Negotiating with Pirates

Danielle West
10 min readMar 20, 2020

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Are you always at the helm of your destiny or is a pirate mutiny taking you off course? Who are these pirates and what do they want?

Take me to your leader. Image by Felix Lichtenfeld from Pixabay

Consider the last time you reacted in a way that you wouldn’t normally. Perhaps you were tired - or you simply responded to an emergency then later realised that maybe you don’t know yourself quite as well as you’d like to think.

Did your response to that situation amuse, impress or frighten you? And how did you react when you realised this was “out of character” for you? Did you deny it, laugh it off, worry about it or explore it? We often surprise ourselves with delight, horror, heroism or disappointment. We sometimes save the day, other times we freeze or even flee.

Suppose you want to save up a certain amount of money each month but instead find yourself spending it on collectible fridge magnets of various species of snails. You know you need to save your money and want to have some funds in the account for a rainy day, but then a part of you seems to almost compulsively reach for your wallet whenever you spot an exotic mollusc to stick on your fridge.

“I live on the cusp of two worlds, trying desperately to fit into one.”
Tricia Levenseller, Daughter of the Pirate King

All too often we are the saboteurs in our own grand plans creating much perplexity, frustration and consternation. Why can’t we simply exercise self-control when faced with temptation or even the smallest challenge? Perhaps because we are in fact made up of many selves that squabble more than a Real Housewives cast (or Parliament, or Congress or the original lineup of the Eagles). What if there are several versions of you coexisting within this fleshy vessel of bones that also seems to have its own wants or aversions?

IS it possible to every completely know ourselves?
IS it possible to every completely know ourselves? Image by Ranjat M from Pixabay

Our many motley selves

The concept of identity is nothing new; philosophers, psychologists and your friend that smokes too much pot all have theories on this. And all would agree that personality is neither constant nor singular. We are different people depending on a myriad of factors such as environment, social circle, physical wellbeing, etc.

The Japanese concept of Omote-Ura, Freud’s theory on ego, as well as Jung’s studies of dream languages and archetypes all explore the idea that we have several navigators taking turns at the helm as we go about our day to day minutiae.

And these navigators aren’t always in agreement because they each have their own desires and beliefs that can also create conflict. It’s this conflict that can impede our progress or keep us from what we want, or what we think we want. All too often our actions suggest our professed wants may not be entirely accurate.

“An identity would seem to be arrived at by the way in which the person faces and uses his experience.”
James Baldwin

Today is a cat mask kind of day. Image by pen_ash from Pixabay

Resolutions are made every new year causing a surge of people to the gym in January. But by March there is no wait for any of the equipment because the gym is no longer busy. This cycle is familiar to many and generally begins just before New Year’s Eve when you resolve to change your diet and fitness routine to lose weight so that you can fit into a suit you wore five years ago.

For the first few days you wake early to hit the gym and get a salad for lunch instead of pizza, but then the following Friday you’re out late with colleagues. You’re enjoying yourself so much that you have too many beers, causing you to sleep in and get a pizza to salve the hangover. The morning after that you hit snooze and tell yourself that you’ll start the next day, but that day grows more distant as the year progresses until you find yourself starting over again at the next New Year’s Eve.

Or Groundhog day for many resolutioners
Another year, another gym membership. Image by 5598375 from Pixabay

Was every part of you even on board with your resolution to begin with? There was certainly a part of you that wants to be fit and healthy, but there is also another part of you that enjoys a night out laughing with mates over a few beers. This is such a common trope of human existence that we have several memes dedicated to it.

Bring on the snail magnets! Image by DaniellaCamilleri at Imgflip

And these are just two parts to an extremely complex entity of self.

Consider how the conscientious part of you that loves to organise socks by colour and date of purchase is at odds with the recalcitrant part of you that hates following instructions to assemble flatpack furniture? Or how does the part of you that likes parties reconcile with the part of you that gets anxious in big crowds? How do all these aspects of yourself co-exist without going mad? Sometimes they don’t, and we experience irritability, rages, anxiety, depression, narcissism, dissociation, substance abuse, personality disorders, etc.

When my daughter was about 8 months old, I was at a restaurant feeding her some solid food when her face grew red, eyes wide, and I realised with alarm that she was choking. I very calmly stood and administered the Heimlich manoeuvre, causing a small chunk of food to fly across the table. I then sat in my chair and violently shook all over as I held her.

I had taken a course on infant first aid a few months before and was not at all confident even after I finished that I would ever be able to administer first aid on my daughter. I was a very high-strung new mother, an inexperienced teenager on my own but in that moment at the restaurant a very confident and capable part of me pushed my panicked, fretful self aside to take control, saving my daughter’s life.

A surprisingly accurate representation of Steering Committee members. Image by Dan Wirdefalk from Pixabay

So what do pirates have to do with any of this?

Within each of us is a Steering Committee navigating our respective lives on a conscious, unconscious, physical, emotional, chemical, ethical and even spiritual level. Just as with a pirate ship, the captain is only ever in charge when the ship is under threat. And your pirate captain is only in charge during specific situations such as duress or flow. Otherwise there are a few different committee members taking turns or squabbling over who gets to steer.

