This is the transcript of an interview by Carolyn Clitheroe, a psychotherapy student who has developed an interest in shadow work and the archetypes. In relation to her studies she interviewed Marianne about the Sovereign archetype. The interview took place in the Green Room in Frome, Somerset in July 2017 and focuses on the inner Sovereign.
The discussions are wide-ranging and a variety of topics relating to the Sovereign are discussed – self compassion, authority and leadership, the inner child, trauma, joy and more. Inevitably the other three archetypes – the Lover, the Warrior and the Magician – are also spoken about, since all four archetypes are intimately related.
Below is a simple diagram showing the archetype displays in the room which are referred to in the talk, and giving a brief description of the qualities of each archetype. This diagram may help you to get more from reading the interview.
Each archetype also has a more modern day name and these are given in brackets in the diagram. Feel free to choose for yourself which name works best for you. For a video giving more detail about each archetype please follow these links:
Marianne Hill interviewed by Carolyn Clitheroe (Sampritti)
July 2017 at The Green Room, Frome, Somerset.
1) The Qualities of The Sovereign
Carolyn: As I look around the room and I see the Sovereign archetype represented in the corner over there. I see you’ve placed a crown there, and a candle and some beautiful cloths. Would you tell me a little bit about what these represent?
Marianne: Yes, of course, let’s start with the crown. The crown is put there to represent the leadership of the Sovereign. We often think of the Sovereign as the inner Queen or King, who leads with compassion, morality, strength and love. However for myself I can find the image of a loving inner parent easier to relate to than a Queen or King. So I think more of the loving inner mother or father, who cares and supports with constancy and love. A wise and warm presence such as we would get from a loving parent – caring for us and our life, loving us completely, wanting the best for us and wanting us to have a rich and fulfilling life.
Then the candle flame is another expression of this Sovereign energy. It represents the heart and warmth of the Sovereign. When the flame is burning brightly it demonstrates the passionate fire in the heart of the Sovereign that keeps her moving forward on her chosen path. The gentler flame represents the warm support and care of the sovereign – the steady reassuring presence she offers.
The Sovereign is a loving parental voice that can always make us feel safe, heard, understood, cared about. It’s a voice that doesn’t judge or give advice. It never speaks to us in a way that leaves us feeling shamed or wrong. The Sovereign accepts and loves us as we are – with our limitations and failings as much as with our gifts and strengths.
Unfortunately many of us have experienced a very different type of parental voice when we were children – maybe one that shames and punishes, or one that ignores and invalidates. We may have had parents that looked to us for support and life advice rather than supporting and caring for us in the way we needed as children. We may have been expected to take an impossible amount of responsibility.
The messages we received from our parents in the past are likely to affect the kind of Sovereign we have now living inside us. So if, for example, we received critical messages from our parents when we were growing up, we are likely to now ‘support’ ourselves with critical messages, rather than with genuine support. This was the only kind of support we ever knew, so it seems natural to speak to ourselves in this way – even though it may not be helpful.
This is why working with the Sovereign is such a fundamental part of the work I do. Most of us need to develop a more supportive and healthy Sovereign who can speak to us and care for us in a genuinely loving way.
2) The Sovereign’s Connection With Other Archetypes
C: In my mind, when I think of Sovereign, I think of it as kind of in the middle, directing things. Is that in any way accurate or is it because I particularly love the Sovereign archetype that I see it like that?
M: The Sovereign is, as the name suggests, in charge of everything. So the Sovereign’s rightful place is to be in charge in the same way that a parent is in charge of their children or a leader is in charge of their organisation. I’ve never thought of it before as being in the middle though…. maybe that’s because I also have a belief that each of the four archetypes has equal importance and is equally necessary. So although the role of the Sovereign is to be in charge, that isn’t necessarily any more important than the role of the Lover over there (pointing to the Lover display) to be in connection and to be open and vulnerable. Maybe with our western take on things we might think that the one in charge is the most important!
C: Interesting, yes. So where does the Warrior Archetype come into it then?
M: Well the Warrior is the part of us that takes action, so the Sovereign is no use without the Warrior to do her bidding. In the same way that, in an old fashioned kind of Queendom, the Queen would make a decision – she might want certain territories for example – and she would send her warriors off to gain those territories. The Warrior takes the action. So we see we have a kind of circuit which works between the Sovereign and the Warrior – where the Sovereign is in charge, she has the heart, the morality, the wisdom to make decisions, to decide what needs to happen. Then she will tell the Warrior what to do and the Warrior will take action. And so in that way missions, or visions get carried out – with the Sovereign and the Warrior working together. So the Sovereign is no use without her Warrior..
C: …Otherwise she would be almost sort of fangless or clawless? – That is the image I have of a Sovereign without real ‘oomph’ behind her.
M: Yes and very ungrounded with lots of ideas and lots of enthusiasm but nothing actually happening.
C: And so between the other archetypes are there other circuits that have a particular role – what else is connected to the Sovereign?
