“Is this the road to masculinity?” asked the traveler of the stranger.
“Yes, if you turn around,” replied the knowing stranger. “All roads begin with Mother!”
Sorry Neo, it’s Mother who is really “The One.” In the beginning there was only oneness of being, life merged inside of mother. Though oneness became twoness at birth, the process of emotional separation and individuation from her power and resource can occupy a lifetime. Many remain attached to mother in her powerful archetypal mystique as benevolent goddess or dangerous witch, casting a shadow over the realization of their own innate power, magic, and majesty.
Such a goddess status is hardly appropriate for the fallible mortal woman charged with raising a child. In fact, the famous child psychiatrist, Winnicott, desperately attempted to assure mothers that they only needed to be “good enough” for their children to be fine.
What he was referring to was the necessity for mother to only meet minimum requirements of loving presence to enable her child to come online to the vital energy of their own inner circuitry and to become a viable separate magical living being.
This is not to downplay the primal significance of an early connection with mother. If basic minimums are not met a child may perish via a failure to thrive. Beyond that a child may harbor a powerful dependency upon mother for years while the circuits for greater autonomy await her switching them on, in vain.
There is a only a narrow critical period in youth where mother’s attention can activate those switches. Beyond childhood it is the adult ego that takes charge of the circuitboard of the self. In plain English, the adult must take the journey to discover their own riches.
The circuits I am referring to are somewhat identifiable in the neural pathways of the brain and body, the earthly hardware of the soul. However, the mind, the outer wrapping of the soul, is a bit more ephemeral and includes both the ego, the conscious sense of self, and the unconscious, which at its deepest levels, the collective unconscious, contains the basic instinctual knowledge of our species, as well as its spiritual majesty.
In effect, the unconscious has all the knowhow we need to become a person and meet the challenges of life, but access to this inner font of wisdom is first projected upon the agent of mother, who through early attachment serves as conduit to these inner riches. Hence, the immortal goddess status is freely projected upon mother, vestiges of which can last a lifetime. Does mother ever become just the normal human animal we all are?
Given the power of the inner archetypal drama unfolding behind normal growth and development, in addition to the nuances of one’s personal relationship with their actual mother, a lot can go wrong on the path to adulthood! That’s where adult psychotherapy comes in, helping an individual to individuate through developing a direct relationship between the adult ego self and the golden riches of the deeper self, turning on the circuits of wholeness within the self.
The major challenge on the original road to masculinity is to withdraw one’s all-powerful projection onto mother as “The One.” Fourth grade boys often trade “your mother” jokes to prove their personal power over this primal relationship. One must never show hurt feelings or rage at these jokes and risk suffering the label “mama’s boy.”
The technology of masculinity at this young stage is the ability to fragment and compartmentalize. If one has needy, dependent, soft feelings for mother they must be denied and hidden. To be masculine one must have power over feelings and needs. Instead the focus shifts to competition and the ability to conquer and control. Archetypally the dramas become identification with superheroes or sport’s heroes.
The thrust of adolescence is toward greater autonomy with needs shifting toward social groups and explorations of dating. Young adulthood focuses on deeper autonomy, planting oneself in career directions and the world of work. Intimate relations may move deeper into commitment but frequently dissolve beyond the romantic idealization stage where love flows freely without obligation. Intimacy is a pathway to the magic, but only with maturity.
With commitment comes a deepening of intimacy and this is where the trouble begins. Masculinity gained through the tools of fragmentation, compartmentalization, competition, power and control are no match for the demands of intimacy, which brings one back to feelings, needs, and the omniscient power of mother that is resurrected in the person of one’s intimate partner.
Mother is the primal first love object who in one form or another is the prototype coloring all future intimacies. For men to truly secure their masculinity they must conquer this powerful female prototype of their infantile dependency needs, frequently represented in archetypal myths as battles with the dragon.
However, conquest of both need for mother and fear of her do not solve the final challenge of masculinity. The final challenge is to be open to deeply loving connection with an intimate partner. To achieve this there is no other road but the return to mother as she appears in the shadow of everyday life encounters, for it is there that we will encounter the ghosts of the nursery.
The ability to tolerate the power of these ghosts that can trigger us into rages and withdrawal is fundamental. The ability to stay present to regulate the archaic emotions that shoot forth from the depths and resolve their associated complexes are the deeper challenges of masculinity.
To be able to make contact, to experience union without the need to dissociate, to hold onto self and fully receive an intimate other are all signs that the power of mother has been successfully transformed; the magic has been discovered within.
Mother can be loved for her humanness, but in adulthood she no longer holds the power of archetypal projection. Full masculinity has been reached and one is truly ready for deeper intimacy. Owning this full masculinity transcends the pseudo-masculinity of power grabs, or the relatedness of childish neediness. This is masculinity that embodies its own magic. Thank you, mother!
On the road again,