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This blog is about honoring what the soft-animal of your body loves. One thing I know the soft-animal of my body loves is: truth. Bringing truth into consciousness, sharing the truth, being able to see the truth sooner next time. No matter who you are, learning to perceive domestic violence (DV) dynamics helps arm one with the truth. We pick up today with the Cycle of Violence and being curious about the Jungian archetypes that exist within it.  And maybe even wondering which archetypes might help one to break out of it.


Cycle of Violence 101

In revisiting the Cycle of Violence, start at the Tension-building Phase and follow it through to the Explosion Phase. An explosion such as yelling or hitting tends to be followed by the Honeymoon Phase. See graphic below. In some cases the Honeymoon Phase is skipped entirely with the cycle swinging between tension and explosion. And then repeat.  And repeat again… That is how cycles work, after all.




The Cycle of Violence describes a behavioral cycle common in abusive relationships, one that repeats over and over, tending to follow a repetitive pattern and worsening over time, with one person complying with the one who has the power and control.


Let’s think a moment about the person who complies or receives the controlling behavior. What might we call him or her? The “victim” of the controlling person? Perhaps. The controlled person? Maybe. I think what’s most urgently motivating that person’s mind and heart is something more simple:  survival, safety, peace. Safety for herself (or himself) but also perhaps safety for children that are sometimes present as well. Let us remember that the person on the receiving end of tension, explosions and apologies from the other person is really just trying to survive. Many people believe and hope that these moments of tension, explosion, apology will be over at some point and things will go back to “normal”. There’s also hope that their partner will change and “snap out of it” and then everyone involved can have safety and peace. Wouldn’t that be nice?  Unfortunately when it comes to cyclical behavior it tends to repeat eventually.


Most DV literature refers to the victim as “her” though males and people who do not identify as female also certainly experience domestic violence. We will call the person on the receiving end of violence “the survivor” because that’s what he or she is trying to do, survive. We will call the other party—the one attempting to maintain power-and-control over the other—“the abuser”.


So why is it so rare for abusers to “snap out of it” and change for the better? And not just change once and go back to abusive behavior but really change “for good”? One of the reasons behavior  doesn’t change is because the person doing the abusive/ controlling stuff is subtly or subconsciously benefiting from it. Even when confronted to change their behavior—the abuser’s immediate response tends toward defensiveness, denial and blaming the other person. As TV’s favorite fake-psychologist Dr. Phil loves to say, “you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge”. Abusers are notorious for failing to acknowledge– or “own”–their problematic behavior, therefore making it difficult to address or change. Especially if that abuser keeps pointing to the behavior of their partner as the “reason” they are abusive. Convenient, no?


Archetypes 101 + DV

I’ll be honest, I’m a huge Jungian Psych nerd. And, as you know, I was a DV advocate for many years in Chicago. So when reading a book like Carol Pearson’s Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World I can’t help but take it in through the lens of the DV.  As you know, DV is all about power and control dynamics. Archetypal psychology (via Jung’s work) presents a system of understanding universal patterns of energy active inside each of us, regardless of culture or gender.

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Real quick, here’s a mini-review on what archetypes actually are: archetypes are representations of universal human themes manifested as images in paintings and characters in literature and stories (for example, think of the universal-ness of the ideas of ‘the mother’, ‘the fool’, ‘the warrior’, ‘the magician’; these are all archetypes). I know archetypal concepts may seem confusing at first but they are extremely useful wisdom-guides for our internal and external lives. They “exist” in the unconscious mind of each individual as well as the “collective unconscious” that all of us access, whether we are aware of it or not. Read more about the awesomeness that is the collective unconscious here.



Through Carol Pearson’s book I became intrigued. Which archetypes might be involved in the experience of the survivor of DV? I was struck by how many notes I made in the margins of certain chapters that, over and over, related to the DV survivor experience. Now, I know, I know; I’m biased since I’ve worked with survivors of DV for years but it was pretty uncanny how so many archetypal descriptions—or the “shadow” of certain archetypes—matched one part or another of the survivor experience per the Cycle of Violence.



I grew so intrigued with exploring and expanding on these ideas that I created the Case of Clara to  better illustrate and explore. Read on!



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To help demonstrate the unique archetypal sequence involved in the cycle of violence, let’s consider the Case of Clara:


Clara was a married 39 year-old woman living in an upper-middle class neighborhood. She had two children in middle-school. Her husband Joe regularly called her names, put down her job working outside the home and pressured her to quit in order to focus on “being a mother” even though without her income they would be unable to meet their monthly expenses. When Clara and Joe first met Clara felt like she was swept off her feet by how well he treated her. She had been warned that Joe had not always been nice to his partners and one of his exes even died in unexplained circumstances. Joe shared that he witnessed violence between his parents when he is a child and his father was the absent-type. Clara felt attracted to Joe, in part, because he had been mistreated and she thought that being in a loving relationship with her would help him heal. Clara and Joe got married when Clara was in college, she became pregnant with her first child while still in school. Joe pressured Clara to quick school to get married and focus on being a wife and mother. Clara put her education on hold and never returned. Clara’s mother always encouraged her relationship with Joe because he had a good job and could provide for her and the kids. Clara’s mother herself had been in a string of unhealthy relationships since her father died when Clara was young. Clara used to work as an in-home aid for disabled people. Clara often valued care-taking others above caring for her own needs. Even though Clara didn’t like having to quit her job to focus on being a stay-at-home mom, Clara continued to try to see the “blessings” in her situation and tried to appreciate this turn of events as an opportunity. She would tell herself, “maybe isn’t so bad that Joe won’t let me work, I get to spend more time with the kids at least”.