M: There’s another really important circuit which is with the Lover. This one is to do with care and connection. If you think of the Sovereign’s job as the parent, then the Lover can be thought of as the child – the vulnerable side of us. So there’s a circuit there where the Sovereign cares for, supports, nurtures and blesses the inner child. That can be our own inner child or it can be vulnerable parts of other people. Internally the Sovereign is taking care of, and looking after, our own vulnerable parts.
C: So presumably the Sovereign can engage the Warrior in protecting the Lover?
C: And it can kind of triangulate in that way?
M: Yes exactly. The Warrior’s job is to protect the vulnerable and the Sovereign’s job is to care for, to understand and to give unconditional love to these vulnerable parts of ourselves and to those parts of others.
C: On the flip side of that then, what are these circuits like when they are going wrong?
M: Well, with the circuit between the Sovereign and the Warrior – the one which brings about our dreams and visions – then, if it’s only the Sovereign that’s involved, if the Warrior isn’t taking any action, as we said before, the Sovereign’s visions are ungrounded. Lots of ideas, lots of excitement maybe, lots of passion, but it’s got no oomph behind it and nothing actually happens, nothing actually changes. There is no ‘follow through’ and no integrity. Without a strong Warrior we can’t be trusted to carry something through to completion.
On the other hand, if we just have the Warrior, with no direction from the Sovereign, then we can do a lot of hard work, a lot of action, but it’s not going anywhere, it’s not achieving anything – it’s a lot of action or busyness just for the sake of it, with no direction, no bigger vision.
C: And what about Lover without the Sovereign then? I’m imagining collapse or something like that – self pity maybe?
M: Yes. It’s like the abandoned child without a parent. I think what happens to the inner child when there is no Sovereign is that she doesn’t get to grow. So those wounded parts of us that we carry around from childhood don’t get to grow up and they never become integrated into the whole of us. They stay stuck as wounded parts at the age where we got wounded and they kind of got trapped in there. Sometimes this can result in ‘acting out’ type behaviour – maybe addictions, irresponsibility, a lack of maturity and ability to take care of ourselves. Or sometimes another more critical part of us takes over in the absence of the Sovereign and tyrannises the inner child keeping her in a state of constant fear and distress.
If we can find a way to re-parent these young parts of us with loving Sovereign energy then they can grow up and take a place in our world as the wonderful life giving Lover side of ourselves which brings creativity, connection, play and flow.
3) Sovereign, Magician and Trauma
C: That’s interesting – When you talk about the critical parent that brings shame to mind. I remember that you’ve talked before about shame being something that can infiltrate anywhere.
M: Yes, shame in one way or another is associated with the Magician and it comes in as a response to fear. It infiltrates in to traumatic situations in the absence of a strong loving Sovereign and Warrior who can care for and protect us.
For most of us, if we’ve been wounded in childhood we find it’s in some way related to an absence of a Sovereign presence. The Sovereign hasn’t been there – what I mean by that is that the loving supportive parental influence hasn’t been there. So we’ve been through our trauma and had to make sense of it in the best way that we can – which tends to mean relying on our Magician. The Magician is the part of us that tries to keep us safe and deals with fear in the absence of any genuine protection or support.
C: So shame is part of keeping us safe?
M: Yes. Shame is part of keeping us safe. It is actually a very clever a way of taking control of a scary situation. Let me explain. If a child is being abused, for example, then that’s terrifying: They’ve got someone way bigger than them, way more powerful than them doing things to them that they really shouldn’t be doing physically, emotionally, sexually. If the child was to sit with the terror of that then psychologically they would go under.
So a common and very effective response to this is for the Magician part of the child to reframe it. This is one of the jobs of the Magician; to look at things differently. So she reframes what’s happening and says ‘Maybe this is happening because there’s something wrong with me – I’ve done something bad or wrong – that’s why this person is doing these things to me’.
C: So then the person would keep going back to their Magician and keep trying to work out, cycling it round, trying to work out how they can adjust themselves?
M: Yes, working out how they can hide their ‘badness’ or trying not to be ‘bad’, This gives them some sense of control, because if it’s them that’s bad, not this big scary person, then all they need to do is try to ‘behave’ themselves, try not to be ‘bad’, try not to do that again. This gives them a sense of having some control. However, along with that of course comes this shame, which is a feeling, a belief that there is something wrong with us. It isn’t actually true, but it serves a purpose in childhood when the Sovereign isn’t present. It gives us a sense of being able to do something about the situation.
If a child has a trauma and they have a loving parent around them, that can mitigate a lot of the shame because the parent can understand and explain and let the child feel what they are feeling and then the child knows it wasn’t about them and it wasn’t their fault.
C: I’m interested in theories of trauma and I’m trying to think of the archetypes through that kind of lens. I think from your description I would associate Magician with dissociation. Is that right?
M: Yes, absolutely. Anything to keep safe. So dissociation is very common because the Warrior is completely not present in trauma.
