Sometimes I think a good metaphor for my life is that of a nursery surrounded by a mystery. It seems that each time I leave the nursery to explore the mystery I am jettisoned back to the nursery again.
This time it began with a visit to the dentist. About a year and half ago I had a root canal and the filling had been gradually wearing away. I had ignored it for as long as possible but it was becoming sensitive and my hygienist appointment was due so I decided to try and combine the two visits.
When I made the appointment I was not convinced that the receptionist had really understood my request, “I want to see the hygienist followed by a half hour appointment with the dentist.” However to seemed no big deal and following my recent journey with impatience I decided that I could let go of my need for control and make a second appointment if necessary. I was prepared for a loss of control or so I thought.
When I arrived the receptionist was tidying magazines, placing them in neat rows on the table. “Nothing obsessive compulsive about you”, I quipped. She laughed and replied that it was her job. Then a stranger wearing a lab coat who had been standing at the entrance to the surgery said without any introduction, “I’m ready for you now.” I froze, “Who are you? I am here to see Erin; you’re not Erin. I don’t want to go with you.”
I presumed they had substituted my regular hygienist for this stranger, (forgetting not to make assumptions). She explained that she was the dentist’s nurse and he wanted to replace my filling before I saw the hygienist.
I relaxed and followed her like an obedient sheep behind a shepherd smiling to myself as I knew a complex had engaged. “How was your day before I spoiled it?” I enquired. “Well I think that is the first time anyone has refused to accompany me”, she smiled. “The first person who was not six years old” I responded.
One of the positives of my commitment to unravel my own psychology is that I no longer judge myself too much for these autonomous reactions that CG Jung referred to as “splinter personalities”. Whenever I behave in a manner that does not make sense, I can see a child’s reaction under the surface. In that moment I became six years old again. I think it helps me to immediately own what has happened and bring it into the light. My humour helps to defuse any embarrassment or shame that arises while at the same time I commit to an exploration of the complex.
So what happened? Why did this incident cause a complex to engage so spontaneously ?
Clearly it is connected to my misunderstanding of the situation; this caused me to feel anxiety about an unexpected and unapproved change. Obviously this is once again about my old friend control. My plan has been changed. I am no longer in control. I am again a powerless child in the face of the powerful other. At the heart of my reaction is a six year olds reaction to overwhelment.
This time rather than the impatience and frustration I felt at Puerto Vallarta airport, my response is resistance. I don’t want to go with her. Immediately the image of a six year old being taken to school by his mother for the first time pops into my mind. He refuses to enter the grounds until a teacher takes his hand. Then he runs away every day much to the consternation of his older brother who hated being made late. My sense of control was obviously threatened by school.
It fascinates me that even as a six year old I developed the coping mechanism of control to try and deal with my environment. Having a younger sibling I became independent at an early age. I have spent sixty-five years refining my control mechanisms now I am beginning to deconstruct them. First impatience now resistance, I can hardly wait to find out what’s next.
As Dorianne Laux says in her beautiful poem Break, “We put the puzzle together piece by piece loving how each curved notch fits so sweetly into another.”