Sometimes Clara noticed a “walking-on-eggshells” feeling in the house with Joe. She noted that Joe’s short fuse with her and the kids made her feel as if she could never do anything right or be pleasing to him despite how much she tried. Joe sometimes got so angry he punched the wall near Clara’s head or threw things. Sometimes when they argue he would not let her leave the room and would block the door or held Clara her down so they could “finish the conversation”. Once Joe pushed Clara against the wall and left bruises on her. Joe apologized to Clara and promised never to push her again. Joe promised to go to couples counseling with her. Clara felt a little relieved when Joe would offer to go to counseling and made promises to change. As the weeks went by and no arrangements were made to attend counseling, Clara began to feel more anxious and tense as Joe’s behavior slowly returned to the usual emotional-distance and tense disapproval of her. Then one day during an argument in the car Joe suddenly struck Clara in the face. Clara had asked for money to get more groceries after making the $50 he gave her three weeks before stretch as far as it possibly could. She had been noticing Joe had a tendency to be extremely miserly and controlling about money for the family and yet had a habit of buying himself the latest tech gadgets. When she drove to the grocery store he had a habit of checking the odometer in her car to make sure she wasn’t going additional places without his knowledge. Clara was shocked he had struck her and she decided to take the kids to stay with her mother for a few days.

When her mother saw the mark on Clara’s face she expressed concern. Clara told her mother what had been going on with Joe’s controlling and abusive ways. Clara shared that although she had hoped Joe’s behavior would somehow change it had only seemed to worsen over time. As Clara talked about what had been happening it occurred to her that she had subtly been leaving out details over time, hiding the truth from those around her out of embarrassment but also keeping the truth of the abuse a secret from those closest to her. Clara returned home after Joe apologized and begged her to give him another chance, but it did not feel the same. Joe went back to acting like everything was “normal”. In summer, Clara decided to start saving money from babysitting neighborhood kids during the day and started putting it in a bank account Joe was unaware of. One day Clara was offered a full-time job at her children’s school and she said yes without first consulting Joe. Something inside Clara felt that it was important for her to be able to work and earn money if that’s what she felt compelled to do, even if Joe would disapprove. When Clara told Joe he raged at her about it. Joe guilted her about how she was “selfish” and a “bad mother” for going back to work. Clara decided to ignore him and kept going to work and taking care of the kids before and after school. Out of the house and at her new job she felt a sense of freedom and separate identity that she realized she hadn’t felt in years. She realized how trapped she had felt being a stay-at-home mother when that wasn’t her personal dream or desire but Joe’s. After a few months Joe demanded Clara give him the money she had been earning at her new job. She refused, saying she earned it and it is hers. She knew Joe earned three times what she earned so it struck her as odd for him to demand the money as if he needed it. She stood her ground and on her lunch break started writing in a journal about her feelings and thoughts about her relationship with Joe.

She began to wonder if how he treated her was abnormal, not ok. She had mostly felt she had done something to “deserve” the treatment Joe gave her but she was starting to question that. She began to confide in a friend at work about her relationship’s “quirks”. Clara told her about Joe striking her, pushing her, keeping her from leaving the room when they argued. Clara’s friend expressed concern and shared with her that she also went through something similar years before and it had turned out those things qualified legally as domestic abuse. Clara was surprised but felt a certain kind of validation knowing that what Joe’s behavior had a name and that it’s not healthy. Clara googled “what behaviors qualify as domestic abuse” and was shocked to see so much of her husband’s behavior on the list of what’s considered abusive. She started keeping a log of things he did to her, just in case it could useful one day.  She noted it also helped her feel like she was doing something productive.

Joe had started drinking at a bar nearly every day after work and coming home intoxicated, falling down and breaking the kid’s toys and being loud. One day, Joe showed up at the school where Clara worked and insisted on seeing her while she was working. He was drunk and grabbed Clara’s wrist. Joe told her he was fired and it was just as well because he knows why Clara got this job in the first place, as an excuse to talk to other men. Clara told him he must leave. He refused. Clara asked her boss if she might leave early to take Joe home, and thankfully, her boss agreed. On the way home Joe was apologetic, promising he would get another job and he knew he shouldn’t have shown up at her work. Clara put him to bed and hoped things would get better. Two weeks later Clara came out of work with the kids along with a male co-worker and Joe was waiting in the school parking lot. He was intoxicated again and Joe started yelling at Clara accusing her of cheating on him. He yelled insults at Clara in front of the kids and tried to physically attack Clara’s co-worker. Clara again drove him and the kids home. He apologized and promised he will never do that again, he promised to start going to church like she wanted in the beginning of their relationship. Clara was glad he was sorry but she was also starting to wonder if she might need to consider separating from her husband who was becoming increasingly erratic.


One day, Clara’s co-worker friend offered to store an overnight bag of supplies of hers and the kids just in case she might need to leave her house suddenly, given what’s been going on with Joe’s erratic behavior. Clara was skeptical that it would be needed but the next day brought overnight bags with stuff for her and the kids and put them in her friend’s car. Clara reviewed her log of incidents with Joe and realized she had been documenting a steady stream of abusive behavior for the past 6 months including physical abuse, emotional/ verbal abuse, controlling behavior and intimidating behavior too. 