C: Really? – Oh because theres not enough safety to engage that aspect?
M: Yes, in my mind that’s one of the definitions of trauma. It’s a frightening situation where we experience a lack of agency – a lack of Warrior energy. If we can do something to stop what’s happening – the fight or flight response…
C: …yes mobilisation…
M: …then we don’t tend to carry the trauma with us afterwards..
C: …because its been processed and resolved?
M: Yes. So when trauma gets trapped in the body it’s because the Warrior has gone completely offline because it wasn’t safe. Even if you may be physically able to fight or run away as a child you just can’t, because you are so totally dependent on the people around you. The fear is that it could then cause something even worse to happen.
Sometimes it’s a trauma where we physically can’t move because we are literally pinned down or trapped in some way. So the Warrior – the part that takes action – is completely unable to help us and we have to totally rely on our magician.
One possibility is that we go into that freeze place, and part of that is dissociation as you say, and seeing it from a distance, that’s one thing that can happen. Confusion is another.
C: And a sort of preoccupation?
M: Yes and working it out, looking for any signs, however subtle, that something might be wrong – constantly looking out for risks to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
C: And that leads to sitting on the fence about things?
M: Yes, it can, because making any kind of decision evokes this kind of childhood belief that you could do something that could cause something bad to happen…
C: …and thinking you could do something to stop something as well – trying to take responsibility for the situation.
M: Yes and then you can end up in that paralysed space of ‘no I can’t speak, I can’t move I can’t do anything. I want to make it better but I’m frightened because I might make this worse.’
C: Yes, that makes a lot of sense.
In the context of trauma then what would Lover be – would that be the grieving element?
M: Lover is the feelings, all the feelings that can’t be expressed – the vulnerability of the trauma – which is what the Magician is trying to protect you from. Because you’re experiencing such extreme vulnerability in a traumatic situation then you have all the feelings that go with that – sadness and grief, yes, but there’s going to be rage and anger as well. You have all those feelings to deal with in a traumatic situation. When we freeze we put all these strong emotions on hold, because we’re not able to deal with them. They then get trapped in the body.
C: And shame tries to block those emotions, to try to stop the processing because its not safe enough – or at least that is the perception…
M: …and theres no one to listen – so that’s where the Sovereign comes in. often in childhood there’s no one who is going to receive those emotions and still love and care for you unconditionally and give you the correct response. So the emotions get frozen in the body until such a time as you feel safe enough, and there is a strong loving Sovereign presence who can hold and process all that emotion with you. This may not happen until adulthood.
4) Healing Trauma
C: So if you’ve grown up in a situation where there wasn’t enough of that Sovereign energy around how do you heal that and develop that later on in life so that you’re not constantly going back into these traumatic situations?
M: Well it’s interesting because a lot of the time we’ve been talking about Sovereign I’ve been thinking – ‘well this is what a therapist does – this is the role that a therapist plays.’ A lot of the time I think a good therapist is modelling that unconditional love, that acceptance, that lack of judgment. They provide what was missing in childhood….so that someone can feel safe and cared for, and the inner child’s feelings are free to be expressed.
Certainly in shadow work that’s what I would do. Almost always the first thing I do with anybody is to bring in a strong Sovereign voice so that they can learn to be that way towards themselves.
It’s such a double whammy to have missed out on receiving healthy Sovereign: if you haven’t had it from the outside then you don’t learn to treat yourself in that loving way – you talk to yourself from a more critical place in a way that maybe your parents or those around you treated you. And so you can’t bring love for yourself to those parts until you’ve had it modelled somehow, or experienced it in a piece of process work.
In our group sessions we go further than having the therapist provide a sense of love and care – we can have the person experience this kind of care directly from another participant. So if they choose to they can be held and spoken to lovingly. They can have someone there ‘playing’ that ideal parent who they never had. This can allow the trauma to be released. For many of us being physically held is an important part of the healing.
This work also helps with the ‘double whammy’ that I was talking about before. We set things up so that the participant initially shows us what kind of care and holding they would need. They model the words and actions which would be most helpful. The role player then uses their words and gestures. This builds their internal Sovereign energy, so that, as well as receiving this support in the workshop, they also grow a strong inner Sovereign of their own, who can speak to them and care for them in a loving way in their daily life.
C: Yes. I’ve seen this work done when I’ve done shadow work groups with you and I’ve also done my own individual pieces of work as well as couples work. I can see how well this works. I’m wondering though, how it works in a group dynamic where there’s transference between people in a group that’s quite complex because it involves more than two people. Is there any insight from the Sovereign perspective on those sort of situations?
So far we’ve talked about an individual’s inner world so I am asking how does that mesh – for example, if there is trauma present and somebody is behaving in a fragmented and confusing way, how does that interact with someone in the group who has a strong negative reaction to that?
How would you work with shadow work principles in that kind of larger group setting? Or would you avoid them because they are too complex and its actually better to work with individuals and couples separately?
