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Persephone’s Journey: How a Destructive Relationship Can Shape and Strengthen You

If you’ve been in a destructive relationship for a long time, it can feel like the light will never shine in your heart again. In the beginning you still defend yourself: you go against the tide of vicious and disparaging comments, you see it as a challenge to prove that you can deal with his difficult character.

You don’t let yourself be taken aback, but are willing to see your partner for the beautiful soul that he is . From this rock-solid confidence, you always know how to bounce back and maintain your optimism.

The way down

And then, as time goes by and your partner’s erratic behavior continues, your resilience wanes bit by bit. You sometimes have no response after an attack, but you feel defeated. More and more you just do what your partner says to get rid of all the hassle. You also take more and more of what he says about you, so as not to inflame him with anger. You get entangled in a web of manipulations and emotional violence and you lose sight of reality.

So you begin to believe what has been said to you all along: that you are a bad person, that you are not smart enough to be a success, that you are not attractive enough to ever find another partner, that you sees everything in life all wrong… You feel like you are getting smaller and smaller and your fighting spirit is gone, until one day you don’t even believe that you will ever be able to get out of this relationship. Your partner has built a cage around you, and now you lock the door and throw away the key.

Inside you are convinced that you are the only one experiencing this. The only one who can be so bad and stupid to end up in this situation. You owe all this to yourself and there is no prospect of redemption. All is lost and you give up.

The myth of Persephone as a signpost

You are overlooking that you are only halfway through your story. You have walked a certain way to end up here, at the bottom of the well, and there is also a certain way back. Many before you have already walked it, many after you will. It is about discovering the way and walking it in spite of your fear. In the myth of Persephone you will find your clues.

Persephone, daughter of Demeter and Zeus, is the goddess of both the dead and spring in Greek mythology. Though Demeter watches over her like a mother hen, Persephone is kidnapped by Hades, god of the underworld and ruler of the dead. She is unsuspectingly picking flowers when the ground splits open and he drags her into the darkness on his horse and carriage. She still cries out for help, but to no avail.

Demeter is at his wits’ end and searches all corners of the earth for her beloved daughter. When she also consults the constellations, she hears the news that Persephone is now in the underworld. Demeter can do nothing and her sadness brings a harsh winter to the world. Only when many have died as a result, Zeus sends Hermes out to retrieve Persephone.

Hermes finds Persephone in the underworld, deeply depressed next to Hades. She brightens up when she hears that she can go back, but before she actually goes, she eats six more pomegranate seeds that Hades offers her. Once you eat something in the realm of the dead, you can never go back completely. And so it happens that every year in the spring Persephone goes to her mother and in the course of the summer returns to Hades in the underworld. However, no longer as his prisoner, but as queen of this realm of the dead.

Persephone in the Underworld

How Persephone transcended her fate

As a vulnerable goddess  , Persephone doesn’t quite know what she wants and as a result she can be ‘kidnapped’ into a destructive relationship by a more dominant person. Here she proves unable to change her situation and she falls into inertia and depression. The turning point comes not when she is rescued, but when she decides to eat the pomegranate seeds her captor offers her.

Had she not done so, she would have returned to her mother unchanged. She hadn’t learned her lesson, and would therefore naively move towards a destructive relationship next time. While picking flowers she would completely go under again.

However, Persephone makes a different choice: she eats the seeds and thus gives herself the opportunity to integrate her experience. She allows the destructive relationship to fundamentally change her. This is a painful and humiliating process, as the darkness will be part of her life forever. The naive flower-picking girl in her dies and she will never be able to turn her back on the underworld.

However, Persephone’s willingness to face her own shadow and that of humanity is also her greatest strength: instead of being swallowed up by the darkness, she now rules it. And as queen of the underworld, she can thereby be the guide of those who want to follow her on this path.

What are you doing?

Despite your disgust at what you see in your partner, are you willing not to look away and learn your lessons? Do you dare to see how your indecision gives the other the opportunity to direct and manipulate you? Can you accept that life is not only beautiful and lovely, but that there are also people you should stay away from? That the darkness is real and you have to take this reality into account if you want to survive?

If you integrate these insights into your life, you will see that destructive relationships no longer just happen to you, you are no longer ‘kidnapped’, but you remain captain of your own ship. By bearing the task of responsibility, you will taste the sweet taste of freedom.


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