Clara had the kids spend the night with her mother to get a chance to talk with Joe alone. Clara planned to talk to Joe about her need for him to change “for real this time” and her belief that going to couples counseling or individual counseling for him would be a concrete way to begin to effect change.  She had researched safe ways to confront abusive spouses and learned that the kitchen and bathroom are considered the most dangerous places in the house, should physical arguments break out. Clara decided to talk to Joe on the front porch so that just in case things went poorly she could leave more easily. Joe had just finished mowing the grass and was about to go for a beer when Clara asked him if they could talk. On the porch, Clara shared her concerns with Joe that his behavior had become increasingly unacceptable recently and that something needed to change, and asked if he would consider attending counseling. Joe minimized his behavior as being due to stress from being unemployed and why is Clara nagging him all the time? He said that if it weren’t for her getting a new job he wouldn’t have been so upset and wouldn’t have lost his job. Joe offered to start going to church with Clara but refused to consider counseling because he insisted “only crazies go to counseling, and I’m not crazy! You’re the crazy one for being so selfish all the time”. Clara said she needed him to go to counseling or she would have to exit the relationship, things had gotten too out of hand and could not continue, that she could not continue exposing the kids–or herself–to a situation that was harmful when there was no real solution planned or in sight. Joe became enraged and stood up suddenly and moved toward Clara as if to strike her. He said “if you leave me, you’ll be sorry, you’ll all be sorry”. Clara immediately ran to her car and drove straight to her mother’s house and told her what had happened. Clara asked her friend if she could bring the overnight bags to her mom’s house. Clara called a domestic violence counseling agency hotline and arranged for an emergency counseling session for the next day. The DV counselor listened and educated her on her rights and options, as a survivor of DV. The DV counselor alerted Clara to the fact that because Joe threatened her (“you’ll be sorry…”) and because Clara had kept detailed notes in her log from the past few months about multiple abusive episodes and behaviors Clara qualified to request an Order of Protection from the court to protect her from her husband. She also lets Clara know she had a right to report the threat he made to the police if she wished. The counselor made Clara aware of her options but did not pressure her to take action on any of them. The counselor continually mentioned how her husband used “power and control” to keep Clara captive and noted that because Clara had been controlled in the past it was especially important for Clara to be the one in control of her own choices from then on. Clara chose to pursue the emergency Order of Protection and used one of the “remedies” available within it to get sole possession of the house and Joe was able to be escorted out of the house with a police escort as part of her safety plan.

Now, two years later, Clara is in school to become a school administrator, she divorced Joe. She speaks to survivors of DV to help other people realize that DV can often hide in plain sight and though it can be scary to realize it is freeing to see the truth, set boundaries and take action to not be abused any longer. Clara reflects about the transformation she realizes she had to go through in order to take steps to leave a relationship that had grown increasingly abusive. Clara shares that it is not easy to wake up to the truth about her husband’s behavior but she is thankful she was willing to open her eyes, value herself and her kids peace, and embrace a life free from abuse and full of more vitality and possibility.


The Cycle of Violence can be clearly seen playing out in Clara’s story. We can see that Clara is in the Tension Phase when she reports a feeling of walking on eggshells or when she struggles with judgement from Joe that she can do “nothing right”. There are several explosions from Joe towards Clara (pushing, striking her, blocking her from leaving, yelling, showing up at her work, ie stalking, control and emotional abuse as well).  During the Honeymoon Phase Clara sometimes accepted Joe’s apologies, sometimes he would make promises to change and offer to do something she had been wanting her to do, like go to church or just “making sure it never happens again”. And yet. Each Honeymoon Phase that involved promises-made were consistently followed not by sustained change but by more tension and explosions that worsened over time.


Read on for archetypal analysis of the archetypal sequence involved in the Case of Clara, including which archetype is especially instrumental in breaking the Cycle of Violence –for good.

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Cycle of Violence Archetypal Sequence

Clara’s story also illustrates the archetypal sequence that maps closely the phases in the Cycle of Violence:

  1. The Innocent (Tension-Building Phase and Honeymoon Phase)
  2. The Caregiver (Tension-Building Phase and Honeymoon Phase)
  3. The Orphan (Tension-Building Phase, after the cycle has repeated numerous times and the survivor is more cynical)
  4. The Warrior (Setting boundaries following Explosion Phase)

      = The Rebel (Once the survivor exits the Cycle of Violence all together)


See the boxes below for a summary of each archetype, including the goals, fears, tasks, gifts and approaches to problems inherent to each per Carol Pearson’s book Awakening the Heroes Within. Try to notice how each of these might manifest specifically in the context of DV and Clara’s story.

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The Innocent Archetype is linked to our desire to trust life and to have faith–sometimes blind faith– in others. Innocent energy tends to be trusting even though trust is sometimes not warranted or has not been fully earned.  The Innocent archetype embodies an idealistic view of the behaviors of others even when the behaviors of others may actually be unacceptable or unhealthy.  If one is in Innocent energy when in abusive relationship there may be a tendency to endorse or “okay” the abusive behavior of the partner.  The Innocent archetype is also associated with the phenomenon of being overly-quick-to-commit in romantic relationships, which is a common way for cycles of violence to start.


The Shadow of the Innocent archetype is defined by the use of denial, irrational optimism, unwarranted trust, repression and conformity. The Shadow-Innocent keeps walking into the same abusive situations and getting mistreated time and time again.


How does the Innocent archetype show up in Clara’s struggle? When she first gets to know Joe she sees him as merely misunderstood, needing consistent love and understand that she hopes to provide. In the beginning Clara seems to work to remain in denial of any emotions other than happiness and “that’s-ok-it-will-be-alright”. She holds a highly idealistic view of her relationship (as many of us do). For a time she seemed unaware that she is living with an abuser, trapped in a house and trapped in a cycle of abuse. Even her mother’s guidance encourages her to stay with Joe because he can provide for her and the kids financially. She is encouraged by her mother to trust Joe, encouraged that there is nothing to worry about and to keep going with the relationship despite red flags and warnings from others that Joe “is not always nice to his partners and one of his exes even died in unexplained circumstances”. From Innocent energy we trust the advice of others without checking it out for ourselves or checking it against our own intuition. Even advice from mothers can come with a blind spot sometimes. Sometimes when we ignore warning signs we are engaging in denial of truths that would keep us safe; we may be channeling the Shadow-Innocent. There is also a hint of “quick-commitment”  that smacks of Innocent archetype energy–when Clara gets pregnant before completing her college studies and she abandons her education  plans to pursue matrimony and parenthood with Joe.  The Innocent archetype aligns the survivor’s experience of The Honeymoon Phase and its inherent “he’ll change” belief.

