We welcome award-winning author, podcaster, and certified Jungian analyst, Lisa Marchiano to Soul Sessions this week. Highlighting themes from her new book, The Vital Spark: Reclaim Your Outlaw Energies and Find Your Feminine Fire, we explore empowerment, authenticity, and the nuanced exploration of emotion from a Jungian perspective.
Join us as we engage in a rich dialogue with Lisa about the responsibility modern women face in their individuation journey, the societal shifts in gender roles, and the challenge of being guardians of emotional labor. Throughout the conversation, we’ll investigate how embracing our shadows—encompassing qualities from rage to desire—can inspire personal growth and empowerment. In this episode, we discuss:
- Individuation as a path to empowerment
- How to balance accepting responsibility + taking action
- Where does empowerment come from?
Pre-order Lisa’s new book, The Vital Spark: Reclaim Your Outlaw Energies and Find Your Feminine Fire on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Vital-Spark-Reclaim-Energies-Feminine/dp/1649631006
Watch the next Soul Sessions episode in this series on our YouTube Channel.
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Welcome to CreativeMind Soul Sessions with Debra Berndt Maldonado and Dr. Rob Maldonado, founders of CreativeMind. Explore personal growth with us through Jungian psychology, Eastern spirituality, and social neuroscience in a deep practical way. Let’s begin.
Debra Maldonado 00:23
Hello, welcome to another episode of Soul Sessions. I am Debra Maldonado, here with Dr. Rob Maldonado. Before we begin our interview with Lisa Marchiano, we do want to request that you click the link here if you’re watching us on YouTube to subscribe to our channel. If you’re listening to us on one of the podcast services, don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss an episode. We’re continuing our series on leadership. We have a special guest today that we’re about to introduce. She’s talking about empowerment.
Robert Maldonado 00:54
It’s an incredible interview talking about empowerment, individuation and, of course, her work as a therapist, psychotherapist, Jungian analyst.
Debra Maldonado 01:05
This is the book. It’s Lisa Marciano, The Vital Spark: Reclaim Your Outlaw Energies and Find Your Feminine Fire. A little bit about Lisa, she is LCSW, a Jungian analysts, author, and podcaster. Her writings have appeared in many publications. She’s the co-host and creator of the popular depth psychology podcast, This Jungian Life, and she’s the author of Motherhood. Lisa is on the faculty of the CG Jung Institute of Philadelphia, she lectures and teaches widely. She lives and practices in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Without further ado, we’re going to segue into our interview with Lisa Marchiano. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
Debra Maldonado 01:55
Hello, welcome to Soul Sessions. We have a wonderful guest here, Lisa Marciano, one of the hosts of This Jungian Life, and the author of her new book The Vital Spark: Reclaim Your Outlaw Energies and Find Your Feminine Fire. Welcome, Lisa.
Robert Maldonado 02:12
Lisa Marchiano 02:13
Thank you so much for having me.
Robert Maldonado 02:15
Thank you for making the time. I’ll let you start.
Debra Maldonado 02:20
I love this concept you talk about, there’s so many things I pulled out in your book, which is so amazing, especially since I’m a woman and can relate to a lot of the topics. This idea that I never heard before is that women are guardians of the feeling values in the environment. I thought it was really interesting. I’d love to talk about that just to start off with. What are women’s roles? The feeling values they have to hold. We’d love to hear a little elaboration on that idea.
Lisa Marchiano 02:55
First of all, let’s name the difficult territory that we’re in when we talk about women’s roles, whether in a positive or negative sense. We’re in a very slippery territory of: are we referring to sexual stereotypes? Are we being prescriptive and saying this is the way women should be? Are we referencing a classical Jungian psychological principle in which the feminine is a psychological concept? It’s messy, I think it’s difficult to talk about in some sense. I claimed in the book that it’s messy and difficult to disentangle. When we talk about the feminine, we all know what that means. Of course, Jung says we all have the feminine available to us, even men, just like women also have the masculine, but I do think we want to stay away from being prescriptive. However, I’ll say that in terms of the quote that you just pulled out, it is my experience, it’s the experience of many of the women I’ve worked with, many of my friends. We often feel, especially in intimate relationships with male partners, for example, that we’re the ones that track the feelings. It’s often the mom, who tracks how the kids are doing and who’s upset. It’s sometimes referred to as emotional labor. Not across the board, some women aren’t good at that, some men are very good at that. In general, we’re the ones who tend to the feelings of other people with whom we’re in relationship. There’s some evidence about this, or at least certainly other people have noticed it. Now the work of Carol Gilligan and the Stone Center feels like ancient history, but her book, In a Different Voice, talked about women tending to see themselves in an interrelated web of other people, very aware of the emotional connections. I do think that maybe either by dint of culture or nature or nurture, or perhaps both, that is how we move about our environment.
