Have you ever felt that something was right for you and your surroundings convinced you otherwise? Have you ever had the feeling that you are not living your life to the fullest? That you secretly drag around or collect pieces that give you strength, when others are not watching? If so, then this is the text for you. And a moment to think about the call of the lost soul and the importance of getting back to yourself, grounded in Clarissa Pinkole Estes’s metaphor for red shoes and the Little Fires Everywhere TV show from Hulu.
The red shoes by Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkole Estes in the book Women who run with wolves present a symbol of all that is primordial and authentic in a woman that comes into conflict with social expectations and imposed norms. Originally this is Hans Christian Andersen’s story of an adopted young woman and her process with the red shoes she brought with her to her stepmother’s house. They represent the dreams, hopes, and desires of a wild woman, a female side that society often tries to bring under control or to extinguish.
They teach us, says Pinkola Estes, that we should protect the wild psyche by appreciating it, defending its interests, and by being careful that we do not hand it over to unhealthy conditions of existence. In addition, we are taught that someone or something always measures this wild part because of its energy, beauty, or because they want to control, tire, reshape, or control it. This metaphor teaches us how to be careful not to let that happen.
In the story, the girl becomes obsessed with red shoes. As Pinkola Estes says, the romance of red shoes enslaves her. Rebellion is important, but her obsession with red shoes distracts her from a meaningful rebellion that would promote real change. This happens when we suppress the wild in ourselves and when we give up on ourselves for social expectations.
The shoe symbol can be understood as a psychological metaphor. Shoes protect and defend what grounded us, what forms our foundation, what we stand on – our feet. Archetypically, says Clarissa Pinkola Estes, to possess shoes means to possess firm beliefs and the means to act in accordance with our beliefs.
How does the loss of the soul happen?
The story can start with a woman agreeing to social expectations that she herself is not clear about. It can happen abruptly, but it is more common to happen gradually, so gradually that it is not even noticed. The situation one agrees to at first can look great and feel warm and soft. But over time, it slowly becomes apparent that the price paid for this situation was too high. Maybe this is choosing an easier way to live, or our choice to write an easier work instead of what is to be our crucial one, or it manifests in postponing creative calls of our life for the sake of everyday tasks.
One’s own authentic energy can often conflict with societal expectations, especially when it comes to women and the complex topic of what society expects of women. This pressure is still enormous at the beginning of the 21st century. Women can often find themselves in a situation where they have to agree to compromises for the sake of social expectations. And these processes are not at all simple, they are difficult and frequent. But it is necessary to remind ourselves over and over again that the repressed authentic energy does not disappear. It will find ways to remind us of her existence throughout life and in doing so can create trouble.
What seemed dazzling at first may prove to be something giving us a feeling of not being able to breathe over the course of time. Besides, once a woman gives up that authentic soul of hers her soul stays hungry, says Pinkola Estes in Women Running with Wolves. When she starves, says Pinkola Estes, the soul will accept any substitution that is offered, including one that is potentially dangerous to itself. It is the hunger of the soul that can lead a woman straight into a trap.
Hunger of the soul
Being in a state of hunger means that the soul is constantly deprived of food, says Estes. In such situation, the soul will reach for anything that gives it a sense of life. Because even though we may be hiding this from ourselves, the soul feels that it is missing something. And it will let us know, one way or another. If you’ve ever felt the hunger of the soul, if you’ve ever fallen into a trap, and especially if you have the urge to create, it’s very likely that you were or are a savage woman, says Pinkola Estes. Another possible sign of falling into this trap is depression, according to Pinkola Estes. Rejecting one’s own values for the sake of social expectations carries its own price. The authentic instincts we have are muffled and transcended by nothingness. Instead of following new energies, we indulge in psychic numbness.
Classical Jungian psychology says that the loss of the soul occurs especially in the middle of life, says Pinkola Estes, in one’s thirties. But she believes that the loss of the soul in modern culture is an everyday danger, regardless of origin, education, or economic situation. In modern culture, there are many places where this loss can happen and it is a battle that happens over and over again. To return to ourselves, it is therefore important to constantly watch over our connection to the meaning, passion, vitality, and a realm that this gives us. It is important to keep your eyes wide open, says Pinkola Estes, and carefully evaluate the offers of a more comfortable, safer, simpler life and the price to pay for it. It is important to keep your eyes wide open, says Pinkola Estes, and carefully evaluate the offers of a more comfortable, safer, simpler life and the price to pay for it.
Little fires everywhere: Back to ourselves
A similar theme about the loss of one’s own authentic, creative, and primordial tendencies is beautifully captured in a recently published TV-show by Hulu and co-produced by Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. This TV-show is called “Small Fires Everywhere”. The TV-show is also about things that give meaning to our lives, and that keep burning within us even when we forget who we really are. I rarely see a series from which every woman can learn something, which in such a layered and on many levels psychologically processes the lives of the protagonists who are so obviously the antipodes to each other, those denied and repressed parts of themselves.
The series tries to show us how a person who has denied parts of herself on a primordial level unconsciously later in life gives herself precisely this rejected part of herself, without being aware of what she is doing. I like to think of this as a present from her unconscious part to her conscious part. This act, however, causes a whole cascade of chaotic happenings in her life, as tv-show picturesquely proposes, it lits little fires everywhere that eventually lead to serious consequences.
On the other hand, she is also persistently followed by her rejected part in the form of a close person, constantly reminding her that she exists. Because the parts of us that we reject will not just disappear. They will appear around us, in other people and situations, as long as we do not decide to confront them.
Precisely as in the metaphor we cannot escape parts of ourselves. By eradicating ourselves we create a reality in which small fires burn everywhere. And they can cause the big one over time.
Unlike a fairy tale and unlike this TV-show, our life always contains a new episode. So as the TV-show itself shows, there are always new options. New opportunities to make things right. New chances to get back to ourselves. And new areas where this can be done.
Let us not wait for them. Let’s use them.