M: There’s no reason to avoid it except that it would be complicated but that, if handled well, only increases the potential for healing.
I think the Five Fields communication model that I use would be my first port of call. This model provides a format for each person to express openly their particular responses to a situation, and it is accepted that these responses may come from a traumatised or ‘irrational’ place in us and they don’t necessarily make sense. That way everyone can start to see and understand why each person is behaving in the way they are.
We need to understand, of course, the person having a strong reaction to the person carrying trauma is likely themselves also to be carrying some pain or some trauma from the past that’s causing them to react in that way. They are not simply being ‘cruel’ or ‘uncaring’.
We need to understand where their response is coming from. Why are they feeling that way and having that quite extreme response? It maybe that they carry something very similar themselves from their past that they don’t want to see and so their Warrior is protecting them from seeing that by attacking. Or it could be a multitude of other reasons.
But the first thing – the Sovereign’s job – is to bring off the shame, that has to be done. So the Sovereign’s job is to hold the belief that everybody in that room is absolutely sane and perfect and loving and loveable and is behaving as they are for totally understandable reasons. It’s in that sort of cauldron that then everybody can step back and take a look at what’s going on. It doesn’t mean that the pain and the anger and the resentment and hurt and everything won’t be there …
C: …but if the shame’s not there then people can own their part in it can’t they, and not have to keep defending or dissociating or hiding.
M: Yes, removing the shame is the transformative factor and people are more likely to be open about what’s really going on for them. Equally it’s important not to force someone to do that if they aren’t ready for it. They may just stay entrenched in their position because that’s less risky than revealing – to themselves, as well as to other people – what’s gone on for them in the past and what they’re trying to struggle with in their unconscious. So it’s very important that any such work is always done with the person’s permission. Each person needs to have the right to protect themselves. In a group there may be a risk that there is pressure on someone to admit or acknowledge something that it’s just not the right time to admit or acknowledge. So that would have to be done very sensitively.
C: So Sovereign then is also compassion?
M: Yes. First and foremost Sovereign is compassion.
C: What’s the key emotion for Sovereign?
M: Interestingly it’s Joy.
C: That is interesting! Yes because joy resonates with higher emotions doesn’t it? I know the more challenging emotions serve their own purpose and are necessary, but in terms of having vision – that comes from joy doesn’t it? It comes from an opening to life, an opening to possibility and to things being different in the future. Rather than keeping on cycling through trauma. Joy is the opening out into some other expansion, some other life – positive experiences that would make it worth doing the work.
M: Exactly! Yes. There’s the joy that’s a form of excitement, really kind of heightened – ‘Yes! I’m going to create myself a beautiful home!’ – you know that kind of joy. Which provides motivation and carries us through the difficult sides of fulfilling a vision. There’s also the kind of joy that comes from knowing we are loveable and good enough. Where we can rest in contentment with ourselves. This is a quiet but very deep sense of joy.
C: I’ve also experienced when I’ve been in real pain and very deflated this very subtle feeling of self compassion which feels like the sort of ‘thin end of the wedge’ of joy.
M: Yes. Absolutely. Very subtle maybe, but profound in the difference it makes.
C: You know it’s like rather than insisting that I go from 0 to 60 and feel absolutely ecstatic and want to dance – just that tiny little thread at the bottom of self compassion is the beginning of climbing back up into feeling in tune with vision and genuinely optimistic and energised.
I feel like we don’t have enough words for joy – I’m on a a bit of a mission to try and find more words for it because I think it is only understood as a kind of ‘out there full volume’ thing. I actually think that dishonours what it is – and it makes it unreachable.
M: I think it does, yes and it shames people who aren’t in that place. Like you were saying, it sort of latches onto that idea as something higher and better than any other form of emotion. Whereas I think the really important thing for Sovereign is just that knowing that you’re OK, that you’re loved and that you are good. This brings a real peace and gentle joy – then everything else can come from that.
Sovereign also has a two sided aspect to it’s nature. So the one side is the vision and the passion which is sometimes thought of as the masculine side – and then the feminine is the blessing and the care and the support. Both are needed, both are equally as important – and there’s joy related to both of those which I think is the two different kinds of joy that we are talking about. So if you just have the blessing and the care and the support then you have that warmth and safety but not much growth – not much passion and inspiration.
If you just have the passion and the vision then you burn out – you just get excited and excitable and it doesn’t have any strength behind it because then you collapse. Mania and depression are the two extremes of this – each a kind of inflation and deflation of Sovereign. So you may have loads of great ideas and then collapse into a really depressed place of ‘Well who am I to do that?’ you know ‘Who am I to even be breathing?’ that kind of feeling, because there is not that love and sense of self worth there…
C: …there isn’t a sort of continual blessing in the background.
M: Yes exactly. That bedrock can be missing from everything we do. Without this self love we can find that we don’t have the heart to make the changes in our life that we want to make. We can’t make our dreams and visions a reality.
