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Proposal to recast Wolff's schema as a ternary system:

the whole thing must live

Toni Wolff's experiences as a therapist led her to understand women's relational development as requiring the woman to grow past an identification with one form which she understood as a flight to innocence and an avoidance of realizing one's less familiar shadow side. Wolff's vision of four relational forms as binary opposite pairs contained by the archetypal feminine image of Mother Earth integrates two complementary forms: one a personal orientation and one an impersonal orientation. Wolff may have constructed an overly stabilized view of the feminine.

In integrating the experience of a second relational consciousness, Wolff believed the growth task was to combine a personal and an impersonal form. She found this combination best suited to come to terms with the shadow of internal ego-deaths. Her four complementary combinations are Mother and Amazon, Amazon and Hetaira, Hetaira and Medium, Medium and Mother. Non-complementary less desirable combinations are Mother and Hetaira or Amazon and Medium, that is two personal or two impersonal forms. In her description of mature relational achievement for women, Wolff privileges complimentary combinations, excluding the non-complementary combinations and possibly limiting women's social expression of relationship.

In analyzing development as an integration of opposites, Wolff accounts both for conscious skills and the challenge of integrating difference since the neglected, less conscious relational form allows analysis of material calling for change and risk. Despite the dynamic problems the shadow forms generate, this fourfold schema limits the dynamism inherent in some relationships. Since the individual as such is faced with the growth challenge of relationality, the containing archetypal field for growth is better energized as part of a ternary system in which youthful and regenerative energy represented by the hetairan field of desire becomes the containing archetype of three forms: Mother, Amazon, Medium. Each of these contribute a skill vital to community and a different set of integrations as possible. Wolff does not analyze the archetypal image for its so-called dark side, nor does she suggest that an archetype revolves. Rather she focuses on how each relatedness form is challenged by an unrealistic clinging to the innocence of a single form. In her 1934 lecture, Wolff observed that men more typically confront their inferior adaptations when giving up the innocence of a single form--in this Wolff implies that men are more apt to eschew intimacy as a relational challenge. An attempt at integration of another and contrasting form does evoke outlaw behavior as one experiences a less conscious relational orientation. From the perspective of the first form, the second is a challenge, perhaps a taboo. From the perspective of the second form, necessarily cast as the alluring hetairan individual, the first form is controlling, limiting, dictated.

If one perceives the Mother both as that relational form favoring the group over the individual and as the containing feminine archetypal field, the archetypal field itself is oriented toward the group and not toward the individual. But if the archetype of the feminine is itself evolving in response to that quality of the feminine needed for growth, it as the youthful desire and capacity for the future. In this way, the containing archetype of youth is present in each of the contained forms: the mother, the amazon, the medium. Such evolving imagery suggests that an orientation of movement-toward-that-which-is-desired is available to all life forms in their individual relational function whether as Mother or Amazon or Medium.

Wolff's failure to support the integration of two personal forms or two impersonal forms may have contributed to early feminist rejections of her schema. These objections came in part from a reaction to her original lecture in which she characterizes the differences among the forms by their responses to a male figure: the mother relates as a wife, the amazon as a sister/comrade, the hetaira as a lover, the medium as a daughter. Wolff failed to imagine that the archetypal feminine as rooted in the earth, birthing all possibilities in object relations, would be less rooted in tradition than in evolution. Neither Wolff nor her original critics proposed imaging a married partner of the same sex, a comrade as another female, the hetaira as bisexual or the medium as relating to a spiritual mother and/or a spiritual father. These possibilities awaited the changing mores of future generations to experience as ordinary expressions of relational forms.

In summary, Wolff's four forms give rise to binary arrangements: personal and impersonal and individual and group. Of these four possibilities, one is personal and individual: the hetaira. I am proposing that it is this form rather than the Mother Earth archetype which is the relevant interior image for an archetype in process, an archetypal form taking its precedence from the energy of desire to sustain the future. This archetypal field, expressed relationally, contains specific forms of relational desire: that is the form of the mother/hearthkeeper, the amazon/leader, the medium/wise woman. From this vantage point, we can understand that an individual and personal orientation to the future is shared by all life forms. This archetypal energy, as it were, downloads the other communitarian roles as expressions of relationship in community.In short, as Bridget Riley observes, the whole thing must live --related by a vastly impersonal cosmic container experienced so as to be in endless personal presence to the individual forms of life. In this sense the archetypal energy which all forms require is the desire for life ever energizing afresh, ever sustaining the new. Only the attempts of theoretical physics to grasp the life principles of the universe of galaxies beyond number (or perhaps the visions of medieval mystics) suggest an archetypal image close to this God concept in which the essential element sustaining life is the desire for life.