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The Caregiver Archetype is present in the part of us that operates like a nurturing parent, teacher, or coach. This archetypal energy tends to be generous, loving, attentive and devoted to the development of those under their care though not smothering.  In the context of DV it involves the survivor trying to be understanding and care for others, even those who exhibit abusive behaviors and attitudes. The generosity of Caregiver energy often gets taken advantage of by the abuser who may guilt the person into doing what the abuser wants (“if you love me, you will do this”, ie, if you really cared you would agree to comply or “only I understand him, no one else does”). When pure caring for someone gets twisted into codependency or coercive control it is no longer a healthy situation. Innocent energy getting twisted is also notable in the Honeymoon Phase when a survivor tries to arrange for the abuser to attend counseling.  This is inappropriate and indicative of a lack of responsibility being taken by the abusive party.


The Shadow of the Caregiver archetype is defined by a distinct lack of boundaries in their caring, use of enabling behaviors, codependent love, tendency to see self as the “suffering martyr” making sacrifices for everyone else but resenting it, and they may view self-care as selfish and therefore be extreme in withholding care from themselves.  Shadow-Caregiver energy is defined by expecting to be able to continue to give endlessly while never allowing receiving to happen from self or others. Shadow-Caregiver energy involves merging with the person being cared for in an unhealthy way but it also accounts for a perception that self-care is not needed.


How is the Caregiver Archetype present in the case of Clara? When Clara tries to make the best of her situation, she gives up her caregiving job and tries to focus on caring for the children. Even her desire to heal her husband through caring for him in the relationship, that’s Clara channeling the archetype of The Caregiver. It’s not that it’s bad to be a caring person; it’s when that caring is taken advantage of or used to remain in denial of someone’s bad behavior that it can become problematic. Caregiver energy may have encouraged Clara to focus on her own actions as a way to transform her abuser to a non-abuser in  her mind. Clara often worked to serve him as best she could, seemingly in hopes of preventing attacks but also de-emphasizing her own needs, cutting her off from her intuition in favor of giving and caring. Focusing on Joe’s emotions may have helped distract Clara from her own emotions of confusion, sadness or anger hiding deep inside.  Caregiver energy often skews towards a codependent pattern in abusive relationships.   In the context of the cycle of violence we can see how it plays a role in tolerating tension in the first phase of the cycle and then it also keeps Clara making excuses for Joe following an explosion. It is tempting for the DV survivor to make the excuse that they are “making a sacrifice for the greater good” by staying with a DV abuser, though we can see how that starts to be an unhealthy twisting of The Caregiver archetypal energy. Over time it can become an excuse for the abuser to continue their abusive behavior unchecked.

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The Orphan Archetype involves safety having been lost somehow and trying to regain it by being savvier this time around. Orphan energy comes in when there is an experience of failure of protection or nurturing from a loved one. There may be experiences of psychological or physical abandonment followed by an increase in cynicism about relationships and a refocusing on meeting one’s own needs (rather than expecting others to help meet one’s needs). The Orphan Archetype is involved in the survivor experiencing “abandonment” from abuser in the form of violation of emotional/ physical safety during explosions and tension building and broken promises, the survivor becomes internally or externally more cynical about their abuser’s behavior or romantic relationships in general. The survivor may exhibit cynical compliance and resentment towards abuser. They may feel alone and isolated from others without help yet may subtly refuse offers of help at times. They may experience a sense of aloneness within their romantic relationship which is hostile and abusive while also  becoming increasingly isolated from family and friends. They may internalize this aloneness as meaning they are not worth being valued by others or that they somehow deserve to be alone or mistreated. They may experience an increase in being fiercely independent and expect to meet their own needs at all times as a form of self-protection. Many mothers caught in a DV situation adopt Orphan energy or attitudes that help them focus on the needs of the children or their role as mother as a way of deemphasizing the needs in the spousal relationship (“screw it, I’ll just be the best mother I can be, even if I my husband is a jerk and I’m not fulfilled romantically in this relationship”).


The Shadow of the Orphan is defined by intense cynicism about the possible caring of others, there is a sense that being stuck in a situation that is hopeless, and they may use the role of “victim” to stay stuck or, at times, refuse help or insist on doing things by oneself.


How does Orphan Archetype energy show up in Clara’s experience with DV? When Clara starts to realize Joe has abandoned her emotionally and by wielding his control and coersion as weapons during Explosion Phases, she realizes he will not let her live her dreams as fully as she would like and her response is to start focusing on aliveness outside the house (ie, career) as well as inside the house (ie, focus on her children). Clara begins to realize she truly is being mistreated and exploited in the relationship. She finally considers at least taking care of herself a little more– she gets a job–even without her husband’s express permission or blessing– that is Clara embodying the archetype of The Orphan. The Orphan archetype comes from a sense of abandonment, yes, but there is also a rallying to be more clever to survive. She began to employ the strategy of pouring herself into giving the kids a good experience even as her own spousal experience was growing worse. She tried to ignore Joe getting in the way of her goals. Perhaps Clara was engaging in “cynical compliance” in remaining with Joe? Clara’s pursuit of a job gave her an opportunity to connect with others outside the home and was a way to put an end to the isolation Joe had woven around her. It’s almost as if Clara began to see her situation more realistically and was more empathetic towards herself and her plight. Her disillusionment with the situation and her husband’s behavior is notable at certain points of the story; this is Orphan energy showing through in questioning how she was being treated.