6) Working With The Sovereign Archetype
C: Do you see any particular patterns in your work around the Sovereign?
M: The main thing that I notice when I am working with Sovereign is that it sounds so easy and wonderful – simply to bring in a part that’s going to love and bless and support you – It’s a wonderful idea! But actually people tend to find it quite hard.
Often, when someone first tries this, it just doesn’t work. Quite often we find that their ‘loving’ part looks like the unhelpful parenting that they received as children. So they find out that their version of caring for themselves, their version of loving themselves, may be really quite critical and judgemental and harsh. Or it may be a bit more subtle than that. It may be a kind of ‘well you didn’t do badly but if only you’d done this or that or the other … then it would have been so much better’.
So people need a lot of support with this. They need a lot of coaching to help them step back and see what’s happening from the outside in order to recognise what they are doing to themselves. Then they often notice that their idea of nurture and blessing is not really what they would want, it’s a little bit off because its what they learned from a parental figure who themselves was getting it a little bit wrong – or even very wrong. And so then we have to try again.
Sometimes we find that there are very strong parts fighting against the whole idea of love and support, and we have to work with these before we can bring in a truly supportive and caring Sovereign.
C: And being the person in charge of these sessions, – are you modelling Sovereign in a way?
M: Yes, one of my roles is to model Sovereign for the client. I think all good therapists do this in some way. I also use a lot of Magician, to help the person get perspective and see and reframe things but I think probably the most important thing is that I’m modelling Sovereign. I am bringing that in to hold the whole session and I’m accepting all the different parts that come out on the carpet. I trust that they are there for a reason. I trust that they are there for the good of that person and I try to find out what it is they want and why they are there and I give them my unconditional attention and care and positive regard.
C: Can you remember what your own first experience of Sovereign was?
M: Well, apart from my very first piece of carpet work, which was a grief piece, the next six or seven pieces I did were all Sovereign work. For the next several years my memory is of there being a black coloured part of me on the carpet that was completely covered with a black cloth, I always remember thinking it looked like a mushroom. The group would always end up bringing some kind of Sovereign to support that part of me. I could never do it myself. I couldn’t – I just thought she was just …unspeakable…which is something that happens with trauma apparently – the verbal part of our brain gets completely shut down…
C: …so you need to have other grown up Sovereign brains taking charge…
M: Yes. So my memory is of ending up being held by people and having some sense of being loved and cared for, which was very healing. But I remember very much not being able to bring it to myself for a long time…
C: Was it something that you had to kind of grow from the ground up? Or is it something you think is innate in everyone and it’s just a question of accessing the Sovereign archetype?
M: I think it’s a question of finding out what’s in the way of you being in that Sovereign place. You know I thought I had a lot of Sovereign from being a teacher, from being a single parent, from being a shadow work facilitator and couple’s counsellor – clearly I could turn the Sovereign out to other people, but it was a case of what was in the way of it coming in towards myself. I think a lot of that was the shame that we’ve talked about. That sense of there being something to be gained from ignoring that part and turning against that part of myself and denying that she was part of me. I had to work with that.
C: I’m interested to know – as a follow on to that – what you have noticed for people working on in their inner world in this way as to how it has impacted on their outer world?
M: The most common feedback I have is simply people being able to be kind to themselves – to give themselves a break and feel less shame in their interactions with other people. They find the can have compassion for the parts of themselves that they’ve previously felt ashamed of and really didn’t want people to see. They see a huge change just from being able to be gentle – to turn that corner of not judging themselves so harshly – of having some compassion and acceptance for those parts.
Then they have that kind of relaxedness and joy that I was talking about before, and they can say ‘Well, I can be a bit of an angry person’ or you know ‘I can be quite controlling sometimes,’ or ‘I’m quite needy sometimes,’ or whatever it is they’re ashamed of. They are able to speak it, and speaking, as I already said with trauma, is such an important thing.
In healing trauma a major role of the Sovereign is to lessen the shame the person experiences so that they can hold themselves lovingly and share what they are experiencing with others. To be able to talk about the trauma we carry in a way that is respectful and caring towards ourselves is a really big step, and a lot of healing follows from that.
7) Cultural Attitudes To Sovereign
C: I’m wondering about social approval or disapproval of people being in their Sovereign. Some people seem to be expected to be in a Sovereign place, but many people get cut down for behaving in an inspired or confident way.
I have a sense this is related to status. My experience is that people who are given the status of say a teacher or leader are expected to be in a Sovereign place and that is accepted. But if you are a student, or a employee, or you have a lower status within a group for whatever reason, it is hard to be in a Sovereign place of confidence and agency without being shot down in some way or inviting jealously or aggression.
M: That’s a very interesting question. I would say Sovereign is generally very wounded in our society. It is not acceptable to say ‘I love myself, I am good at this, I feel confident, I have great ideas.’ Often having high self esteem is seen as being ‘full of yourself’, bragging’ or ‘bossy’ or ‘over-confident’. People get squashed.
