These Two Banished Emotions Need to be Invited to the Castle

by | Oct 13, 2019 | Anxiety | 35 comments

In myths and fairy tales, the banished characters are shadow aspects who represent the inner characters we would like to sequester away in a cloistral tower or banish to the middle of the forest: the virginal maiden representing forbidden chastity, the unattractive witch representing the split-off wild feminine, the evil stepmother representing the dark side of motherhood. Like dreams, when we read myths and fairy tales through the lens of symbolism, we train our minds to see our inner worlds through fractal eyes instead of literals ones, where we can then welcome in the darkness as much as the light.

For the evil step-mother is our own envy and the cloistered maiden is our own forbidden desire and the witch is our own wild longing, and if we were taught to read myths, dreams, and fairy tales through the lens of metaphor, we would have an easier time naming our darker emotions and inviting them into the castle of psyche when they arise. Two of these emotions in particular – longing and envy – are rarely discussed, which leaves them to fester in the silence of shame. For what we don’t name publicly withers without light, and slithers away like another of our most reviled creatures: the snake.

My work is predicated on the mindset that our anxiety and intrusive thoughts are distress flares inviting us to turn inward and attend to the lost and banished parts of ourselves. When we listen to the messages embedded inside of anxiety, we learn that one of the strongest realms that needs attention is our emotional realm. Unexpressed emotion bottles up and manifests as anxiety or pops out the top as panic. As such, one of the primary messages of anxiety is to learn to reopen those blocked emotional passageways so you can flow in the river of your emotional life.

Let’s go more deeply into two of these banished emotions: Longing and Envy.

 

Longing

 

I feel the ache of longing at least once a day. I take a walk in my neighborhood and see grandparents taking care of their grandchildren, and I long not only for my parents’ once intact marriage but also for my own departed grandparents. When I bring intense focus to the longing and cradle it in my breath – literally breathing around the sensation of longing that arrives like a winged creature and lands with a thud in my heart – it picks itself up and flies along its invisible channels. Longing is connected to grief, but it’s not quite grief: it’s grief tinged with desire.

If we take the desire literally, we often land in a meadow that doesn’t serve us: the young part that thinks it can repair a parents’ broken marriage with just the right words or move back to the hometown to try to retrieve or recreate the lost childhood. In short, taking the desire element of longing at face value activates the need to do something. But longing, like all emotions, usually only needs to be seen, breathed, and known. Most times, there is nothing to be done. There is only the places to be felt.

There are times, however, when the grief the wisps off longing leads to inspiration. When we lived in Los Angeles, every time I would see the smallest body of water – a trickle of a creek, a small pond – my entire being would fill with longing. I would look up at the sky and long for big sky, and see the small ridge of mountain the line the horizon of Los Angeles and long for majestic mountains. This longing-tinged-grief fueled the inspiration that would eventually land us in Colorado with a creek running through our backyard and the Rocky Mountains jutting up around us.

How do you discern between these two wings of longing – the longing that simply needs attention and unfurls into grief and the one that guides us along the pathways of inspiration? As always, the key is discernment, which is one of the qualities of the loving inner father (I wrote about this in last week’s blog post and in depth in my book, The Wisdom of Anxiety.) For those of you struggling with relationship anxiety, I can hear your anxious voice piping up: How do I know that my longing for a different partner or different life isn’t a true need? I encourage you to breathe into that anxious voice and see if you can call on everything you’ve learned about relationship anxiety so that you can meet this part of you at the root.

 

Envy

 

Ah, envy. It the evil stepmother part of us that feels threatened by another’s light, the part that wants to cover Cinderella in soot so that nobody sees her beauty. While envy is natural and human, it’s also instigated and inflamed by a patriarchal mindset that pits all of us against each other. Competition is a primary motivator in our culture, yet what we know is that we are more naturally wired for cooperation.

Envy is an offshoot of comparison. As I’ve entered the world of social media this year with Instagram, I’ve exposed myself to the unavoidable tendency to compare, which is endemic to that culture. Oh, the shadowy envy that is unleashed when I see another therapist with one million followers! There is a part of me that wishes I was “above” this emotion and could purely celebrate her success, but then I remember that even venerated spiritual teachers like Pema Chodron aren’t above the very human emotion of envy (she has talked about feeling envious of other author’s bestseller rank after her book came out). So there it is: my own desire to banish this very un-pretty emotion, and even to name it as un-pretty at all. Envy is just envy. It’s an energy. It’s human. It’s natural.