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The Warrior Archetype is defined by protecting and defending boundaries, claiming our power in the world and making efforts to make the world a better and healthier place.  Without Warrior energy we have little defense against the demands and intrusions of others. This archetype may connect with anger, in a healthy way, spurring us to take action to restore justice. Warrior archetype energy helps a DV survivor start to set boundaries, stand up for one’s self and be willing to confront their abuser to demand that he or she stop their abuse and/ or change. It takes courage to connect with anger and not just feelings of sadness or fear. Survivors that take anger too far may get into Shadow-Warrior territory (which is what the abuser is likely stuck in). Warrior energy taken too far may lead to extreme self-protection that involves violence. We hear about cases like this on the news, cases  in which the abuser was killed by the survivor who was defending herself after years of abuse and violence (commonly called the “Battered Women’s Syndrome Defense” in court cases).


The Shadow-Warrior is predatory, ruthless, abusive and conquering. It is defined by viewing people that are different than self as wrong or threatening. There is often an obsessive need to win and there’s a use of power for winning. Often there’s a rejection of ambiguity and an insistence on rigid boundaries that can sometimes hurt more than protect. It is worth noting that DV abusers are often stuck in Shadow-Warrior archetypal energy. We can see that over time Joe began to embody the Shadow-Warrior by insisting on winning, controlling and being threatened by almost anything and everything Clara tried to do and working to stop her, control her, dominate her.


Where does Clara’s Warrior-archetype energy show up in the story? When Clara starts to set more boundaries, be more assertive, and make plans to follow through on boundaries and takes steps to leave she is beginning to embrace the archetype of the Warrior. Clara embraced creative solutions to her problem of feeling trapped in a potentially dangerous relationship; her friend offers to keep overnight bags with supplies in them just in case she needed to flee quickly and Clara willing to say yes. Clara seemed unable to “unsee” what she now could finally see about how her partner allowed himself to treat her; Clara had begun to connect with her anger. Clara began to reject Joe’s views of the world that she used to accept so easily. Once she ends up figuring out that she needed to leave she spent time figuring out the hows and whens. Clara seemed to feel increasingly emboldened by what she knew to be true about Joe’s behavior being unacceptable and continued to make plans to try to find freedom. Clara had to get to the point where she was willing to let go of the reasons that kept her in the abusive relationship in the past (rejecting the Honeymoon Phase thinking that “he didn’t really mean it, he promised to change” and accepting that explosions will never stop or never not be seen as her fault).  Clara finally began to see explosions as boundary violations that were unacceptable. Clara ended up fighting for what really matters: safety for herself and her children. When Joe refused to agree to take concrete steps to change she placed herself outside the boundary of where Joe physically was and placed herself inside the protective boundary of being with family; a smart Warrior knows seeking safety is the first step to growing stronger and maintaining peace.



I am proposing the following archetypal sequence:

The Innocent + The Caregiver + The Orphan + The Warrior = The Rebel. 

The idea of a Rebel archetype is mentioned briefly by Pearson:

“At some point, Orphans give up on failed authorities and take control of their own lives and when they do so, they become Rebels. The Orphan as Rebel works for justice and claims solidarity with all other oppressed, wounded, or suffering people, not because of any universal truth, but in response to an inner command.  There is no meaning but the meaning we create through our care for one another. The gift of the Orphan archetype is a freedom from dependence, a form of interdependent self-reliance. We no longer rely on external authority figures, but rather learn to help ourselves and one another. The Orphan learns there is no power more powerful and responsible than we are. There is not anything or anyone out there who is going to fix it for us. The answer is to take responsibility for our lives, lived in interdependence with others who are as Orphaned as we are.” p. 64


Though not entirely a new idea, The Rebel Archetype maps nicely the whole of the DV survivor’s experience of the cycle of violence. In the context of domestic violence we know it takes a kind of Rebel energy to exit the cycle of violence and coercive control. It is my assertion that Rebel energy accumulates as the cycle of violence continues to escalate and the survivor has traveled from innocence, to caring, to being orphaned and to summoning warrior energy, moment to moment. The person who escapes a DV situation becomes a rebel in leaving, in staying away from the toxic person; the maker of their cage.


The Rebel values freedom from restriction and is sensitive to all that dampens the human spirit; eventually Rebel energy (hopefully) rallies to liberate the DV survivor from the cage of abuse.


Shadow-Rebel energy involves fighting against all boundaries and rules to the point where laws may be being broken or people being hurt, there may be a feeling of being out of control. A couple of examples of Shadow-Rebel figures would be The Criminal (rebelling against laws) or The Saboteur (rebelling against self and what you want).


How do we see this Rebel energy in the story of Clara? Perhaps in the sequence of four archetypes already described that lead to Clara gaining her freedom. I would argue that Clara’s Rebel archetype bursts into full bloom when she made the decision to leave the abusive relationship. Warrior energy helped her get to that point but Rebel energy sustains her empowerment long-term. Uniquely Rebel moments in Clara’s story come when Clara takes a stand against what Joe is trying to control about her or her world. Joe’s efforts to maintain power and control create a sense of restriction, oppression and a feeling of being trapped for Clara. The status quo in the relationship had become one defined by coercive control, verbal abuse, lack of choice and even intimidation and physical abuse; it was key for Clara to begin to question and actively act to challenge her treatment in hopes of moving from surviving to thriving for herself and her children. Clara gathers resources before confronting Joe, making sure she is aware of how to be the safest in her pursuit of freedom (either freedom from abuse because Joe agreed to take concrete steps to change or freedom from abuse because Clara is no longer in a relationship with Joe). Once Clara hears from Joe himself that he is indeed refusing to take steps to change, he threatens her and Clara takes decisive action in the moment to get to safety but also seeks an Order of Protection with the help of a DV agency and eventually pursues separation and obtains a divorce. We even get a peek at her new-found freedom: Clara is pursuing higher education, advancing her career and even speaking to DV survivors. Clara rebelled against her husband because the status quo in their relationship was abusive and unacceptable for her and the kids. Clara found the courage to raise her voice and take action in the name of justice for her and her family.


