Introducing the Little Emperor
I’ve come to believe that it was the very first conflict I had with my teammates that doomed the little café I opened in the East Village. That episode is a great example of the initial pitfall we encounter in the Labyrinth of Repressed Emotions so let me share some of it with you now.
One day when I was busy working to get the café off the ground, a couple of guys from our ashram’s leadership team — both with MBAs from Ivy League Schools, I should mention — approached me with a spreadsheet of projections they wanted me to start working with.
That probably sounds helpful. Especially when you consider that most of my knowledge about running a café came from my years as a dishboy.
I literally threw their spreadsheets in the air behind me.
My heart still sinks as I watch the papers fall to the ground in my mind’s eye. But at the time, I was certain that neither of them had the slightest idea of what they were talking about when it came to running a café.
The Little Emperor
All two-year-olds throw tantrums at some point. They learn quickly, of course, that such behavior is unacceptable. But what happens to the tantrum response when children grow out of it? Does it just cease to exist?
No. It’s banished to the underworld.
Yes, rather than disappearing, this tendency becomes lodged in a corner of everyone’s heart. Tossing about somewhere in everyone’s psyche is a two-year-old who can’t tolerate the defiance of others. I call this part of us the Little Emperor or Empress. This impudent child can be transformed once you know how — or he can run your life in unseen ways!
I’ve given the Little Empress a dismissive name because she deserves it. But please know that her anger is real, her power is profound, and when this side of ourselves goes unchecked, she’s capable of real harm. She’s no joke.
The problem is that in struggling to keep our Little Emperor under wraps we also hide him from ourselves. Nobody likes to admit the existence of their inner tyrant. And this one problem leads to a host of others.
The cost of hiding this inner tyrant
In the example of my café fiasco, it took me months before I could identify that my Little Emperor was at work. I blamed my teammates for not understanding my situation. I rationalized my behavior as simply the best anyone could manage under the circumstances.
Fortunately for me, a nagging voice repeatedly questioned me about the incident: Was such a flamboyant defiance really the way those saints you so admire would have acted? It was definitely an unusual response for a monk, to say the least. Sure, you were busy, but didn’t you have a few hours to work on their spreadsheet and offer them the respect they deserved?
When I finally reflected more deeply on what happened, I could see the obvious. I hated that they were questioning me-the senior monk. They weren’t backing me up in the way I wanted. It was my Little Emperor who threw those pages in the air.
The cost of that little tyrant was clear. If I had worked with my teammates at the onset, they likely would have stood beside me more when things got rough.
The key to understanding your Little Empress
I share more about how to resolve the tantrums of the Little Empress in my book, An Introduction to the Self Salutation. But for now, I want to leave you with one essential insight regarding this challenge we all face.
The key to getting ahold of your own Little Empress is not punishing yourself for her presence as we all do. The key is recognizing that underneath all the fireworks, your Little Empress is actually trying to help you. She wants to protect you from something. She wants to keep you from experiencing an emotion she believes is threatening. She wants to prevent you from entering a realm I call the Garden of Vulnerability.
The Garden of Vulnerability is a realm of the Labyrinth of Repressed Emotions that’s filled with feelings that none of us like to experience. Feelings like fears of abandonment, inadequacy, and failure. Feelings of shame and lack of self worth. Jeez. Who wants to go there? Nobody. But if you can find your way to this garden, and tend to these feelings in the right way, you will experience incredible healing.
You’ve probably already guessed what feeling I was hiding from in my story of the café fiasco. I was in over my head, intimidated by my teammates, and threatened by the world of spreadsheets and numbers. At the same time, my behavior courted the very failure I desperately feared.
Discovering this took me a long time, as I have said, and desiring to shorten that time-frame, so that my own Little Emperor no longer torched friendships and destroyed opportunities is what led me to develop the process of meditations I call the The Self Salutation.
I’ll share more about the Garden of Vulnerability in the future, but next week I want to turn instead to another facet of our psyche that has been looming over this conversation: the Imposter Judge. Oh, this character is far more sophisticated than your Little Emperor. And cloaked in moral authority, the Imposter Judge can wield incredible power in your life — and mislead you in the profoundest ways. But don’t worry — the key to disrobing this imposter is very simple.
Simon is the author of An Introduction to the Self Salutation: How to resolve negative feelings through mindfulness meditation. He spent sixteen years as a Hindu monk and later earned a Masters Degree in Ethics from Yale. You can find out more at selfsalutation.com.