Is There A Modern Medusa in Your Life?

The Myth of Medusa

Medusa is an ancient greek figure, a winged woman with snakes for hair. Myth has it, those who looked directly into Medusa’s eyes, instantly turned to stone. We think of Medusa as evil and ugly. Her hair of angry snakes, hiss and snap at the air as they reach for their victims. Their poison is debilitating, even deadly. 

But just imagine for a moment, what would Medusa look like today? What if she was pretty and smiled? What if she was a he? What is they were smart and articulate? What if he wore normal clothes and had a good job? What if, instead of visible snake hair, she wore curlers or a baseball hat? What if, you could not identify Medusa by looking her; no wings, no snakes, but a human, who’s bite leaves a debilitating residue.

Modern Medusa

The modern Medusa’s has poison in her language. It is invisible poison that is delivered sometimes through words, but more often through tone and body language. You don’t even know you’ve gotten too close, until much later, when you are home alone and feeling small. Medusa can give you a look that literally stops you in your tracks, leaving you essentially, stunned. She often uses her power against those close to her, people who have less power, such as family members. Each snake is an invisible poison that cripples her victims. The poison continues to leach into the victim long after the encounter is over. The poisons are: feelings of worthlessness, wrongness, shame, guilt and blame and other debilitating emotions. The snakes may appear as: disgust, contempt, resentment and judgement. When they bite, the words can penetrate and continue to make the victim sick for days, months or years after the encounter is over. Imagine a poisonous arrow. One person shoots the arrow and hits another person.  Even if you pull out the arrow, the poison is still in the blood stream, just like the negative messages Medusa leaves. These negative thoughts may eventually become beliefs, and once that happens, the poison just circulates inside the person, slowly robbing them of their joy, sense of worth and vitality.  

How to Identify a Modern Medusa in Your Life.

1. Establish your Baseline. 

It’s important to know your baseline. Do know how you feel when you are relaxed, at ease? If you aren’t sure, sit down when you have at least a half an hour to yourself, uninterrupted. Dim the lights, close your eyes and focus on your breath. Be still for 15-20 minutes. Meditate by focusing on your breath or use a guided meditation. I’ve included a link to one of my body scan meditations here.

How does your body feel? Notice things like: body temperature, heart rate, any sensations in stomach, face, tension anywhere-check shoulders,  neck etc. Where every there is tension, breath in, exhale completely and relax. Now double it. Double it again. This is your relaxed state. So you have to know this before being able to identify when you are tense (aka, in sympathetic arousal.)

2. Play a Movie of an Interaction

Once you’ve established this baseline. Imagine you are watching a movie of a recent interaction with someone that left you feeling … yucky. Maybe you felt deflated, exhausted, defensive, edgy, irritable or unimportant. Close your eyes and replay the interaction. What did he say or do that first made you feel uneasy? What were the words? What was the tone or body language of the other person? What do you notice in your body? What physical sensations do you notice? 

Possibilities: fluttering in stomach or pit in stomach, change in heart beat, change in body temperature, a desire to distract yourself: such as eat something, smoke, drink, check your phone, or get up and move around. Do you notice any emotions? What are they? Anger, fear, hate, powerless, feeling bad or guilty. These are indications that we need to look further. 

Most people try to ignore these feelings and go about their day, pretending everything is fine. They know they don’t feel good, but don’t know why, and instead of putting the feeling back on the person who delivered the poison, it starts to seep in and becomes internal. Do not do this because eventually, the discomfort becomes the “norm” and you are stuck with a constant, unpleasant feeling. You may have swept it under the rug for decades. But I promise you, when you take the time to identify the poison, you can remove it. 

3. Stay with the Discomfort. Rather than grabbing a drink or anything else, stay with the discomfort and be curious, as if you are an archeologist uncovering something very old and powerful. What is the feeling it brings up in you? What did this interaction activate in you? What are you afraid of? Medusa’s poison hit a nerve, that means it is a primal fear, one you were given early in your life. The fear of abandonment, being wrong, being bad, or being unworthy. Identify which primal fear this hits. Once you have it – face it. That’s right, this is like looking Medusa in the eyes and saying, “I am not afraid of you.” You can look in the mirror, you can write it down, you can say it to the person who first gave you this fear – but say it aloud. “I am not afraid of you. I give you back the fear of … (being unloveable, being worthless,  being pathetic, being a failure, being wrong, etc.). I will not take this gift. This is your emotion and I will not carry it any more.”

This might seem simple, but it’s anything but easy. It takes courage, awareness and a desire to be authentic. Each time an uncomfortable feeling  arises, stop and ask yourself, what is this about? What does this feeling want me to know? Often, it’s an opportunity to release a primal fear, a childhood wound and something inside you that holds you back from fully living. Notice the impulse to blame Medusa. This is not about blame or wrongness, this is about your ability to live your best life. That means, identify the arrows and pull out the poison. 

So Now What?

Does this mean you need to avoid the Medusas in your life? Do you need to cut them off and protect yourself? Possibly, but not necessarily. Childhood wounds hurt so much because we were young and vulnerable when they were created and they have been reinforced throughout life. But just like an adult who returns to visit their childhood home, perspective changes. It would look different because you are different. As your confidence, strength, self-worth and awareness increases, the wounds of the past become smaller and smaller, because you are essentially getting bigger and bigger. That means, Medusa’s contempt has less power. One day, it will have no power. She/he will be just another person from long, long ago. 

Learning how to set and uphold boundaries is a healthy skill for everyone. Check out Nancy Levin’s book, Setting Boundaries will Set You Free.) Sometimes, distance is also necessary to allow you the space to grow into your own. 

Identify the Medusa in Yourself

I want to give you another perspective. Medusa also had a Medusa in her life, whose poison also hurt her, causing her to be fearful, angry, bitter, contemptuous and distrustful. She built her armor to protect herself. Armor can look like: defensiveness, resentment, bitterness, criticalness, judgement, detachment or being stand-offish. We have all been Medusa at some point. We have all hurt people, intentionally or unintentionally. No one is just a perpetrator and no one is just a victim. Just as it is important to identify the Medusa’s in your life, so you can live a healthy, full and vibrant life; it is also important to identify Medusa in ourselves. This is often the harder of the two.

I’ll leave you with a quote by Dr. Maya Angelou. She said, “I’ve learned people will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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