Clara, like many survivors of domestic violence, had to tap into a part of self that knew she deserved more peace, more happiness and would not stand for ill treatment; she had to connect with the rebellious part of herself that had energy to fight for what was right. Every day this energy of the Rebel is embodied by survivors who have chosen to push themselves out of the cycle of violence. The only way to break the cycle of violence?  To rebel against it.  Sometimes we have to embrace our Inner Rebel to help us break down barriers that are restricting our spirit, our sense of possibility, freedom, creativity and even our very lives.


It is my belief that The Rebel Archetype is cumulative; it emerges during adversity, after innocence has been shattered, in a situation in which no amount of caring-for seems to positively affect it, after cynicism and compliance have run their course and you are convinced you will have to make do on your own like an orphaned soul, and after boundaries are finally being asserted, then, finally, the energy to refuse to just go along comes to stay; the energy to break free from toxicity of domestically violent relationship shows up. The Rebel is sacred energy for women who have experienced coercive control, it is like breathing oxygen after living under water for so long. Sometimes to rebel is the only path to freedom divine, freedom to finally be outside of a violent cycle.


Tapping Your Inner Rebel for Wild Woman Wisdom

The DV survivor Rebel has much in common with another archetype made famous by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes in 1992; the Wild Woman archetype as detailed in The Women Who Run With the Wolves.


Dr. Estes encourages that there is wisdom in inviting Wild Woman archetype energy into your life to strengthen yourself following an abusive relationship. She notes that wild women make poor targets for abusers. Women connected to their wildness have typically stepped into their authority, wisdom, power and see potential abusers and unfulfilling relationships coming from a mile away and, thus, are better at protecting themselves. Protection of self comes more naturally when naivety has lessened with life experience. Wild Women can serve as guides for younger women  who tend to start off being naive in knowing that the abuser or predator is out there.


So why can’t we just start off in our wild woman energy and avoid the abusive relationship from the beginning? Well, learning that the predator is out there tends to be a process for most women, one they have to live or find out for themselves about. If you are lucky to get wisdom guidance when you are young from a more experienced woman connected to her own wild woman energy, then you have a greater chance of avoiding the predator from the beginning. But, let us remember that as teens we knew everything and tended to be developmentally drawn to the Innocent/ Caregiver/ Orphan energy so even if we are told advice to avoid the predator, we may not take it. Not taking advice can actually lead to powerful learning!


The final post in this series on domestic violence will delve into Dr. Estes’ Wild Woman archetype and the wisdom she weaves through the story of Bluebeard. Stay tuned for the final installment in this series!


current music faves: all things sufjan stevens, pj harvey

current show faves: this is us, last week tonight with john oliver

see what’s going on at my practice at www.erynsmithmoeller.com

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Image result for i can shake off everything as i write

What if I told you one of the easiest, most versatile and affordable tools you could adopt for your “coping toolbox” for being mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy was… journaling.  Yes, that old chestnut. A favorite go-to of angsty teens everywhere turns out to be a remarkable tool for life-long self care.

I share my enthusiasm for journaling both as an avid journal-keeper myself as well as a therapist. Personally, I love going to coffeeshops and journaling. I sit down and “check in” with myself, see what’s *really* going on with me. Sometimes I doodle, sometimes I embroider quotes with colorful markers and pen. Sometimes I vent. Sometimes I stare out the window and then back at the empty page; permission to “just be”. If there’s a problem that I’m trying to tackle, I typically review all the variables, projected possibilities, pros and cons until an answer begins to emerge. Sometimes there is no “answer”, especially around things that are not in my control, but acknowledging the emotions I’m feeling makes me feel a little better.  And that, my friends, is something useful to know how to do! Keep a journal long enough and you have a record of your subjective experience across time, which is pretty neat to look back at later.

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Regular journaling often leads to more easily putting together the puzzle pieces of seemingly unrelated experiences into a more cohesive whole (pssst, that helps with meaning-making, problem solving and with feeling more “in control” of one’s life). Just writing down a description of what exactly you are experiencing during a given day… recording your thoughts, noticing your feelings and then perhaps following the bread-crumb trail to where those feelings began, studying and notating your own behavior… this can be a powerful tool that can help you in a multitude of ways.

As a therapist, I encourage people to allow themselves to be more curious. And perhaps try to record this curiosity.  Pull out pen and paper or, your phone if you prefer, and ask yourself questions about you, your life, your day, your process.  Be curious about why or why not you did something and why you did it the way you did.  There’s almost always a reason, a motivation, a pull, a purpose, a function… hiding in plain sight. Being curious about yourself is “fine-and-good” but doing it alone in your own head only gets you so far; it will only get you so much benefit. It’s kind of like doing a math problem in the air, we all get lost pretty quickly. So, it’s helpful to write all this complicated stuff down so you can work with it in a more “hands on” way!

Being curious on paper, now that’s a lot like a conversation! Or, perhaps like keeping detailed notes in a field experiment. Journaling is a safe place where you can say anything, a place to “try on” different ideas, solutions or to envision various possibilities… all to yourself, right where you can benefit from it by putting solutions into action.  If you want to.  Journaling might even help you realize all the excellent reasons to NOT act right now.  Understanding the why or why not can be comforting, illuminating, a relief.  It gives you more power and insight over your own existence.  Journaling can help you develop the super-power of self-knowledge… and that leads to personal growth.

So, Why Journal? How Does It Help Exactly?

Journaling has been studied extensively and been found to be beneficial in many ways.