The Antidote to Envy is Twofold:

 

1. Remind yourself that we’re all in this together, and that when one light shines we all shine. When envy is unleashed by this particular therapist that I mentioned above, I breathe into the natural envy and then remind myself that she’s raising consciousness for one million people, and god knows we need consciousness-raising in this world. She’s bringing healing, awareness, and tangible tools, and the truth underneath the envy is that I’m deeply impressed by what she’s creating and by the generosity with which she offers it. As soon as I connect to the partnership mindset as opposed to the competition mindset, everything inside me softens and I truly celebrate her success. Her success is all of our success. We are not separate.

That said, I do believe that the followers/likes/hearts system stems from an antiquated and dangerous model rooted in competition – why not let information that we share speak for itself and stand on its own? – but since this is the system we’re in, we can choose to compete with one another or support one another. I let in the envy, then I choose support.

2. The second antidote is to reconnect with your original intention for showing up however you’re showing up. For me, my intention with this blog, for example, is first and foremost to share information. If my articles reach and touch one person and help someone make more sense of their inner world, I have succeeded. A secondary intention is to commit each week to writing as a creative practice, which means that even when I don’t “feel” like writing, I do it anyway. It’s one way that I work with resistance, and over the ten years of writing this blog weekly, I have honed a level of discipline around writing that I never knew was possible. For that, I am deeply grateful.

Sometimes longing and envy collide, as happened one evening as I was walking through our neighborhood and I saw the aforementioned grandparents taking care of their three grandkids. The third child in this family is a girl, and seeing her little one-year old adorable self sitting on the grass activated my longing for a girl. I, too, am the third child with two older brothers, and I’m aware that part of my longing for a girl is my misguided attempt to retrieve my young self and tend to her wounds. Of course, this is work that I do for myself every day, but when this longing hits it transcends rational mind.

I feel it, send my breath to weave a cradle, and come back to the present moment and the immense gratitude my current life, which is as full and abundant as I could ever imagine. (And, truth be told, I think I would be a wreck of exhaustion with a third child.) Returning to gratitude isn’t about bypassing the longing; we must name and breathe into it first. But once it receives the initial dose of loving attention, we can re-channel it to higher currents, of which gratitude is at the top.

The Way Out is Through

 

On the other side of longing is grief and inspiration, for when we allow the grief to penetrate it can soften us into another layer of grief and/or move us in the direction of creative manifestation.

On the other side of envy is celebration of others, for when we walk through the portal of envy, we emerge in the field of awareness that remembers that we’re all in this together.

These are not opposites but are doorways into each other other. As always with difficult emotions, we cannot go around or over or under the feelings that we would like to banish. Rather, we have to invite them into the castle and make a place for them at the royal banquet table of psyche. And then, like the beast who needs love before it reveals its true beauty, these banished emotions soften into their true nature, which is always, in some sense, an offshoot of love.

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35 Comments

  1. Dear Sheryl,

    Thank you for this! I am wondering if the longing to be a smaller size comes into this? I have been very into body acceptance and health at every size, but I still go through times where I long to be smaller. It would be easier to navigate the world in a smaller size. Can I work with this in a similar way to what you suggest?

    Reply
    • Absolutely, Brooke. Both envy and longing would show up around body image.

      Reply
  2. Thank you, Sheryl. I’ve found that those “unlovely” but very human emotions do much more harm when banished, than when just observed, and sometimes gently probed.

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    • Yes, yes, Ceci. Beautifully shared.

      Reply
  3. Wow! Love the sharing Sheryl. I now embrace envy and learn to recognise and celebrate my humanity and the joy of freedom when I understand. Thank you!

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  4. Amazing article!!! I related so strongly to the part about wanting to repair your parents broken marriage, about feeling the need to do something, especially as I watch it unravel before my eyes. It’s such a hard feeling to breath into, especially around the holidays. Do you have any suggestions for how you can not allow that longing to consume you while visiting home?

    Reply
    • Same here. My parents are going through a divorce and it is incredibly hard during the holidays. Nice to know I’m not alone, since I feel especially out of sync with the rest world celebrating tradition while all of our traditions have been uprooted. Would love to hear more on this topic and the longing that comes along.

      Reply
    • If you can connect to the grief embedded in the longing, your heart will soften and the longing will abate.

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  5. Thank you Sheryl and perfect timing. I was caught up last night in the envy of both a fellow sharer on social media, and with my first book releasing next month have felt the comparisons rising. When I try to ignore it I become irritated. I must work with it!

    Reply
    • Oh, it’s so easy to get caught in envy when on social media, but it’s also a prime place to work with it. Congratulations on your upcoming book release!

      Reply
  6. Thank you Sheryl. There are times when I long for a third child. I have two beautiful boys. My husband does not want any more children. I try to accept this and know that we are beyond blessed with our 2 wonderful boys. I wonder if I am grieving being pregnant and cradling a new born baby and feel sad that I’ll never experience this again.

