It was a cold, grey day and I was on my way to see a movie. Having half an hour to spare, I decided to grab a coffee at a local café. One more stamp on my loyalty card and I’d be eligible for a free drink! I paid for a small cappuccino thanked the barista and sat down two tables away from the door. I hung my jacket neatly over the back of the chair, and quietly began to read the latest edition of one of London’s free daily newspapers.
I’d only been seated a few minutes when a sturdy woman came in. She had big hair, a formidable bosom, and was wearing a long, flowing coat. She jammed the door wide open and as she swept passed me said, “It is so hot in here! Hope you don’t mind.” Before I could think, my Nice Guy had responded, “No problem.” I watched her order her grande latte. She was being very loud and overwhelmed the poor barista with a torrent of instructions. I noticed that she paid with a £20 note. I decided I didn’t like her attitude. Why had I not said “No” to the door being left open?
As she headed towards the table next to me, nearest to the open door, my judgements kicked in sotto voce. “She is obviously from a privileged and wealthy background. She is clearly used to bossing people around and getting her own way. She is completely insensitive to the needs of others. She probably walks all over the ‘little people’ who serve her.” I imagined her big house and her poor cleaning lady and the rich husband and the expensive cars and the spoilt children….
She flung her coat carelessly over one chair, put her bag on another and sat down with her back to me on a third. She got a thick book out of her large bag, stretched her legs out and leant back, her expansive hair almost touching my table. She seemed unaware of the space she was taking up and of my presence right behind her. As she turned the pages of her book she twisted her hair distractedly. I imagined dead skin and pulled hairs descending upon my coffee.
Even though there was plenty of room in the café, I felt cornered and unable to escape her invasive energy. It was as if she was getting bigger and bigger and I was getting smaller. I was starting to feel the chill from the draft coming through the open door, but my Nice Guy would not allow me to say a word, or even to move to another table. “Don’t say anything. There’s no need to upset her.” I tried unsuccessfully to focus on reading my newspaper. I felt totally impotent.
Behind my mask of composed indifference another self was starting to speak and my inner commentary entered X-rated territory. My very disowned Mean and Nasty self wanted to tell this “rich bitch” exactly what he thought. “If it was fresh air you wanted why didn’t you get your coffee to go, and sit in the park instead of being so selfish and taking up all this space! You only think of yourself. You’re an arrogant, stuck up cow! Well, I’ll show you!!” I fantasised taking her coat and bag and throwing them out onto the street, and pouring her coffee down the drain, or even better over her! Any resistance on her part would be met by force as I pushed and shoved her through the door. I was like a skinhead character from Clockwork Orange, a droog, the leader of a vicious gang, uncaring and unfeeling, on the attack, out for revenge, ready to torture and humiliate her….
As this fantasy surged through my mind I tried to just sit and observe it. My Nice Guy was desperately trying to push back and seize control. Heaven forbid I should act out what Mean and Nasty wanted! But I understood that in its own way Mean and Nasty was trying to insulate me from this very uncomfortable feeling of being squashed. I realised that this was in fact an old dynamic going right back to my childhood when I had often felt energetically smothered and invaded by my mother. Unable to take my space and stand up to her, I had acted out my frustrations indirectly with my toys, some of which had to endure untold misery, being beaten up or flung down the stairs!
A glance at my watch told me it was time to go or I would be late for the film. As I stood up and put my jacket on I could feel Mean and Nasty urging me to “inadvertently” bump into the woman’s table and spill her coffee, but my Nice Guy would have none of it. I did manage to sneakily close the door behind me in a gesture of defiance and was immediately attacked by my Inner Critic as he attempted to make me feel ashamed of my “petulant” behaviour.
As I walked to the cinema I reflected on what had just happened and the different selves that had been triggered. Most evident were my primary selves that have me be accommodating, polite, thrifty, unassuming, sensitive, quiet and neat. I had projected onto the woman my disowned selves that have to do with being entitled, asking for and getting what I want, taking my space, not worrying about what other people may think, and taking care of myself. My disowned instinctual energies showed up in my fantasy - confrontational, direct, uncaring, vengeful and violent. Finally there was my Critic, the policeman of my primary selves system. I wondered if I still needed to go to the movies after living through this rich inner drama!
I arrived half way through the trailers. I had bought my ticket in advance and had reserved a particular seat right in the centre. The cinema was only a third full but when I got to my seat I found it occupied by a woman sitting with her friend. They both feigned ignorance and their body language indicated that they had no intention of moving. A man in the row behind growled at me, “There are plenty of other seats. Why don’t you sit somewhere else?” I looked around. All the empty seats were at the sides - not where I wanted to sit.
I felt my Nice Guy pushing me to say, “Of course, no problem, I’ll sit somewhere else.” But instead, I took a breath and made a conscious choice to bring in my Entitled self together with just an edge of Mean and Nasty. “This is my seat and I would like to sit in it please,” I said politely but firmly. My voice made it clear that there would be no arguing. The women gathered up their coats and moved several seats over whispering and tut-tutting.
I sat down, immune to their complaints, put my jacket on the empty seat next to me, leant back and allowed my energy to expand. I was going to really enjoy this movie!