  • Journaling has been shown to lead to long-term improvements in mood, reduced depressive symptoms, lower blood pressure

  • Journaling helps you discover patterns in your life or your behavior through “self-observation”. Journaling helps you document your experience for future reference or analysis. You could treat your journal like they are the field notes of a scientist studying and observing an interesting subject (you!) in the wild, noticing what happens in sequence and noting the results, being curious about how things might have gone had one variable been different or a different approach been taken.

  • Journaling helps  develop more understanding, compassion and gratitude towards others, yourself, your problem solving, your struggles, and the ways you cope with life. Journaling can help you learn to listen to yourself and pay attention to your own needs and desires, like a friend gently comforting you when you are freaking out. Here is a wonderful series by Kristin Neff on how to enhance self-compassion.

  • Journaling helps you sort through moments in life that are uncomfortable, ambiguous or uncertain.  It’s a primary tool to help tolerate sitting with ambiguity (which you know the soft animal of my body loves :)

  • Journaling can be used as a coping tool to get relief during difficult moments. It can reduce ruminating thoughts by serving as a container and space to organize thoughts.  Once you’re familiar with using journaling it can feel like an oasis, an access-point to feeling empowered and free in the midst of situations that may be disempowering or when you are feeling trapped.  Journaling is like a transporter in that way.  (Tip: try asking yourself “would writing help me right now?)

  • Journaling can be used to clear away the “cobwebs of the mind” or for “daily maintainance” of self care. Writing daily has the reported benefit of “clearing” the mind and giving relief to the writer in a way that could be useful if you are wanting to alleviate your mind of worries, “mental clutter” or stress.  Journaling is an opportunity to face problems head-on daily instead of letting them pile up.

  • Journaling cultivates curiosity and problem solving skills. Curiosity leads to insight, personal growth, gain perspective about self otherwise difficult to attain –

  • Journaling helps improve self esteem and self love.  Journaling helps you process/ notice destructive thinking or destructive circumstances, it helps you examine irrational or cruel ways of regarding yourself and practice being more self-loving.

  • Knowing yourself is one of the best ways to improve future relationships. Journaling helps you know yourself so you can be a better in each of your relationships.

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How to Journal… like, specifically, HOW do you start?

There are numerous approaches as to how to approach journaling.  There is no one right way to do it (thank goodness!) so think of it as a no-fail, low-risk situation we already know has numerous benefits.  First start with some guidelines:

Keep It Simple – don’t feel like you have to go out and get some fancy leather-bound journal–in fact if you know you’ll be tempted to keep that beautiful journal pristine and therefore not use it then skip getting the most gorgeous journal in the world.  Using a spiral-bound notebook like the kind you used in school may feel uninspiring or remind you of unpleasant homework.  I encourage you to use whatever is readily available, is utilitarian and that you like on some level (but maybe don’t love).  Sometimes when I’ve forgotten to bring my journal with me I’ve used post-it notes, scraps of paper, etc. and tape them in my journal later.

Let Go of Perfection – no need to manage your grammar here, let yourself write without censoring, let go of correctness or even making sense or having your words be legible (to everyone anyway). This space is for you, so let yourself go. Some find that focusing more on the quantity vs the quality of writing helps banish the critic.  If your goal is to write non-stop for 10 minutes you will focus on that task instead of how good what you write is, and that’s good.

Have Courage – please know that writing takes courage, vulnerability. It’s not always easy to “open up”, even to yourself. But as Brene Brown reminds us, vulnerability is a strength. With great risk comes great reward; writing is worth the risk because of what you’ll gain in insight, personal growth and cultivation of a handy coping skill.

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Then there’s the HOW of journaling techniques, of which there are many:

Start with just writing about your life – use journaling as a way to capture, document and describe in detail what is going on in your life right now. Capture your life “as is” and without judgment. You could use pictures, clippings from magazines or scrap-book paper, draw, make lists, use different colored pens or pencils, zentangle, write a poem, list what you ate, what you saw, what you read, favorite quotes, end your entry with naming what you’re thankful for at this very moment or with an affirmation that’s resonating with you.

Maintain a log of successes –  Begin by writing big ones you can easily remember and then try writing down small successes that occur during the week.  As you pay attention, the list will grow and serve to inspire and ground you.

Stream It – Dump It – Time It – Trying a variety of approaches to journaling often keeps the practice fresh and stimulating.  “Stream-of-consciousness” or dump-writing are easy ways to get journaling quickly and without judgement tripping you up.  According to Samara O’Shea in her beautifully written book Note to Self: On Keeping A Journal And Other Dangerous Pursuits, she describes stream-of-consciousness writing:

Stream-of-consciousness writing is mental anarchy and spring-cleaning all in one.  It’s like going into the basement, turning the tables over, breaking the records in half, cutting the stuffed animals open with a sharp pair of scissors (and feeling much better afterward), then putting it all out just in time for the garbage man to collect.

To get started, O’Shea suggests beginning with any word (which will inevitably lead you somewhere); picking an emotion that’s been overwhelming you lately or one that you haven’t felt in a long time; or asking yourself a question.

Dump-writing is, essentially, what Julia Cameron of “The Artist’s Way” recommends.  She calls it doing “Morning Pages”.  You can set a timer for 10 minutes or decide ahead of time that you’ll write 3 pages longhand without stopping.  She emphasizes doing this exercise first thing in the morning which provokes claity, comfort, prioritizes your mind and synchronizes the day at hand… clearing out the “cobwebs” of the mind.  The nice thing about dump writing is there’s no wrong way to do it.  They are not high art.  They are about anything and everything that might cross your mind.  They are for your eyes only.

Change your writing style to match your mood – If you are angry, maybe scratch large red words there, if you are feeling uncertain or scared, maybe write tiny words in a spiral shape. You could also write using colored pencils or pens and see what colors you are drawn to or which match the emotion you are feeling.