    Reply
    • Yes, there can be so much grief around not being pregnant or cradling a newborn again. If you can soften into the grief, the longing softens and acceptance arrives.

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  7. Wow… the fact that you brought those emotions to light means so much to my heart. I would say that the way my relationship anxiety manifests the most is through envy and jealousy : I tend to be terribly envious whenever my partner gives attention to another person (and it appears through projection and intrusive thoughts but I’m thankful I recognize it !)… It is a very painful and hard emotion especially because it has this « evil » connotation in the society. But it feels so good to read about this and thank you for your invitation to work through it and to recognize that we all shine equally… ❤️?

    Reply
    • You’re welcome, Akané! Thank you for sharing how it affects you here. The more we share, the more we reduce shame and realize that every emotion deserves our attention.

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  8. Wow, thank you so much for your willingness to share and be open to us. I have a tendency to put people that I greatly admire (like yourself) on a pedestal. Upon reading the words my brain was like, “Really?! She feels envy too?”. So, that reaction was an indication to how I compare myself! Such a great reminder that we are all human with human emotions no matter the level of healing or consciousness we have achieved. Though Instagram has its drawbacks, it makes me so happy to see you connecting with all the other people who are bringing light and wellness into the world through it. Thank you, again. Love and light to you, Sheryl!

    Reply
    • That was exactly my response when I read about Pema Chodron’s envy! I think it’s so important that teachers share their vulnerabilities, otherwise we contribute to the idea that some people have it “all figured out”.

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  9. Social media, but especially Instragram, engenders feelings of envy in me, too. I see these women who seem to be in effortless relationships with the “perfect” boyfriend/husband who does all the right things and says all the right things. And I see people with enough money to create the home and living space they want, to buy clothing they love (I’m struggling with money lately), and that makes me envious, too. But then I remember that people choose what they share, and most often it’s rooted in competition (like you said), the need to be doing life “correctly” and to be perceived well by peers. And yet, there’s another, vulnerable side to Instagram, where people can share their raw experiences and people come together to support each other—and that I find inspiring enough to not close my account, just be more selective of who I follow and mindful of my emotions.

    Reply
    • Yes, it’s important to remember that some people share their highlight reels and others share vulnerably, and we can choose who we follow and also choose how we respond when the difficult feelings are stirred up.

      Reply
  10. Thank you for this amazing post. For me, longing is such a painful emotion. I find myself longing many times a week. Alot of it is triggered by my own two young sons; the amazing bond they have and how their parents are together and doing our best to work things out…no matter how messy that looks sometimes (to me), and creating fun family memories. My own childhood was ruptured by the single most important event of my life which was my parents divorce. It was incredibly painful, and left a huge mark on me. I didnt realize how much it affected me until I went to therapy after my first son was born as I was being strangled with anxiety because I was afraid that I was going to ‘mess him up’. I have come a long way since that time but I still cant help feel longing for my parents togetherness and a close nuclear family. It hurts. And when I tend to the feeling it hurts alot. I can feel how fall is in the air as I find myself going down the longing path more often these days and find myself needing to tend to my inner world more frequently.

    Grief + desire.

    That sums it up perfectly.

    Reply
    • I’m right there with you, and yes, fall does amplify the longing, which means that we’re being invited into our next layers of grief and healing. We’re all in this together.

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  11. Thank you Sheryl for this beautiful example of inviting longing and envy to the castle. I find that I have a deep longing for a new job as I see public education as being so toxic and demeaning to children and best practices for social-emotional and whole-child development. As I read your post, I am reminded to stay curious about my longing and dive deeper into intention and vision of decolonizing public education along with many who are already doing the work. I find that there is a lot of grief for me at the intersections of public school as a machine creating more racial/economic and creative oppression. Sitting with this grief might free me to channel my energies and love to bringing the mind-body-community connection into my classroom daily. Thank you for your vulnerability and teachings here and always.

    Reply
    • As I have stayed curious about my deeper grief, longing, envy, I am finding new realms of pain. Instead of trying to discern what decision I should take at work, I decided to stay in curiosity longer without needing to make a decision as you invite us to do in your work and book. I realized after I wrote my first note, that I went right back to the anxiety wheel when I circled back to making a decision about what my longing means for me at work now. I am staying in curiosity, compassion, stillness, and gratitude for now. Thank you for guiding us in this work both here and in your book.

