Concerning Powerful Maps

When female strength can seem misplaced.

Posted Dec 05, 2018

A few weeks ago, a woman was sitting in my office; she was beautiful. She was in tears. She had a big fight with her boyfriend, one among many. She was in her late thirties and her boyfriend is significantly younger than she.

Her voice was broken while she told me her story. It was difficult for me to follow thoroughly. What I understood is that she lost her patience and yelled at him.

She said she was incredibly sorry for that. To be more descriptive, I would say that she was feeling very guilty and ashamed as if that assertive part of herself was not allowed to be released.

I asked her if she felt that she was blaming him for no good reason. She said ‘no.’ She went on: ‘He hurt me repeatedly and kept doing so. The way in which I reacted was too furious, though. I was wrong. I should have contained myself.’

So, it seems that a deeper part in her rose to protect herself from a violation, but she felt ashamed because that behavior was inappropriate and destructive for the relationship. She seems to be dealing with a social stigma.

I felt compassion for her. While I didn’t want to encourage her to release her rage without control at any painful situation, I also didn’t want to suffocate her healthy reaction to fend for herself and use her strength to become who she really is.

Her situation made me think of the mythological story of Rangada. 

Rangada’s Story

Susi Ferrarello, used with permission
Source: Susi Ferrarello, used with permission

Rangada was a powerful woman, beautiful and courageous. She used to lead her group in order to protect many small villages scattered around her country.

One day during one of her rides she stopped to drink the water from a crystal river. Walking back to her horse she saw a man sleeping on the grass. Struck by his beauty she can’t hold back from talking to him. So, she waited for him to wake up. Once he was awake, she started talking to him and with no hesitation, she tells him how beautiful she thinks he is.

The man is clearly surprised and confused. In seeing this beautiful female warrior lying next to him he doesn’t know what to do. He tells Rangada that a few days before he pleaded a chastity vow for the year. He is attracted to her but he wants to be faithful to the vows, so he rejects her.

Rangada doesn’t seem to accept this outcome. Even though she was on a mission for her people, she wanted to try one more trick to conquer that man’s love. She changes her clothes and transforms her appearance into that of a nymph. At night she goes to the man’s tent and seduces him.

Needless to say, the man cannot resist her soothing harmonious beauty and gives into the pleasure. Under a false name and appearance, Rangada and her man love each other for months until one day, outside his tent, the man ran into some people from a nearby village.

These people seem to be devastated. They cannot find Rangada, their leader. Without her, they seem to be lost. They describe her power, beauty, and her strength to the man. He is charmed with their story and fancies himself riding his horse next to such a powerful woman.

At once he decides to volunteer and ride with these people to defend their village, hoping in his heart to meet their strong leader.

Meanwhile, Rangada, still disguised as a lovely nymph, heard the words of her own people. She cannot resist  their tears. She decides to come out of the tent and show her true appearance. At this sight, her man is confused and excited; a twirl of emotions possesses him.

The people salute their leader with joyous laughter.

The story, as I know it, ends with Rangada and her man riding with her people to defend their village.

Why this story

Susi Ferrarello, used with permissioj
Source: Susi Ferrarello, used with permissioj

The tears of my client made me think of how women tend to sometimes hide their strength in order to get along with their partners. In doing so they start drifting away from themselves and accordingly from their partners as well.

It is true that female strength can be scary at times and requires some skills to be handled; yet, it would be counterproductive for one’s emotional and social life to negate it completely. Because of an ingrained social script, perceiving the fear of the partner and/or their competition might induce the woman to pretend to be more agreeable than she actually is in order to avoid any social stigma or coping with feelings of rejection. Yet, the partner might feel attracted to that strength without knowing that she has any.

Certainly, trying to be somebody else might lead to increase rage and might enhance the risk to erupt all at once, unexpectedly. Trying to be less than what we are in order to please a partner might not only lead to a stronger rejection but might increase the chances of sudden rage. If the woman hides her real self, she betrays herself and the people she is responsible for. Real solitude and shame can stem from it because she obliges herself to live out of character.

So, what did I say to my client?

I spoke to her about maps.

Maps can be a very poetic way to access oneself. Jerry Brotton (2013) and Alessandro Baricco (2016) wrote beautifully about maps. They believe that maps don’t usually tell us how the world is, rather they reveal the inner geography of the person. Maps speak of inner worlds. From Alexander the Great to Hererford’s mappapundi, maps are a way to narrate one’s inner story.

Baricco writes that inside each one of us there is map that we follow without being able to see it quite clearly. We don’t know what our map looks like or where it leads; yet, loving someone, first of all ourselves, it means accepting this map and staying with her/him.

When my client recovered, I shared with her the story of Rangada and this idea of maps.

I told her how there might be a map written inside herself and it might lead her to new places where her strength can be of good use for the people around her. This map is nourished by her strength. There’s no shame in being strong. It would be a pity to pretend that the map doesn’t exist and to force herself to belong to a place that doesn’t fit her anymore.

Her energy might be overflowing now, and she might need to see new places that are taking shape inside her intimate map. She might give herself and her boyfriend the chance to love herself for who she really is. She might use that strength as a positive explorative power instead of suffocating it into a shameful rage. 

Maybe there are people who are waiting for her to become fully herself in order to show them the way to something new and unexplored.

Did it help?

It seems it did. Months later she seemed to be much more in control of herself and to have built clearer boundaries between her sphere of action and that of her boyfriend. She told me how her job benefited, too, from that change of attitude. But her map was still under construction, of course.