally powerful and life-changing than community rituals. Back in September I wrote a post about a special ritual I did with my daughter some years ago that describes exactly how we did it. Here’s the link: http://jeanraffa.wordpress.com/2011/09/23/unplugging-the-dam/ If you click on the link for Hal and Sidra Stone that I included in that post it will take you to a list of their books about voice dialogues. They’re wonderful!!
    Reading, lighting candles, etc. can be parts of rituals, but there’s much more you can include to engage the body’s participation: dance and movement, art, dialogues, flowers, food, statues, objects from nature, blessings, smudging with sage, etc…. depending on the issues involved. Think of the components of organized religion’s rituals and sacraments: baptism, circumcision, confirmation, bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, communions, funerals, feasts. They have candles, incense, chants, flowers, music, processions, readings, etc. to involve all the senses.
    I always like to have an image, like a statue or picture of symbolic object, to represent the inner characters I’m dealing with. It’s easier for my ego to moderate my inner dialogues with these visual reminders. Once I devised an adoption ceremony for my Orphan. I found an inexpensive statue at a gift shop of a lovely little girl of 10 or so, and gave her a name. Then I set up my ritual space and we had a dialogue. I encouraged her to express exactly how she felt, to cry, get angry if she needed to, feel sorry for herself if she needed to, and then I asked her what she most wanted and needed, etc. When it seemed like she said everything she needed to say, I told her exactly what I felt: why I’d been ignoring her, what bothered me about her, and so on. Anyway, we talked like that for a while until there was nothing left to say. Then I vowed to love and cherish her, and to listen to her self-pity instead of brushing it off, then signed a certificate of adoption that I’d made up on my computer! It was a way of staying conscious about my determination to love and cherish and listen to my fearful, self-pitying inner child. See what I mean?
    Our souls and spirits need ritual because their language is not words and logical thought, but the physical senses, emotions, imagination, symbols and images that are personally meaningful to us.
    I hope this helps, and I hope you’ll stop by again and let me know how it’s going with you!
    My best,

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