Psychotherapeutic work with women validates Wolff's focus on the challenge women face in integrating a second form and leaving the containing innocence of identification with one form. If a woman identifies only with the Mother and the Hetaira relationships which are of a personal and nurturing nature, she risks being engaged in co-dependent tangles which involve the potential loss of personal identity. Working through such dependencies demands mature self understanding, acceptance of the radically different, questioning one's affiliations and migrations. If women identify primarily with the Amazon and Medial relationships, two powerful impersonal orientations, they risk being perceived as competitive and rebellious, ruthless and insensitive. They risk rejection from both women and men. These challenges may seem to validate Wolff's distinction between complementary and non-complementary combinations. However, cultural perceptions of the masculine and feminine may prevent individuation. In this we can question the validity of finding any two forms failing to benefit from the rigors of integration freer of gender projections defining the feminine.

The difficulty inherent is the personal/impersonal distinction is twofold. Both the underlying cultural perceptions of women's roles and capacities and the undervaluing of personal values influencing social reality threaten diversity in relatedness. In Wolff's schema, this could risk labeling the combined impersonal values as a less feminine adaptation and the combined personal values as passive and seductive feminine display. The question involving nurturing and executive roles must be asked so that social power can achieve transparency. Wolff's original lecture in which she presented her schema named nuns as examples of amazonian accomplishment. These women are less identified by their practice of prayer and their interior lives than they are by their executive and innovative accomplishments. Many nuns across decades of active service have been effective administrators while also acting as spiritual directors, retreat leaders, spiritual writers. When two personal forms are realized one can cite women who are mothers struggling to maintain independent and creative expression outside of the personal realm of the home and creative hetairan women who have mothered others. We can ask why a woman who nurtures others cannot at once be nurturing and alluring within a community able to regulate consumption and exploitation.

These quandaries do not justify labeling the social relational roles as defined only by relationships to the masculine--whether to the male gaze or to relationships with men as father, brother, lover. The deeper issue has to do not only with sexist or misogynistic perceptions but with social hierarchies characterized by the need for control and the fear of diversity. Posing this question regarding the integrative processes of relational individuation calls for women's voices to contribute responses--stories of their own experiences. More varied relational combinations expand the imaginal exploration beyond the stereotypical gaze depicting nourishing women as dependent and as prey and powerful women as unappealing and even cruel.


Video segments support feminist consciousness questioning whether a woman necessarily suffers from a primary integration of two impersonal social roles and whether she cannot succeed in a healthy primary integration of two personal social roles involving the nourishment of others. A social role dilemma arising from the objectification of the feminine relates to any self-in-relation model for women in sexist societies--even as male models of development risk an overemphasis on agency at the expense of intimacy.

As illustrations of these relational issues, musical stories in the songs of Shelby Lynn, Edith Piaf and k.d. lang suggest both the inner worlds of the mother/hetaira and the strengths of the medium/amazon. Lynne's music puzzles over the incomplete experience of realizing only one relational form and hints at the dangers inherent in the drive toward two personal forms. Her songs register the suffering of a young woman faced with integrating the freedom of the hetaira form with the sacrifices of the mother form.

In the second set, the triumphs of both Edith Piaf and k.d. lang suggest that the conscious integration of the amazon and the medial woman has led to wisdom and power. Shelby Lynne's voice as that of a recognized recording artist expresses a woman's attempt to realize a personal orientation. In Edith Piaf's "I regret nothing" and k. d. lang's recall of Biblical Susanna and Delilah, both women sing hallelujah to realizing a muscular and tender relatedness suggesting both enduring strength and spiritual insight. Each of these videos depict vulnerability in the face of social complexity.