Pirates were very democratic, which made sense since there were loads of places and ways to pillage. In order to ensure success on the seas, they had to be in agreement on priorities and operations. This meant that every crew member had an area they managed to ensure the safety and operation of the ship. It also meant that everyone had the power of veto.

Stand aside, anxiety and doubt, this is my karaoke jam! Image by Lothar Dieterich from Pixabay

There are many moments throughout my life where this pirate captain took over to save my daughter, my friends and most importantly, myself. This makes me think I have a rather epic pirate captain stepping in to take charge when life gets hairy. I like to think it was this pirate captain at the wheel during most of my MMA matches, giving birth and doing karaoke sober. But then there are just as many instances when another part of me stays out way too late even though I know I have early morning meetings, binge watches a mediocre series on Netflix when I should be sleeping or makes enough foolish decisions to fill a book.

Who’s turn is it? Image by GregoryButler from Pixabay

Imagine your body as a pirate ship and the many different facets of your identity as the crew. There is an adaptive unconscious taking care of many things we take for granted, like breathing or telling the difference between when you’re about to fart or need to find the toilet. It’s also taking in your surroundings while you scroll on your phone as you walk through a busy street without stepping in front of a moving bus (thanks, adaptive unconscious).

Then there is your ego oscillating between bravado and butt-hurt when not kept in check, the inner child that finds humour or wonder in experiences, your anxiety spirit animal that can be tamed or grow feral depending on what you feed it. These are just a few examples of potential Steering Committee Members.

“It is not down on any map; true places never are.”
Herman Melville (Moby-Dick or, the Whale)

The crew varies for every vessel and will grow and change over time. These Committee Members come on board throughout our lives at various rendezvous points when we overcome challenges, experience trauma or make a choice that affects our personal trajectory. We will experience a few mutinies throughout the journey of life (terrible twos, teens and middle age are great examples of this but insert your own favourite breakdown here to get a better sense).

You may even try to get some of these Committee Members to walk the plank. This can be problematic, since there’s a good chance they will continue to find a way on board until you face them and hash out why they are there or what they want.

“your anxiety spirit animal that can be tamed or grow feral depending on what you feed it” Image by Michael Seibt from Pixabay

“Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune. ”
Carl Gustav Jung

Board meetings or mutinies

One question we all struggle with from time to time is what is it that we really want? This can sometimes be hard to determine with regards to your personal five-year plan or what you want to be when you grow up and even whether you’re having coffee or a latte. Is the Committee aligned or are there objections?

The burden of choice. Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Committee objections are often rooted in core beliefs and will be apparent usually after we’ve polished off a pint of ice cream or stayed awake long after we said we’d get to sleep. These objections can create bigger problems when we find ourselves staying out late rather than studying for a test that we are convinced we couldn’t pass anyway, or being unfaithful to a partner rather than telling them that the relationship isn’t working. Or attending homophobic rallies in the day and furiously masturbating to George Michael videos every night before you go to sleep.

Sometimes our desires or insecurities can be difficult or uncomfortable to acknowledge or are at odds with the values within our own armada of family or community.

In this armada we have matching sails, how else will they know we’re together? Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay

Perhaps a part of you doesn’t feel that you deserve to be in a stable job or worthy of love, or feels too ashamed to sing in front of others, or believes that you are secretly an imposter doomed to be found out at any moment. It may be one or several Committee Members that harbour these beliefs, which can obscure or obstruct bigger goals.

Or perhaps you’re running your vessel into the ground with stress, diet, pills, too much exercise or not enough sleep, which will make it hard to go anywhere. Your body will throw out all sorts of signals, but you may choose not to listen or not even know how. This can lead to injury, illness and in extreme cases autoimmune disease.

Image by Gerhard Gellinger from Pixabay

Keep a weather eye open

So, how do you get your Steering Committee to agree on your coordinates and prioritise the booty you’re after (and not the ones you’re calling on a lonely Saturday night)? This is done through countless board meetings, which often occur when you journal, daydream, sleep, meditate, have a good talk with a friend or see a therapist, counsellor, spiritual adviser, etc. These board meetings require you to step outside yourself and observe the dissonance between what you say you want and the choices you make.

You can check your words and actions are aligned by seeking out feedback and observations from friends or colleagues. Feedback is often hard to hear since the ego can step in and get very defensive but it’s important if you want to grow and evolve so that your Steering Committee isn’t vetoing or sabotaging your efforts. It’s important to really listen to the cues from your behaviour, your body and even your words.

Image by Monika Schröder from Pixabay

This discrepancy or alignment is also evident on your social media posts or messages. What are you choosing to post about and how is that improving the quality of your life? How does it help you accomplish your goals? These are all clues to who is in your Steering Committee and what they want. In seeking to understand who is on board your vessel, how they got there and what they need, you can start to better understand yourself and get your Steering Committee to agree on where you want to be. A pirate’s life is hard enough with raging currents, storms and other pirate ships - over which you have no control. This is why it’s critical to have your own ship and crew in order to successfully chart your own course.

“Ignorance is the parent of fear.”
Herman Melville (Moby-Dick or, the Whale)

Thanks for reading. You can also find a link to the audio for this article on Anchor or Spotify.

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