I think one place this wounding develops is in certain types of schools, where we are expected to be subservient and give in to authority: We have no right to speak unless we are spoken to, or we have to put our hand up and wait to be given permission. Our joy – our joy of learning, our joy of self expression – is often crushed. We are taught to control ourselves and to operate out of fear – fear of being punished in some way. We have to do things that we have not chosen to do, and that we may very well not want to do. Whilst we may learn many things at school, we are not usually taught that we are in control of our own lives, or that we are good, worthwhile and loveable just as we are.
So all of these experiences are smothering the development of a healthy Sovereign. The message that is given is one of conditional acceptance: if you write well: ’good girl’, if you can sit still: ‘good girl’. There’s no unconditional love involved – there’s no place for that. You pretty much can’t have unconditional love in a class of 30 children, it just wouldn’t work! You need some form of coercive control.
C: There’s something about institutionalisation and Sovereign that really don’t mesh very well then.
M: Yes – many organisations get warped into some kind of arrangement where one person is ‘The Sovereign’ and in control and must be looked up to, which isn’t what Sovereign is about at all. It’s much better to think about the family and the kind of leadership and support that a loving mother would give to her children. Whilst also encouraging them to contribute their gifts to the family and to make decisions for themselves and eventually become their own authority figure. Such a family is based around love, and this is at the core of the way it works. Most institutions aren’t based around love.
So instead Sovereign energy has got warped into this idea of a massive authority figure, and others who are completely subservient. This isn’t just bad news for those who are expected to be subservient, it’s really bad for the authority figure too. Generally the person in charge is expected to take all the responsibility and to make all the decisions, and they get very little support themselves.
In a healthy system I prefer to see the leader receiving a huge amount of support and care and love from those she is in charge of. So the support in the system goes both ways. She is the overall leader and supports and leads everyone else, but other members of the group or organisation fully support her and back her up and take certain responsibilities themselves. She will also have her own support systems outside of her group as well. So the leader is richly resources and cared for.
Receiving support is definitely not the accepted thing in our culture: in school you are often not allowed support. You mustn’t ask any one else for help – that’s ‘cheating’. In an exam you have to do it all on your own. Our schools don’t encourage collaboration, and they don’t allow people to work with their strengths, or to rely on the strengths of others. We’re all expected to be good at everything or we ‘fail.’ So we get that message reinforced really early.
In our society we look down on people who need support. We certainly don’t want to see our authority figures looking for support. So the bigger an authority figure you are the more trapped you can get into that kind of situation, where you to have to look like you know it all and you can do it all…
C: …and be invincible in some way…
M: ..and you get this difficult dynamic going on. We have authority figures who feel vulnerable and unsupported, and we have other people who criticise and dislike the authority figures and resent their own lack of autonomy.
An authority figure who feels fragile and unsupported in this way will not welcome spark, confidence and new ideas from one of their charges – this is likely to seem threatening to their fragile position. So they will try to use their authority to shut that person down and they dynamic becomes even more entrenched. The authority figure doesn’t receive the potential support from that person, and the person involved builds even more resentment at their own lack of agency.
C: And presumably then all the rage of the other people who haven’t piped up against the authority before starts to be directed at the person who has piped up because ‘how dare they?’ when nobody else seems to have the right – how dare they give themselves the right?
M: They’re somehow not playing by the rules. These rules are very strong in our society. There are very few examples of healthy Sovereign because healthy Sovereign has two sides to it. There’s leadership as one side of Sovereign but following is the other side of Sovereign. To be healthy in your Sovereign you have to do both. To be a good leader you have to follow, you have to follow as much as you lead. This means looking up to others, getting support, getting care, learning from others, whatever ‘following’ means to you.
One way to think of it is that the Sovereign needs their ‘court,’ to use an old fashioned term. She needs to be supported as much as she is leading. She needs somewhere to go to say things like ‘People are questioning my ideas and I feel vulnerable What should I do?’ You know the odds are that the leaders don’t have somewhere to go with that.and this results in a brittleness in their leadership.
They then either have to resort to their Magician and some kind of cruelty, manipulation or control, or they resort to their Warrior and some kind of outright kind of attack. In some cases they might resort to their Lover and form a kind of fake connection where they lose their authority. They effectively say ‘Oh I just want you all to be my friends’ They sort of come down to the same level which isn’t their role either because their role is to be the one that’s in charge.
So it’s terribly confusing for us all. How do I stay in charge but still give another person respect and still listen to them and still allow them to speak? What is it? What is subtly different about my role as a leader here? If I give away my power and let other people have ideas and speak and even contradict me, then how am I still the leader? People don’t know the answer to that question.
C: I suppose its’s about including. It’s a quality of leadership that is able to include isn’t it? Quite enlightened leadership maybe, but to include different perspectives and be able to integrate them and sort of model that way of integrating to the people that they are leading.