Robert Maldonado 05:17
When I was younger and more immature than I am now, my approach in relationship was, “You’re the woman; you bring the emotion. I’m here to bring the action.” I think that’s where we go wrong because it’s putting too much responsibility on the woman to carry that weight of emotion.
Debra Maldonado 05:50
But I love the distinction that men can be that. I think, it’s more of a social construction, maybe there’s some biological reasons for it. But again, not pathologizing it at all. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to be and be intuitive and just sense. How everyone’s feeling good. I think it’s a good thing. I love that idea. Did you have a question about individuation?
Robert Maldonado 06:21
We wanted to focus the conversation on empowerment. From my perspective, empowerment in the Jungian model comes through individuation. That process of really finding yourself. How do you see the challenges for modern women, given the state of society where we’re at now, moving into this new era of artificial intelligence and technology? There seems to be a lot of shifting and questioning about gender roles and these kinds of questions. What are some of the challenges you’ve seen regarding the individuation process for women?
Lisa Marchiano 07:15
There’s a couple of different ways I suppose I could take that. One of the things that maybe I want to lift up is one of the things Jung was really strong on. There’s a notion that we have to take responsibility for ourselves. He has a great quote that the wise man, no matter how he has been wronged by his parents and grandparents, the wise among us will look and say, “Who am I that this should happen to me?” because only a fool would concern himself with things he can’t control. I’m paraphrasing it, I probably totally butchered it, but it’s this wonderful quote. To me, that quote is the essence of empowerment because it encourages us to take responsibility for which we can be responsible. I can go back all the time to this incredible little piece of wisdom they call the Serenity Prayer: Grant me the courage to change the things I can change, the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference. There’s so much wisdom that flows from it, it has to do with empowerment. The empowerment part is let me change what I can change. Let me not bang my head against the wall trying to change things I can’t change. But also, if I sink into a helpless stance and talk about how victimized I am, or how oppressed I am, and assume I can’t change anything, that’s definitely not empowered. I feel like there’s a certain amount of cultural discourse now that focuses so much on how we’ve all been wronged in one way or another. When women talk about how things are difficult in their lives because of the patriarchy, yes, that’s true. Where are the things that you can change?
Debra Maldonado 09:35
I love that, because I see so much of the patriarchy, they’re so evil and bad, but that’s not empowering. What can I do to shift and how am I allowing that to stop me, letting this narrative that’s been going on in our culture for many years. How do we shift that? I’m so on board with that because empowerment is knowing the things that you can change. That’s where I think it’s beautiful Jung’s work. He makes you look inward instead of looking at the conflict out there. That’s a simple, beautiful process. Do you find that when people first enter the work of individuation they resist that in a way? You don’t understand, everyone at the company doesn’t like this one person or these type of people are bad. Or this is the way the corporate world is.
Lisa Marchiano 10:37
That’s related to what we do, which is we project our shadow on other people, we see it as a problem out there, when the call is just to look and say “What could I do about that?” There are plenty of times when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances that are not of our making that we actually can’t control. But then the question is, what are the little things maybe we can shift around that?
Robert Maldonado 11:14
That prayer, I imagine, was influenced by Jung’s work, was it?
Lisa Marchiano 11:20
That same sentiment is very ancient, I once did some research to try to figure it out. Of course, it’s used in AA now, and AA was influenced by Jung. But it goes back even to ancient times, very similar concept. A lot of wisdom traditions have generated along the same lines. It’s a very ancient piece of wisdom.
Robert Maldonado 11:46
The individuation, we usually begin with the shadow work because if a person isn’t willing to accept responsibility for what they see wrong in the world, and not so much to blame themselves, but to understand that if you’re perceiving this, it means it’s something about your work, or it’s pointing to what you need to work with, accepting that as part of your process of becoming. As long as they don’t do it, then there’s no way to really move forward. But once they do that, they can work with that projection, because it gives everyone a clearer picture of what the nature of their internal work is about in the 3D world as somebody takes responsibility and moves forward. How do you help them come to terms with that balance of accepting responsibility for their part, but also taking action and doing the things you need to do to make those social changes?
