This evening I am humbled by feedback about the positive impact of my work with the 7 Childhood Treasures. Oh, crap. Do I sound like the incredible narcissist, Mrs. Elton, in Emma? “I do not profess to be an expert in the field of fashion (though my friends say I have quite the eye)....”
I do have a fairly large amount of humility, and also very little false modesty about the ways in which I am great. I believe that each of us is great at some things, or has a greatness in how we do some of what we do. In my spirituality, each of us is a divinely-endowed artist with something of beauty to create here in this life. Owning that greatness, that artistry, is one of the keys to happiness, I believe, and I recommend it to you: own your greatness and steward it as a resource to the world. (If you’re not sure what it is, ask some people who love you very much to tell you what they see as your unique “art.”)
So, I believe in my own greatness, and I also strive to balance that belief with what I always hope is a realistic self-assessment of my flaws, and continuous pursuit of my growing edges. Relentlessly, sometimes rather brutally, I force myself to face myself. I force myself to look in the mirror of your eyes. I face my false faces—those masks I wear to protect hidden vulnerabilities—and acknowledge them, at least to myself. I consider all these self-honesties to be part of my accountability for the tracks my little vehicle leaves on the roads of life.
So, why would it be the case that hearing feedback about my positive impact invokes painful stories of incompetence? These ancient stories go beyond my accountability for relentlessly facing my “weaknesses.” Rather, like shivs between the ribs of my self-concept, these thoughts are how my internalized oppressor can still slice my heart.
Wait. My what? Yes, my internalized oppressor. Never heard of that? Virtually every one of us has one, because almost none of us fully escaped the experience of being controlled, thwarted, or otherwise oppressed in our self-expression. Every one of us knows—if only in hidden memories—the experience of being in the “power under” position, our choices completely and unreasonably eliminated.
Some of us even know what it’s like to be abused and terrorized for who we are. Sometimes our experience of “power-over” oppression by others is painful, brutal. Sometimes it is more benign: just another child being unceremoniously snatched away from whatever joyful focus he was pursuing; just another adult assuming unilateral control of a child’s agenda, rather than dancing the delicate and purposeful choreography of give and take, of serve and return. Too many parents still think they must break a child’s will, so he will not be “spoiled.” Too many adults gently bully children, sometimes with the ironic intention of assuring that the children are not, themselves, bullies.
Though we may not like to admit it, most of us adults act, unwittingly, as oppressors in the lives of children. We do it because, when we were children, adults acted as oppressors in our lives and we learn what we live. Generation after generation, the power-under position that is typical for American children results in an equally typical coping mechanism, which most of us adults share: we internalize our oppressors.
This dynamic is especially intense for those who have been overtly abused in some way. In those cases, the perpetrator of the abuse becomes the internalized oppressor. For those not abused (by whatever definition), the internalized oppressor is simply an amalgam of all the adults who took away your rightful power when you were a child.
This internalizing of the Oppressor (as archetype), is a childhood coping strategy; it got us through some tough times when we were little. The challenge for us now is to face the truth of whether this strategy still works for us as adults. Well, consider this: once internalized, the Oppressor only has two choices; two directions in which to point its finger of oppression: inward, oppressing the self; or outward, oppressing others. Judge and control yourself or judge and control your loved ones.
Either direction the bony finger of the Oppressor points, this is a losing strategy for satisfying adult relationships.
So, now we’re back to where I started: those stories of having no value that went for my emotional jugular when someone told me that my way of being great in the world had been good for her. Spikey finger pointing inward, my internal Oppressor is like a cross between the cartoon Tasmanian Devil and Wolverine. The blades she wields are engraved with poisonous curses: “You don’t really know or offer anything of value.” “You are a fraud. “If they only knew the truth about you....” That’s her, the internalized oppressor, waking from her latest nap. These stories are the sound of internalized, power-over oppression pointed inward, directed at the self.
A helpful growth strategy I have developed is to notice when my stories of no-value kick in. When does the internalized oppressor start verbally stomping all over my self-concept? Well, in me, that primitive little monster within always hops up when someone shares some variation of, “You have made a positive difference in my life.” When does that beastly little voice from the depths of your gut start telling you that you’re a no good, worthless, a loser? Or maybe your Oppressor is the outward-pointing type, and you’ll be watching for when she starts telling others that they’re no good and blaming them for all your problems....
Whether her or his finger points inward at you, or outward at those you love, when does your internalized Big Blue Meanie speak up? What invokes him or her?
Even more importantly, what is our remedy for this painful voice? Where is the banishing spell or permanent gag order on this monster? What is the way to send its ugly voice back to a soundproof prison cell?
So far, I have not found a magical, one-step bouncer for this little monster within. Silencing an internalized oppressor is a work of awareness and time, maybe. However, my experience has been that, as I expand my true power, there is less breathing room for the internalized power-over-monger.
I believe that expansion of my true power is, first, about owning my life, as something created by my choice. It comes from honoring the reality of my agency: acknowledging that I am the first source of solutions for my dissatisfactions. Expansion of my true power comes from responsibility: from holding myself accountable for the errors I make and the negative impacts I have, even if I didn’t mean to.
The other half of my remedy for this kind of internalized ugliness is the Treasure of Faith. I find that I must simply believe in my innate and essential value. I have faith in this impossible Truth: there is a beautiful, golden, perfect lotus of Spirit at my core. It is forever inviolate, forever innocent, forever whole. She is the pure and undamaged child, the child with no wounds. And, so, rather than rejecting or banning the mean little internalized archetype of the Oppressor, I invite her out to play with this archetype of Innocence.
I invite my internal Oppressor to come meet that part of me that is my true heart. Hey, there, internalized voice of those who oppressed and wounded me, meet the Truth of who I am. Have a good time together, you two....
Your awareness of this perfect and original innocence—what the Buddhists call the First Flower—may have been lost early in your life; it was in most of us. You may have no memory of that golden beauty that is your essential self. You may have no relationship with that simple, happy child who knew no pretense. But that pure heart of you—your belief in her, your faith in him—is your salvation. Only that innocent child, owning his rightful power, can stand up to the silly lies of your internalized Oppressor.
Internalized Oppressor says the First Flower is a fraud: “You are not (and NOBODY is) pure and golden and wonderful; you’re no good, you’re pitiful, weak, and clueless!” In response to this oppression of her expression, First Flower just laughs and laughs at the notion that you aren’t enough, haven’t got what it takes, and don’t make a difference. She knows you are, you have, and you do! Always.
Do you know how to recognize when your internalized Oppressor archetype is pointing its bony finger inward at your essential value? Or outward at another, in your “righteous” indignation? Do you know how to reconnect with this wounded part of yourself and pull that pointing finger down from its flight of blame?
Claiming your rightful power starts with noticing this: What invokes your internalized Oppressor? What wakes up that voice and gets that finger pointing at and wanting to control you or somebody else? Now that you notice what wakes her up, what gets him going, you’re ready for a new response to that trigger. Just wake up First Flower, too. Oppressor may call her out as a fraud, but she knows the Truth of who she is...who you are.
Maybe the ultimate solution to this battle of wills lies in that simple, old adage: “consider the source.”
As we approach the final session of my 8-week class, Magic of the Soul, we are exploring this dynamic of rightful power and internalized power-over oppression. Would you like to bring this powerful work into your life? Contact me at for more information.