Be it Heidi’s grandfather, Rhett Butler, Clint Eastwood in The Bridges of Madison County, that homely guy at the gym, or — more significantly — our own inner shadow, most of us are seduced by the idea of our love redeeming the isolated cranky beast.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés (CPE) BEGINS her book Women Who Run With the Wolves (which — understatement — is a VERY good book to buy if you don’t already own it) with the story of Bluebeard because understanding and overcoming this internal predator is the first step in owning our own wild nature. Her version is here. In brief:
Bluebeard is a sketchy-looking guy, but the youngest of three sisters is won over by his skillful wooing, marries him, and lives with him in his castle. He gives her all the keys to the place but forbids her to go into one particular room. While visiting, her sisters encourage her to check it out. When the key is inserted, the door swings open and there are bloody. be-headed. bodies… Bluebeard’s previous wives. The young bride sees what’s what and slams the door shut. She decides to hide her actions from Bluebeard. But. The key has blood on it — blood she can’t wipe off because the key seeps blood. Well, Bluebeard of course sees this, goes nuts, and starts dragging the youngest sister off to murder her. She acts like “I accept that I’m going to die but just want a few minutes in my room to compose myself.” She posts her sisters on the battlements to keep an eye out for their brothers. Time’s up. Bluebeard begins yelling and stomping up after her. No sign of the brothers. He’s coming closer. The sisters see a dust devil — maybe their brothers’ horses? Bluebeard grabs her, drags her toward the basement. The brothers storm the castle, dismember Bluebeard, and let the carrion-eaters scavenge his bones.
Bluebeards are really and truly just bad news. So how do we know when we are face-to-face with an inner saboteur that will kill our soul VS. a tricky part of our journey that will blossom over time with love? And what do we do if we find a Bluebeard?!
Example: Ellen wants to finish writing her book, but she keeps getting distracted by perfume websites. Is this a Coyote-like trickster part of herself steering her toward a passionate, creative life OR a predator part of herself trying to kill her ambition and success?
Example: Joanie has a fine long-term relationship, but this guy she’s [sort of, maybe, unofficially] having a flirtation with on the side is giving her fits with his inconsistency. “What part of me,” she asks, “is making me do this?”
After studying the two fairy tales for clues and digesting CPE’s heartful analysis over and over, this is the tool I’ve developed for myself for when something looks gnarly.
1. Beast or a Bluebeard?
Ask: Does this seemingly “off” part of you:
- Start by promising you some paradise? That’s a Bluebeard move. Bluebeard makes you think, “why was I initially disgusted? He’s quite suave! And he really really wants me. ME!” And Bluebeard doesn’t act like this is some normal or even questionable thing between you but rather a too-good-to-true, amazing connection!
- Make no effort to hide that he is not Prince Charming? Tally one for Beast. He gets that he’s beastly. He admits it.
- Get sweeter over time, revealing endearing little charms? Another indication this is a Beast. Bluebeard gets increasingly dis-likeable after you’ve handed yourself over. Beast starts secretly doing nice things for you.
- Start limiting you once you give in and get closer? That’s a hallmark of Bluebeard. “Whatever you do, don’t do THIS,” he says.
- Help you do something that you really want to do even though it’s against his original plan? Beastly behavior. He increasingly wants you to be happy. (Beast ultimately let Beauty return to her sick father even though it meant Beast would die.)
- Go ballistic if you do what he doesn’t want you to do? That’s a defining characteristic of Bluebeard. Beast either couldn’t care less what you do with your own time or starts to find everything you do endearing.
- Clearly outline areas that are not open for looking into? Like: “no discussion whatsoever about this!!!” Like: “if you try to open this up I will kill you.” Like: “DO NOT ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS, discussion closed.” Yeah that’s Bluebeard.
- Give you a way to look at things you care most about — even when they are of no interest to his own agenda? That’s Beast. (Remember how he gave Beauty a magic mirror so she could see her family?)
The biggest giveaway is: are questions ok? Looking into things is never okay with a Bluebeard. The “key” in the story, CPE emphasizes, is QUESTIONS. Always ask them. If you’re not sure where to start, “why?” is always powerful.