Lisa Marchiano 13:18
In some sense, that’s what the whole book is about. Because the big answer requires cultivating qualities in us that we usually don’t have permission to cultivate. Some of that sense of “I’m going to accept myself here.” Maybe my part in it is, for example, getting out of our innocence complex and knowing the truth about ourselves. If we can be very clear-eyed about that, it helps us know that this part isn’t maybe mine, but that part is really not. That strengthens us to withstand it in some way. One of the things I talked about in the book that I think is an important part of this, is this idea of the worthy opponent. It wasn’t an original concept. A friend of mine used it, and I loved that idea. She said, “My therapist said it to me.” I said I needed her to ask her therapist where she heard that and whether I can use it. The therapist said, “I don’t know where I heard it. Please go ahead and use it.” I just want to hat tip to nameless therapist of my friend. But it’s a great concept. I find it useful in therapy too. Because when we’re in a situation where maybe we didn’t make it, maybe it’s not us, maybe it’s one of those things that are truly not our fault, we have to say “That’s not mine.” But do we just crumble and fold? Or can we figure out how to be a worthy opponent? I find that it’s really hard for a lot of women in my practice. Let’s say they’re in a high-conflict marriage. That’s a really tough situation to be in. Sometimes you do everything you can, and it doesn’t work. But I do see some women who find it so hard to stand toe to toe with their partner and really claim their own ground. Maybe some of those women would do that with their partner, whether the partner is male or female, by the way, and nothing would change anyway, but sometimes I think you don’t know what would have happened if you really stood your ground in the relationship, but also what would have happened for you to know that you could do that?
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Lisa Marchiano 17:06
I’ll tell you a personal story. I was in training, we had little kids, there was money going out the door for training, I wasn’t bringing a ton of money in because I was pretty much a full-time mom. We had our normal financial stresses. Then came the time in the training process for me to take the [inaudible] exams, which are the big exams in the middle of the training process. I needed money, I needed extra books, I needed extra consultation sessions to help me prepare for the exams, I needed to work less so that I could study, I just needed a little cash influx. I knew that if I asked him, he was gonna go “bah, bah, bah, we can’t afford this.” I didn’t want to deal with it. I did something really sneaky. I asked my dad for a loan, my dad gave me a loan. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out, my husband was like “Where did this money come from on the bank account?” It’s really not cool to do that in a marriage, to ask for a loan and not tell your partner. It wasn’t cool what I did. But I felt like I had to do it, so I just did it. That’s the trickster. But my husband was understandably upset that I had gone behind his back. He said “Why did you do that?” I said “Because I didn’t want to deal with your push back.” He said “Next time, just push harder.” It stopped me in my tracks, because he was issuing me an invitation to become a worthy opponent. I’m gonna yell and scream and throw a tantrum if you ask me for X amount of money but just stand up to me and insist, just push. Keep it in the container. I’m gonna do my thing over here, then you come back at me. That’s a really great image for what I mean by becoming a worthy opponent. Don’t do what I did.
Debra Maldonado 19:36
I love it because I think in all relationships, there needs to be a balance. You don’t want to be always demanding and pushing, but if one person is never pushing in the relationship, the relationship needs a pushback. That’s what helps people grow. I hear so many women say, “I can’t mention this to my husband,” or “I can’t ask for that,” or “I’m tolerating”. They tolerate and tolerate. What would happen if you just asked? Do it regardless of what happens, you own the action regardless of what happens.
Lisa Marchiano 20:18
It’s so interesting because there’s a way to ask, which conveys, “I don’t expect you to say yes.” Then there’s a way to ask that says, “I want this, and I’m gonna fight for it.”
Debra Maldonado 20:33
Almost apologetic. Or “This is what I want.” People respect that too. As women, a lot of times, we think it’s pushy, or assertive, or aggressive. No, just say how it is. I grew up in New Jersey, I was very direct, we’re taught to be very direct on the East Coast. When I moved to Denver, this one girl I worked with, I asked her a direct question. She went crying to her boss, like “She was mean to me.” I’m like, “I just asked you a question.” We have to know that you can’t control how someone’s going to receive it. But also, directness is the best way to be sometimes when you really want to get something. Or else you’re just being passive-aggressive or frustrated, because you’re not asking for what you want. In your mind, you’re making the other person wrong and resenting them, which doesn’t help them either.
Robert Maldonado 21:31
It gives the other person permission to also be empowered. The empowerment, where has it been all this time? Is it in the unconscious? Is it part of the shadow?