Guided Journaling Often Gets You Thinking– There are TONS of writing prompts out there. Some examples to try:

  • How am I feeling? How do I want to feel?
  • What does my soul want me to know?
  • What would an ideal day for me look like, sound like? How can I make such a day happen in the next month?
  • What do I want to learn about myself?
  • What do I want to change about myself? What would I never change about myself?
  • Describe the room, describe the people in your life, describe yourself.
  • Describe the aspects of your life that you are pleased with and those areas you’re displeased with.
  • What questions would inform the work you are doing?
  • What intuitions do you notice?
  • What are some of the forces driving you?
  • What fascinates you?
  • What is your particular understanding of yourself, your past, your family, your purpose?
  • What do you hope for in the future?
  • What is being revealed to you?
  • What puzzles you?
  • What questions might you ask of yourself and of your work?
  • What is it you have been given to say?

I also like the book “The Creative Journal” by Lucia Capacchione.  It’s a book full of guided prompts around certain personal growth topics such as “Where You’re At, Where You’re Coming From”, “Who You Are”, “How You Are With Yourself”, “How You Are With Others”, “What Your Higher Self Knows”, and “Where You’re Going”. The prompts can be used using writing, drawing, art-making, poem-making, or whatever medium you like at the time with a goal of self-exploration.

Get Inspired Using the Words of Others – Write down lines from a poem or quote that inspires you or copy quotes in fancy lettering.  Let yourself doodle with eyes open or eyes closed.

Write with your subdominant hand – Subdominant hand writing helps access your unconscious mind. You can start a dialogue with your inner child by writing with your subdominant hand. Try answering with your dominant hand.  What issues emerge?  This kind of writing can also be used to tap into or develop your intuition.  For example, your could write down concerns or questions you have for your “higher self”.  Take a deep breath and listen for a response. Let yourself write automatically.If you don’t get an answer right away, look and listen for signs between journal sessions.

Tap into a new perspective by using the third person – Try writing about yourself in the third person and you’ll find it helps give you distance from the problem and gives a different perspective.  Afterward, write down what you learned about you.  This is especially helpful if you are struggling with something that’s disturbing you.

Starting to see why journaling is like the swiss-army tool of coping?  If not, maybe try journaling about it…

current music faves: phantogram, tori a (as always), florence and the machine

current show faves: the oa, this is us, american crime story

see what’s going on at my practice at www.erynsmithmoeller.com

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It’s been a year since the start of this blog.  HUZZAH!!!

It seems fitting to briefly revisit the poem that inspired me to start this blog in the first place…

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

It got me thinking about what it is that the soft animal of my body doth truly love.  See more about the impetus of the blog in this early post.

Also, I’ve written about Third Culture Kids (TCK’s) in the past here.  I intend to explore and integrate this concept more in the coming year.  I do consider myself a TCK even though I spent only 4 years living abroad in Spain as a child.  If you aren’t familiar with TCK’s or even wonder if you might be one, feel free to read more about the phenomenon here!

Thank you all for sticking with me this past year!  I hope you have enjoyed the ride and will continue to tag along with me as we go forward, exploring… and listening to… what the soft animal body loves.

current music faves:  …enya (!), deep forest, tori

current show faves:  voyageur, work of art:  the next great artist

breakfast today:  chobani mango, iced trader joe’s latte in a can

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“Magic can be defined as the art and practice of changing consciousness at will.” ~Starhawk

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How do you change your consciousness?  Learning to sit with ambiguity may be one doorway to doing so.  Perhaps that’s why I’m so drawn to writing about it so much.  There are many ways of shifting one’s mindset, attitude, focus or consciousness:  practical, psychologically-based ways, spiritual ways and disciplined ways.  There are, of course, unhealthy ways consciousness can be changed that are quite rampant in our culture as well, though I would not recommend them (examples would be:  escapism, drugs, alcohol, hoarding, obsession, compulsion, shopaholism, etc.)

The times I find I most need to change my consciousness (and I wish I could always do it “at will”!) are times when I am feeling and thinking darkly and starkly about life or about myself.  When I can only see things in black and white and I keep focusing in on the negative.  We all have moments when we feel so down it seems impossible to ever be “up” again.  I have a friend that calls this “being fatalistic”.  Breaking out of it can be very challenging (I know at least, for me it has been).

I find breaking out of fatalistic, undesirable funks takes willpower and creativity.  I tend to examine what I am exactly doing at that moment (sitting on the couch for several hours, not exercising for weeks, not reaching out to a support network of friends, emotional eating, whatever) and I ask myself what would be something different I could do than I am doing right now.  I often get out pen and paper to make myself SEE my options.  And then I do whatever works.  For me, sometimes it’s just getting up and moving if I had been stationary.  Or committing to that yoga class tomorrow morning.  Or stopping with the eating and writing instead (ahem, facing my emotions).  In DBT, this strategy is known as “opposite action” and it can be helpful in getting one unstuck.  Sometimes we just need some intentional momentum to get us going in a new direction (especially if we didn’t like the old direction).

Sometimes we want or need to change our consciousness or thoughts because they are not really helpful or accurate.  Redirecting our brains to reassess the accuracy of the statements we tell ourselves can help us be discerning thinkers and not be overly harsh or critical towards ourselves.  We all tend to engage in cognitive distortions (examples found here).  Knowing when we are making cognitive distortion errors and correcting them in our own minds is part of the secret of changing consciousness at will and for the better.  One of the most common cognitive distortions is Black and White Thinking.  Solution?  See the grey.  Sit with ambiguity!

current music faves:  the national, adele

current show faves:  new girl, happy endings, prime suspect

breakfast today:  bagel with sausage, cheese and spicy sauce (again!)

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