Example: Metaphorically looking at Ellen’s perfume-website-compulsion as a somewhat gnarly looking interloper and applying the above questions might yield a tally of Beast: 4, Bluebeard: 0 if these were the circumstances:
If this compulsion never pretended to be other than a diversion from what she was supposed to be doing…
If, as time continued, it revealed other attractive assets (like fascinating stories about the longstanding perfume families and the up-and-coming mavericks), opened more doors for her (a desire to re-read Jitterbug Perfume, nice images to download for her blog and boards, a new kindred soul’s site to inspire her own ideas, etc…), triggered a blog post despite its ostensible role as procrastinating device, was fun to think about — to consider why she loved it so — and gave her a new perspective on her work with supposedly troubled but really soul-opening teenagers…
THEN it would be Beast: redeemed by and redeeming her quality of attention.
On the other hand:
If perfume websites seemed right off the bat like her surefire way to make a million and get famous, then became increasingly obviously a shallow and appearance-oriented and greed-obsessed world, kept her from everything else, and felt like an oddly “closed” subject when she tried to journal about her compulsion — or, even worse, a secret she never would discuss with a friend — THEN it would be somehow associated with Bluebeard energy.
Example: If Joanie’s side-flirtation balks at questions of “why” their relationship is so undefined and unreliable, then, really, that’s all it takes to label that guy as a Bluebeard.
And if she can’t bring herself to ask the hard questions of herself — or ask a friend or counselor to help her walk through the issue — then some Bluebeardy thing inside her is leading her into this mess.
If, on the other hand, this new guy is totally up for such a discussion AND Joanie’s own inner and outer conversations on the subject open up all kinds of exciting revelations and possibilities AND she is getting more done and feeling more vital than ever, then both the guy and her inner impulse are likely Beastly. Which, if you’re following my jargon here, is a good thing:)
2. Escaping Bluebeard’s clutches
- Find the place Bluebeard wants you to avoid.
- Where am I being told (especially by my self):
- “Don’t do that?”
- “Don’t look there!”
- What’s not as it appears?
- What do I know that I wish I didn’t know OR that I’m pretending I don’t know?
- Use the key (QUESTIONS!) to unlock and open the door to that place.
- What’s behind there?
- What of me has been killed or lies dying?
- See what is there. Don’t look away just yet. Use your powers to differentiate reality from appearances, healthy from ill (or — in this case — beheaded!). Get a good look.
- Use your voice — and stealth if need be — to backtrack or loop around or dive out of hiding in order to surface elsewhere and buy yourself some time. I love CPE’s discussion of the animal-like cunning we can use in this step.
- Call up your inner psychic muscle (aka “the brothers”). Use your determination. Pray, journal, use mantras, talk to yourself. Your inner psychic muscle (Jung called it the animus) is how you make your inner wishes take shape in the outer world via strength and action. Beseech it to show up. This whole episode will leave you more able to call up your monster-killing brothers at a moment’s notice!
- Rely on your inner eyes to spot your inner psychic muscle coming, yes, but, even more importantly, to recognize and not go for Bluebeards in the future. This whole episode will leave you better able to rely on that soul vision of yours.
- Pull your inner Bluebeard apart. How?
- Counter every icky attack of his on your “soul life” (as PCE says) with a soul nurturing thought of your own. Ask: Is what I’m being told true? Gather evidence that YOUR truth is right (see Byron Katie’s The Work for examples; I do it here).
- Ask: Why? Ask the same thing five more times.
- If you think he raises some good point, fine, keep it IF you can do so with love for yourself. Discard the rest.
- Trust and maintain your intuition so you can resist future seductive promises of paradise from what initially appears to be a monster. Your initial instinct was right. And, last and most important, I think:
- “Often we need to take ourselves, our ideas, our art, far more seriously than we have before.”
Paraphrasing Liz Gilbert, “If I am not creating something, I am destroying something.” Maybe myself.
Creating keeps us strong. And it keeps us “seeing” clearly. It doesn’t have to be anything we are going to sell or whatever. Just create.
Tip: Follow Elizabeth Gilbert on Facebook for wildly inspirational and surprisingly new, fresh insights on this process. And get her new book coming out in October 2015!
Meanwhile: question, see, run away and hide, question more, and create. It’s life saving and, brace yourself, fun.
PS — This process is designed for inner Bluebeard vs Beast dilemmas, but it might work with real men too:)
PPS — This post is my attempt to make a step-by-step process out of what Clarissa Pinkola Estés describes in a powerful, lyrical, evocative way more fitting of soul work in Chapter One of Women Who Run With Wolves. Did I mention you should buy it?