Lisa Marchiano 21:51
I didn’t hammer that term in the book, partly because my editor said, “I think that’s on the wane, don’t focus on that.” But in essence, that’s what I’m talking about in the book. I do use the term a couple of times. For most women, qualities like disagreeableness, desire, even sexuality, rage, ruthlessness, and authority are in the shadow. Specifically, these are things we have not allowed ourselves to develop. It’s the task of development to claim those, to work with those, to integrate those. When I say ruthlessness, for example, I gave a presentation, every time I’ve presented on this and talk about those qualities, someone will say, “I agree with you in general, but I’d never want to be ruthless. Or I’d never want to be tricky.” But I think the point is to have access to the capacity to be those things. Not that you want to go through the world being ruthless. But to be able to find that in yourself for the moment that it is required. Same with trickster or any one of these. Discernment is a continual theme because you do have to decide “Is now a time when I want to be a little tricky?”
Debra Maldonado 23:33
What I noticed is these persona types, these personality traits, they’re not you. If you’re ruthless in the moment, it’s an energy you’re using. It’s not your identity. A lot of people identify behavior with their identity.
Lisa Marchiano 23:51
That’s a good way of putting it. It’s like a tool. In some sense, it’s one way to define individuation. We have developed all of our tools, we can use them choicely rather than resting on an old script that’s a little compulsive, or at least certainly unconscious. We could actually say “I think in this moment I need to use this tool.”
Debra Maldonado 24:33
Freedom of choice, instead of a compulsion you’re choosing.
Robert Maldonado 24:37
It’s a broader perspective on what’s available to you and how to respond to the world situation. I imagine you’ve done your personal individuation process. What comes after you integrate the shadow? I understand there’s probably always some shadow to work with. But in the process of individuation, the way Jung laid it out, what’s the next phase? What becomes that relationship with the unconscious? What’s the theme there?
Lisa Marchiano 25:22
It’s difficult for me to think about it in terms of phases. I know Jung did. But it’s difficult for me to wrap my head around it in that way. You really put your finger on it by saying it’s about cultivating the relationship with the unconscious, which, of course, is ongoing. Jung also said you can’t empty out the unconscious, you’re always going to be cultivating that relationship and trying to understand what your particular task is. Maybe that’s why it’s hard for me to think about it as well like first you do this, then you do this. It’s more like what is required of me? Jim Hollis has this wonderful question: What wants to come through? What wants to come into the world through me? In essence, that’s the individuation question. What do I need to manifest, and that can vary so much for each one of us. For myself, this book in some ways is so deeply personal, because I do think one of my main life themes — sometimes I’ll talk to my analysis fans about a life theme — one of my life themes has been claiming authority. I’m better than it used to be, for sure. Still some ways to go but I’ve made a lot of strides. There’s a lot of analysis, a lot of inner work. But a lot of the themes in the book are very personal to me, because I’ve had to wrestle with this. I do think that many women also have to wrestle with it. Perhaps not all of us, but for years of working with clients, I’d be like “She’s having authority problems.” I’d think to myself “Lisa, you’re just projecting your own stuff onto your client.” I’m like “I don’t think I am.” It may be a bit of a universal experience.
Debra Maldonado 27:38
You quoted Marion Woodman in your book. I’ve never heard this concept before either. This idea of rage that we keep in our shadow, that’s very universal. The women we’ve worked with over the years. My first experience of shadow work, I had just met Rob, I was triggered by a client. He was like “That’s your anger.” I said “I don’t have any anger.” It was such a transformational experience for me to face my own anger. But I’m just going to quote you here, or Marion Woodman. “There’s a difference between personal anger in the intimate relationships and transpersonal rage from an archetypal level.” I’d love for you to talk a little bit about that because I thought it was an interesting idea.
Lisa Marchiano 28:28
It bubbles up from that archetypal level, it feels so frightening, often, especially if you’re a woman who feels like she shouldn’t get angry at all. But it’s different because it brings this deep wisdom with that. It is frightening, it certainly can be destructive, but it’s also renewing. I had included a remarkable dream from the woman who saw this fiery woman who’s just coming to rain down destruction on everything. It was her, it was the woman’s personal anger that she buried for many years in her marriage. But it was also a visitation from the Goddess, from a chthonic raging goddess of which there are many in most pantheons you know, whether it’s Kali, or Lilith or the [inaudible] in the Greek pantheon. There’s something dark but life-giving about that energy. It’s tricky to know how to relate to it because it genuinely can be destructive.
Debra Maldonado 29:51
If you focus on it, if you’re keeping it in a box or feeling like you don’t have power, it becomes very destructive because you’re just angry. You need to say “What is this going to push me forward? I want to be expressed,” to look at it that way.
