Pamela L. Travers’s psychological resilience in the face of her family’s unsupportiveness is astonishing. We all know that it is not easy for a child to withstand the pressures of the family mold (it is difficult for many adults), and yet somehow Pamela L.Travers succeeded in just that! How did she do it? Well, she explained her refusal to give up on her dreams as follows:
Families, perhaps luckily, have a unique facility for minimizing capacities and aspirations simply by disbelieving in them, making them butts for witticisms. The wise child quickly learns to dissemble and keep its dream safe and intact.
Pamela L. Travers
However, if you examine closely the last sentence of this quote you’ll probably agree that it does not really make any sense. Children cannot be wise; they lack the necessary life experience. It seems to me that it would be more appropriate, and closer to Pamela’s personal truth, to reword the last sentence as follows:
The rebellious child quickly learns to dissemble and keep its dream safe and intact.
After the early death of her father, great-aunt Ellie became the authority figure in Pamela’s life. And Pamela attributed her dislike of authority to Ellie and the rest of the old relatives in the family:
It was not my parents but the generation before them, great-aunts and their kind, who sat like black crows on my horizon, old, rich, and righteous. My lifelong dislike of authoritarianism and my predilection for seeing life through my own eyes – these I owe to them.
Personally, I doubt that one becomes rebellious because of another person’s behaviour no matter how unjust that behaviour might be. Rebelliousness, as far as my own experience of that personality trait goes, is that it is something innate, a deeply ingrained temperamental feature or energetical pattern. Call it what you want. It is something you either have or you don’t.
Pamela rejected the expected role of the helper and supporter of the family. It was precisely her inner rebel that gave her the strength, at the age of twenty-four, to leave her family behind and cross the ocean in search of her true purpose in life. She returned to Australia only once for a brief visit. At the age of fifty-eight, her mother died and Pamela dedicated her first Mary Poppins book in her memory.
After rejecting the family’s expectations, Pamela’s rebellious nature also disregarded the pressures of the social conventions of her time. She socialized mostly with male artists in smoky pubs; she drove a convertible car with her dog alongside, she lived with a woman for ten years, and when she was forty adopted a child all on her own.
On the surface, at least, it looks like the rebel provided her with the freedom that comes from living authentically. But was it truly so? Despite the obvious fact that she lived her life on her own terms, and made her own life experiences, there is another undeniable fact: her own terms did not make her happy nor the people around her. Why?
The answer to that question popped out from the pages of the book The Way of Transformation written by Karlfried von Dürckheim. He was a renowned German psychoanalyst and Zen master whom Pamela (in her sixties) consulted at his Existential Psychological Training and Encounter Institute in Todtmos, Germany.
Dürckheim, many years ago, worded in psychological/spiritual terms what I intuitively felt to be the result of the inadequate nurturing provided by Pamela’s mother:
“Psychologically understood, the transforming Ground is, in terms of human existence, the ‘realm of the mother.’ Any unresolved relationship between child and mother causes an obstruction in this sphere and hinders development. The effect is the same when the mother denies the warmth necessary for the child’s growth …. In the first instance, when the child becomes a man, he is inhibited and depressed because he rejects the protests that rise from his depths, defending himself against them by thrusting them down into the unconscious. …. Thus, he becomes wholly dependent on his world-ego, experiencing his repressed depths as frightening forces that either inexplicably attract him or demonically turn against him.”
It was the rebellion against the demands of her mother’s needs and the repressed resentment towards her (and probably some guilt for leaving her behind) that caused Pamela L.Travers’s inner conflict which remained unresolved throughout her entire life.
As a young adult, Pamela chose the path of her father. As soon as she could, she left her family for Ireland, the land of her father’s fantasies, where she rapidly established contact with the poets whom he admired. Now, that pattern reminded me of something Joseph Campbell said in The Power of Myth, about the journey of the young boy into manhood: “She (the young girl) becomes a woman whether she intends it or not, but the little boy has to intend to be a man. …. The boy first has to disengage himself from his mother, get his energy into himself, and then start forth. That’s what the myth of “Young man, go find your father” is all about.”
Pamela did just that; she disengaged from her mother and went on a quest to find her father, all for the purposes of finding herself. Obvisouly Campbell’s assumption is sexist and since he was not a woman himself he couldn’t understant that a girl just like a boy must intend to become a woman. Menstruation, chidlbirth and social expectations do not make a real woman out of a little girl. What’s more, there are many ways of being a woman in the world.