M: Again, I think the family is a helpful analogy. Think of a loving mother with several children. If the family is making decisions she will listen. Say they’re wanting to go on holiday – she will listen to all the children’s ideas and what they all want to do and she will, if possible, take some of their ideas on board. But she takes the final decision, because she knows that’s her role as the leader. However she gives as much attention as she can to what they are saying and what they want and it may very well turn out that they can have what they want. That doesn’t in any way diminish her authority.
C: I’m wondering how Sovereign applies to the politicians we have at the moment – people’s perspective of them and the scapegoating of them and the abuses of power that they get tempted into – we’re seeing a shadowy Sovereign being played out here (in the UK) and in America at the moment.
M: I think we are. However it’s important to think of leadership as being created by both the leader and the followers – we’re all involved in that dynamic. We put the leaders up there – we vote them into power – (unless there really is some vote rigging going on which we’ll leave out of the equation for now.). You know we choose these people and in a way we then want and expect impossible things from them. We seem to enjoy shooting them down.
Now where the dynamic starts I don’t know. It may start with leaders promising impossible things, but somehow or other the dynamic gets skewed so we, as the ‘little people’, are looking up to our leaders in a way that’s backing them into this corner of being perfect. They are almost set up to fail and people don’t pull together to support them. They pull together to pull them down.
C: Whereas in a healthy system the Sovereign knows the people are behind them, and when people bring their own ideas or they bring autonomy or their own impulse, it’s seen as a contribution to moving forward rather than as undermining.
M: Yes, and an essential contribution as well, because one person can’t possibly have all the answers. They are just in a role for whatever reason. I also believe it’s healthy if that role is quite fluid over time, so it’s not one person leading for too long.
So coming back to your original question, there’s often very little that an individual person can do if they are in an organisation or a set up which is organised in a dysfunctional Sovereign way. There’s very little power that they have to be able to change that dynamic from inside the organisation. If they speak up then they are almost certainly going to be got at in some way, or dismissed or invalidated. It’s kind of built in to the unwritten rules and it’s a very difficult dynamic to change.
I can’t emphasise strongly enough how much of this comes from the traditional school system, especially the private school system and the boarding school system – where children learn not to be dependent. Understanding healthy dependency is essential to building a healthy Sovereign.
Independence is ‘God’ in a boarding school situation, because the children have been severed from their parents (severed from their healthy Sovereign) quite often at the age of 8. So they don’t have the opportunity to learn about healthy dependency. Before you can lead you have to learn dependency. So there’s no way they are going to be able to form healthy leadership from that place. Dependency and leadership are two sides of the same coin. If you haven’t learnt this you are going to be in a place of fear when you lead, relying totally on your Magician.
C: And often the people who form the leadership of our countries come from those establishments.
M: Yes, that’s true, and if they don’t they are still soaked in the ethos. State schools are soaked in the ethos of boarding schools – they are influenced by that.
C: And then church schools have their own formalities.
M: Yes. Our ideas of Sovereignty are related to our ideas about a higher power. So any religious organisation is affecting the idea of Sovereign by bringing in the idea of a higher power. This will affect the kind of internal Sovereign we develop.
C: Yes I’m finding that with my own son who is 6 and who goes to a state church school – it’s quite a religious one. The only image he is given of God is of a male god. So all the prayers are said to a male god. I’ve asked for that to be changed, because it has been changed now in a lot of churches, but the response from the school has been ‘No absolutely not’. Its a big concern for me as I’m in charge of his view of what Sovereign is, and I don’t want him to have that image.
M: It’s a very good example. His idea of authority will undoubtably be influenced by this now. He will imagine a man – probably a white man as well..
C: …Undoubtedly sporting a beard..
M: …and that goes in very deep. It’s not helpful to develop such a limited idea of Sovereign.
8) Giving And Receiving Support And Care
I think one of the core things for me about Sovereign is that it’s impossible to truly give Sovereign love and care to others if you haven’t received it yourself. It’s also impossible to truly give Sovereign love and care to others if you are not able to give it to yourself.
There’s something really important to understand there. If we look at some of our wounded leaders – who may have received harsh parenting, or been to boarding school, or who in other ways haven’t received the kind of unconditional parental love that we would hope that they received – if these leaders have never done any work to heal that, then it’s psychologically impossible for them to love themselves enough to be able to stand up and lead in a healthy Sovereign way.
If they haven’t received care and love they can’t give themselves care and love. If they can’t give themselves care and love they can’t give care and love to others. They can’t lead with compassion and self confidence.
So very often poor leadership is not for want of trying, or from negative intention. It’s from literally, psychologically, not being able to do what is required. It’s the same with parenting, the same with being a therapist. We can’t sit opposite someone and give them unconditional love until we’ve learned, to a reasonable extent, to do that for ourselves. It’s not that we need to have ‘arrived’ at total unconditional self love –that’s very unlikely – but it’s necessary to know that place, to know something about what that feels like.