Lisa Marchiano 30:14
Although I do think the fear of it is also justified. That woman didn’t know what was going to happen when she got that angry at her husband. It really worked out very well actually, she grew, he grew, their marriage grew. But she could have had this big outburst, and it could have ended the marriage. It was a real possibility. I’m not saying she has one angry outburst, and that’s it. But at that point, she was no longer able to continue to be accommodating because the goddess had visited her. Was the marriage going to end when she stopped being accommodating? That was the question. It may be that whenever the goddess visits us in that way, it’s going to burst the bounds of previous constrictions and will be healthy for us. It could still be really destructive too. There’s a reason why we’re like “Not today, thanks.”
Debra Maldonado 31:29
It doesn’t feel good in the body either when you’re raging and angry, but if you ignore it, it actually has more destructive nature in the unconscious than if you’re conscious of it.
Robert Maldonado 31:42
I love that you use the myths to understand the personal journey. That’s such an art in itself to be able to make that connection and give people that experience of this intelligence in the unconscious mind that’s paying attention, in a sense, to what we’re up to, chiming in with the myths and giving us these handsets to what our work is about and what we need to do. Why do we miss that so much? Why do we dismiss that in the modern world?
Lisa Marchiano 32:42
Do you mean, why do we dismiss stories?
Robert Maldonado 32:44
Especially dream work and the mythology that is obviously there?
Lisa Marchiano 32:52
We’re out of balance. I think about the incredible work of Ian McGilchrist who wrote that amazing book, The Master and His Emissary. What he says in that book is that we have these two hemispheres. They experience the world in different ways, both are necessary. He traces this historic arc, where it used to be more in balance. What he says is that the right hemisphere is the master and the left hemisphere is the emissary. It happened, the emissary has betrayed the master. We’re more tilted toward the rational, the rationalistic. We’ve forgotten the sacred gift, as Einstein calls it, of the imagination, rather than our rationality being in service to the holistic intuitive vision that’s provided to us by the imaginative part of the psyche. It’s gotten buried. According to McGilchrist, and I think he makes a very convincing argument, this is the product of thousands of years of cultural evolution. It’s hard to say what’s this one thing but it’s a fascinating and incredibly important question.
Robert Maldonado 34:29
That’s precisely what we need. It’s like Wilson’s idea that we have this primitive brain and these medieval institutions, and yet we have this technology that’s God. That’s a bad combination.
Lisa Marchiano 34:53
That’s very connected to the hypothesis, this is also something Jung talked about too, because he says that most of the problems we have are because we’re disconnected from our instincts, what he called the two-million-year-old man. He says “Where does that man speak to us? In our dreams.” Leaning into the non-rational, making space for it in our lives, whether it’s teamwork or fairytales, is really healing. It’s healing on an individual level. I believe it can be healing on a cultural level as well.
Debra Maldonado 35:32
We do coaching, a lot of people think it’s just thinking positive, if I have my goals. The coaching industry has gotten so corporate and left-brain. You need to work with your imagination and your emotions and all other aspects of ourselves. You can’t just have a checklist to get through life. That’s why we love this work. Your book is really amazing. We had James Hollis on our show, too. I pulled out another quote you wrote about him. A lot of people ask us “How do you know if this is your true self or if it’s my persona, my shadow? Is it good to be this or bad?” He said “It’s not good, not bad, but authentic.” I love that idea. I wanted you to elaborate on that. What was your take on that when people sometimes persona-swap and think “I’m gonna bring this aggressive person in”, but just in opposition to this other persona they had? How do they cultivate that authentic, how do they know when it’s really authentic?
Lisa Marchiano 36:51
Jung said a great thing. “When you think you found a truth, taste it, put into your mouth, chew on it, swallow it, see how you feel afterwards. If it tastes good and you feel good, then that’s a truth, then you can take that and offer it to other people.” I like that image of you have to live with something and see if it works.
Debra Maldonado 37:24
It’s a really great idea. Because it’s different for everyone. What’s authentic for one person isn’t authentic for someone else.
Robert Maldonado 37:33
That’s the idea of individuation, it’s our unique path.
Debra Maldonado 37:41
We’re so thankful for your time, this has been a fascinating conversation. We listen to This Jungian Life all the time, it’s so great to finally talk to you directly and meet you in person. We really enjoy your book. We invite everyone to buy Lisa Marchiano’s book The Vital Spark: Reclaim Your Outlaw Energies and Find Your Feminine Fire. It’s coming out on February 6. Just in time for Valentine’s.
Lisa Marchiano 38:15
I don’t know if it lends itself well into being a Valentine’s gift. Thank you so much for having me, I really appreciate it.
Debra Maldonado 38:25
We’ll hopefully see you soon.
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