“Say yes and you’ll figure it out afterwards.” — Tina Fey
As a psychotherapist, I see many young women who are “Persephones.” This personality type is based on the Greek goddess Persephone who was abducted by Hades, king of the Underworld. Wrenched from her mother Demeter, the beautiful maiden plunged into depression.
Many children and teenagers experience an emotional trauma growing up, but some young women notice early on that they are getting attention and special consideration when they recite their tale of woe. Their retelling becomes habitual, even embellished.
Sally is a case in point. She was a happy only child until her brother was born. Her parents, who had been trying for years to have a second child, lavished the darling boy with affection. Sally felt abandoned, particularly by her mother. She recited her plight not only to her parents but also to her relatives.
In high school, Sally gravitated toward students on the fringe, who encouraged her resentment of the “in” cliques. Her loose ill-fitting clothes reinforced her image as Sad Sack Sally. She became an injustice collector: “My teacher who gave me a poor grade didn’t like me.” “The gymnastics coach is a bully.”
When she was 16, Sally went on vacation with her family to a Miami hotel. While they sat around the pool one evening, Sally said she was taking a walk around the grounds. Instead, hearing a party, she wandered into a nearby dive. There she quickly met a handsome guy who plied her with a couple drinks. He suggested they move on to a hipper place. As they walked towards his car, Sally felt his hand tighten on her wrist. Fear gripped her.
At that moment, a squad car pulled up and cops got out and arrested the young man. Sally burst into tears. One of the cops took her aside and explained they had been tailing him because he was reported to be molesting young women. “Why do I always have bad luck?’ Sally asked in despair.
The cop replied in a no-nonsense attitude: “You are a target for predators because of the way you dress and conduct yourself. Men like this guy troll for vulnerable women who look like they need a friend. Unless you change, something like this is going to happen again.”
This encounter changed Sally. An experience on the dark side was a wake-up call to move onto another track. In therapy, she listened to herself: “Why do I always have bad luck?” She figured out the encounters and triggers that set her to wallowing in self-pity. And she learned, by practicing, how to stand for herself in situations where she’s uncomfortable. She stopped resenting her parents and classmates. She cooperated with her gymnastics coach and made it to the seasons’ regional meet.
How about you? Do you find yourself slipping into Persephone mode? Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you burning people out with your constant complaints?
- Are you super sensitive to slights?
- Do you sulk often?
- Is your voice negative, complaining or whiny?
You can learn about separation and loss, assessing strengths and limitations from her experience. Reality check is serious business. You begin to listen to your intuition to anticipate when you are vulnerable to being blindsided.
When faced with choices, can you say?
Tip: Go ahead. Write these on post-its and scatter them on your mirror. Practice. Hear yourself saying them every day. Put some attitude into it.
Once you’re able to set limits and boundaries, your voice becomes deeper, you stand taller. People begin to take you seriously. You’re more grounded. You no longer look like you’re waiting to be swept away.
Your habitual security patterns were challenged in the Underworld. Once you’ve integrated your struggles, become accountable and responsible to yourself, you can be especially helpful to others who are seeking fresh, more appropriate aspects of their own personalities.