C: I guess one’s relationship to a sense of ‘source’ or overall goodness in life is important for that – because once we’re grown up it’s unrealistic to expect to be nurtured from a Sovereign place by other adults in a consistent way I think?
M: No, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to look for this – no, not at all. In fact I think that’s what we should be looking for. The problem is we are not likely to find it unless we are doing it for ourselves first.
C: Why is that? Is it the idea that until you resonate with something yourself then even if it’s right in front of your face you don’t let it in…?
M: …Yes, that’s the way that I understand it. If you don’t know that feeling yourself then when someone offers it to you it’s going to feel odd. It’s just going to feel wrong somehow, even dangerous. And the other, less loving stuff is going to feel ‘right’ in some way.
C: I remember witnessing this once at the end of a really intense workshop. We formed a kind of human arch and one person at a time walked through the arch. They had their eyes shut and we could whisper acknowledgements or blessings into their ears as they passed through.
There was one man, who had suffered many abuses in childhood, who shook with a kind of terror and vulnerability for the whole time he was walking down the line people. He was shaking and sweating as he tried to open a place in him that had been so wounded. It was one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen.
M: That’s a great demonstration of how hard it is. Of course in the real world he would avoid such a situation. Who wants to be shaking and sweating and going through all that in the middle of a meeting, or when you’re on a date?
It can be hard to break this pattern. We can’t recognise something until we’ve seen it inside, it might even feel threatening or not real or not trust- worthy. We can’t receive it because we don’t trust it. Yet we need to receive it in order to begin to know and trust it.
So we generally have to go through quite a big shift internally before we can start receiving that from outside. But when you can then my goodness – have as much of it as you can get, you know! It doesn’t cost anything! I believe we all need to enjoy as much freely given love, connection and care as we can find.
So, going back to your comment about a higher power – yes, a lot of people believe in a higher power and this is a wonderful resource for them. However, our shadows are powerful and they can even creep in to our picture of a higher power, so you have to be careful to watch out for that.
For example, if we lived with a violent parent who punished us for the smallest wrong doing, we might find ourselves believing in a vengeful unforgiving god who is out to punish us. Again, what is familiar to us may feel more comfortable than believing in a truly loving being who would forgive us for our mistakes.
There is a piece of work that I often do with people where I get their higher power represented so that I can speak to it. For example I may be working with someone very spiritual who believes in ‘love and peace’. So I get ‘love and peace’ out on the carpet and lo and behold when she speaks to the client she says something like:
‘Well, yesterday you weren’t very loving and peaceful were you? You’re not actually a very calm person…I think you need to try harder or maybe you’ll never be a good person.’
And so we can find out that even the person’s version of their higher power is actually giving them messages that are subtly critical or judgemental and they are not really giving that full acceptance. So in a similar way we try again and we try to get them in touch with a real higher power who is genuinely loving.
C: That’s very interesting because in terms of my understanding of trauma work I can see that Sovereign is a version of ‘resource’. It is being here in the body, being connected, feeling blessed, feeling permission, feeling safe.
There’s something I’ve been learning about called ‘titration’ – being able to re-experience some feelings of trauma but in the light of ‘resource’. Being able to go in and out of those painful feelings and keep on touching back into resource so that re-traumatisation doesn’t happen.
M: Yes! I do that a lot with one to one clients. We’ll have a traumatised part, sometimes from a very specific age or event, on the carpet. We then invite the Sovereign part of them out, and first the Sovereign will go and make a connection with the smaller part, the vulnerable part and let it know that it’s a safe space and that vulnerable part is welcome.
They’ll then switch into the traumatised part to experience some of the trauma, and at that point and I remind them of the Sovereign’s presence and what the Sovereign was saying so that they can feel safe while they’re feeling all those feelings. They may even hold on to something comforting that represents the Sovereign while I speak to them.
C: Yes this reminds me of the poem you read out at the beginning of the groups I was in – Everyone is welcome here. I realise now that’s actually Sovereign isn’t it? You were bringing that in right from the word go!
M: Yes. Sometimes we even do that with a candle and each person in the group goes to each other person with the candle and says ‘Welcome – all parts of you are welcome here’- it’s really nice. And very Sovereign!
Fire is the perfect element to represent Sovereign energy. I lit a candle over there for us today to support us during this interview.
You were talking at the beginning about the importance of Sovereign and the centrality of Sovereign. You could say that it’s our pilot light – the spark of life inside us…
C: …I’m thinking of the expression of ‘keeping the candle burning’ for someone or something, you know keeping the faith with something, an alignment to a higher vision, intention or purpose, all of that is symbolised by a candle. Even the life force within us is often described as a candle that’s either ‘snuffed out’ or ‘re-kindled’.
M: Yes, I really like the imagery you use there. It’s that love and that warmth that the candle represents to me. Sometimes it can be really burning bright when we are on fire about something – but I more often think of the warmth, the gentleness and the life force of the Sovereign.
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