      Reply
  12. Thank you Sheryl, you’ve definitely had a very positive impact on my life, you’ve inspired me so much to do the work and take the right actions and I must say, that your courses, your blog in addition to my meditation and therapy have all contributed to soothe my anxiety not to mention my old panic attacks.
    Regarding this particular blog, I couldn’t be more grateful. As you probably recall from my last appearance in the comments sections, I was a wreck after my husband confessed full of shame and guilt that he’d been unfaithful one weekend with whom I considered to be my best friend. It’s been a ride since then. I’ve listened to him in distress, I could see his regret, I also realized it was a punctual situation, an acting out so I decided to let myself go by his side and see what happens. We’re doing couples therapy but what I’ve realized after reading this is that after my husband’s confession, I live in a state of longing for what I thought we had and the husband I thought my husband was, a longing for what I thought was a perfect husband who put us first. I sometimes feel envy too, esp. when I see other couples who look so whole and who seem to worship each other so much that they’d never think of being unfaithful. I know that could be my tendency to idealize the rest. With the longing is different, I feel the grief you so clearly described every second of my day. The question is what to do with it. I try not to act/”do”my grief or longing and just feel it but it’s tough. Thank you and love dearest Sheryl, you’re so important for so many of us.

    Reply
    • Dearest Georgina: It’s so good to hear from you, especially after your last post. I’m glad to hear that you and your husband are in couples’ therapy and are working through this most painful rapture. I hope you know that it’s through ruptures that we grow our trust and love in marriage. Sending you so much love, as always, as you continue to grieve and find your way through.

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      • Thank you Sheryl, I hope I can make amends with not knowing what’s coming next. I feel sad very sad. I love you, thank you for being there

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  13. Thank you for talking about Envy and Longing. I am in a place of transition, working and waiting on things out of my control. And the things I am working for, I see others around me accomplishing. I found myself more angry by trying to push away my envy, and distancing myself from those I genuinely want to support. I finally had a conversation with myself and reminded myself its okay to have these emotions, and I can accept them, and also turn towards being supportive of those whom I envy… and I found myself asking them about how the journey felt for them.
    I was surprised to find, they too along the way had felt how I currently feel… and because they continued on, they reached their goal. I shared my current stuggle and they in turn encouraged and supported me. Your article just made me more aware of how grateful I am for it all. Thank you for all your beautiful work.

    Reply
    • Thank you for sharing this! I had just commented on a similar sounding struggle with envy. It’s beautiful to hear how you worked through this and even found encouragement from those you were envying!

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    • That’s so powerful and beautiful to read, Renee. Thank you.

      Reply
  14. Thank you for sharing this! I have been fighting envy for the work other women are doing at our church that I feel called to do, but haven’t been able to because of new parenthood. I couldn’t find the balance of not letting it fester, while also not pushing it away. Your words helped me move through it with a bit more clarity.

    Reply
    • I’m so glad my words brought clarity :). And hopefully some self-compassion and remembering that you’re serving in one of the highest ways possible by being attentive to your little one.

      Reply
  15. Hi Sheryl – I am going to start your course on ROCD this month. In the meantime, I’m really struggling with the following quote from another Cheryl I trust deeply.

    How would you reconcile this overall sentiment?

    “Go, even though you love him.
    Go, even though he’s kind and faithful and dear to you.
    Go, even though he’s your best friend and you’re his.
    Go, even though you can’t imagine your life without him.
    Go, even though he adores you and your leaving will devastate him.
    Go, even though your friends will be disappointed or surprised or pissed off or all three.
    Go, even though you once said you would stay.
    Go, even though you’re afraid of being alone.
    Go, even though you’re sure no one will ever love you as well as he does.
    Go, even though there is nowhere to go.
    Go, even though you don’t know exactly why you can’t stay.
    Go, because you want to.
    Because wanting to leave is enough.”

    Any insight you might have would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
    • Hi J, I’m not Sheryl (obviously 🙂 ) but I have been spiked by Cheryl Strayed quotes as well. Sheryl has written on her and Elizabeth Gilbert and the radical decisions they have made in their lives. I think it’s important to keep in mind that what works for one person doesn’t work for everyone, and the fact that your intuition is piping up here gives me the impression that you know on some deeper level that this advice doesn’t sit right with you. Just because these people are “experts” that people admire doesn’t mean everything they say applies to our lives. I hope that helps.

      Reply
      • Hi Mayberry, thank you so much for taking the time to respond here. What you said resonates with me and I do think there’s a part of me that is rejecting this Cheryl Strayed quote because I know on a deeper level that it’s not 100% applicable to my situation.

        Reply
      • Brilliant insight, Ari. “Those of us who suffer from RA have a tendency to absorb other people’s stories. But they are THEIR stories.”

        Thank you.

        Reply

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