Excerpt from Your Truth
Your Truth – Changing the Path Back to Yourself is about finding the courage to change, and to accept the roll of change in your life. Whatever it is you want to do, whatever direction you want to take, living the life that you want to be living is key to your personal happiness. Grappling with the consequences of risk is one of the biggest push-backs that can keep a person stuck in numb dissatisfaction. This is a guidebook for the mechanisms of self discovery and taking responsibility. It’s filled with practical ideas, stories and simple truths to help you find your path back to yourself.
The Tau of I Disagree
I don’t have to agree with you to like you or respect you. – Anthony Bourdain
We’re creatures of habit.
From very early on, we learn to master the art of agreement. It’s the mainstay of our ability to function in our environment. As babies, we do what we need to do to get a desired result, and as we become more socialized, we depend upon agreement to have our basic needs fulfilled. Our baby selves register almost imperceptible shifts in our parents’ facial expressions, letting us know if our behavior is being met with pleasure or with discomfort, and we change how we act accordingly. This happens at a subconscious level. We align our behavior to receive the approval of those upon whom we are dependent.
This keeps us alive. The covenants that we build through reading, interpreting, and adjusting to our own environment provide us with a social setting where we have a place. We understand and play by the rules, and as a result, we fit in.
In evolved families, acceptable amounts disagreement initiated by children take place when the children are small, and parents are able to direct the discord into a tool for social learning about the emotion of anger, and the attributes of patience, empathy, and compromise. In less evolved family structures, discord initiated by children is not tolerated. In these family systems, children don’t question areas where they might actually disagree with their parents, but instead, adjust behaviorally in the presence of the parents. But it’s only a behavioral adjustment. The discord goes unheard, underground, and feeds there until it finds an outlet. That can take months, years, or decades. Discord will find an outlet eventually.
As we grow, we align ourselves with groups of people who share our own ideas. But even in social groups of our own choosing, there is a pecking order, and the stronger personalities have more of a say in what will become the groupthink. Nowhere is this clearer to see than at the playground, where less vocal kids tend to follow the leader.
The dynamic that dictates behavior in the schoolyard is the same dynamic that dictates behavior in life. The way we negotiate our covenants with others is precipitated by how much we are able to express and understand exactly how we feel about ourselves. If we don’t have an understanding of ourselves, then taking on other people’s opinions as our own, at least in a behavioral sense, is the easiest thing we can do. Harmonizing our exterior environment becomes equal to personal happiness. After all, it’s what we learned: we should change our behavior to make other people comfortable with us.
Being uncomfortable with discord in our external environment (meaning outside of our bodies), while being a basic survival skill for babies and toddlers, can literally destroy us as adults. When we’ve made decisions that make us live a life in which we don’t feel we can express our true nature, the consequences range from a light sense of regret and anxiety to depression and illness, both physical and emotional.
When we’re little, it makes much more sense to change our behavior to adapt to our social situation’s ideal of what acceptable is. We do this because we can’t yet take care of ourselves, and we’re dependent upon those in our social sphere for everything, from food and clothing and shelter to education and hygiene.
When we’re older, if we’re in good enough physical health, we’re able to take care of those basic needs on our own. Why then, are we so willing to change our behavior to make others happy, at the expense of our own well-being?
Often we do it so blindly that we’re completely unaware of exactly what it is we’re doing. We agree with others when deep inside we know we don’t agree. And we have a basketful of excuses for doing so. Take, for example, a discussion with a friend. Our friend voices a strong opinion, one that we don’t necessarily fully agree with, but we don’t vocalize this. Why? Well, there’s always a basketful of excuses.
It’s not worth disagreeing.
It’s just not that important to me.
She (the opinion maker) is always like that. She never listens.
If I disagree with her, she’s going to be upset with me. I can’t take that right now. I have too much going on.
So we walk away from the discussion upset with ourselves, not happy with our friend, and mildly dissatisfied with the entire meeting. Our friend is happy. She expressed herself, and she clearly was right, since we agreed with her.
This seems fairly innocuous, and it is, until we realize that this pattern of behavior doesn’t stop with one friend, but rather can be present in all of our interactions with family relationships, love relationships, in our relationships with our children. The longer we engage in chronic agreement as a lifestyle, the further we step away from a healthy relationship with the most important individual in our lives: the one we see when we look in the mirror.
There’s no simple answer as to why we put ourselves in the position of considering other people and their opinions are so much more valid and correct than our own could ever be, even when we consciously realize it’s harming us. But one thing is for sure: the longer we do it, the more unhappy we become, and the further away we wander from the yearnings of our own soul. For every occasion that we shut up in the face of what could potentially be adversity, for every moment where we could have stood up for something that we really believed in but failed to do so, we give away a piece of ourselves.
There’s another factor that’s not very flattering about being in chronic agreement with others. With time, it can turn us into passive aggressive hypocrites. Discord has to come out. Just because we don’t release it at the moment we feel it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It’ll seep to the surface and rear its ugly head to people who don’t deserve it. We talk about others behind their backs, we complain about our spouses and their controlling behavior, about how we can’t get along with our fathers or our brothers or how our friend up the street just seems to want all the attention. And we do that all without even taking a moment’s notice about how all of that complaining reflects on us. Because it does – it reflects on the fact that we find it unbelievably difficult to simply and honestly and categorically say what we think to the person who should be hearing it.
If we simply hold it all in, if we don’t let our behavior become passive aggressive or hypocritical but instead just internalize the strife we’ve caused by denying who we are, we get sick. Even if we do it for the best of intentions – such as staying in a bad relationship for a child or maintaining an imbalanced relationship with a parent who is not well – we’ll get sick.
We don’t want to be hypocrites, and we don’t want to get sick. None of us do. But we feel so stuck sometimes, stuck in a mode of behavior that doesn’t suit us. And if we don’t think it suits us now, it’s only going to get worse, because with each passing year, our soul asserts itself more. And there will come a point at which the soul can no longer be silenced, no matter how well-intentioned we believe we are being by stifling our own true nature.
If we manage to stand up for ourselves to dominating parents and siblings and friends, the sense of guilt can be so strong at times that we suffer, really suffer, as though we’ve done something awful, even though we’ve done nothing but express who we really are.
What power we have.
We spend so much of our time feeling like we have none, but we have so much. There is meaning in asserting yourself. You are mirroring what’s in your soul. And you put others on notice: the covenants you negotiated with them over the years might change. There might be new covenants on the way, and they will have to decide how to react to those changes.
It’s so difficult to get used to saying those words, and to get used to hearing them from others. I disagree is not necessarily a direct challenge; it can also lead to another person exposing his or her soul to us. It can be a chance for us to grow, because it’s through differing opinions that new thought emerges. When you offer someone your disagreement in a way that’s not aggressive, but rather open and honest and calm, you’re giving that person a chance to clarify. Maybe she’ll come to a different conclusion. Maybe you will. You just don’t know until you put it out there.
The more we do it, the more we say how we actually feel, the clearer we stand up for what we believe, the less our blood pressure flairs, the calmer we stay, the more assured we feel, the steadier our chin stays. It’s a habit, saying how we feel, one that we cultivate slowly over time. The more we say what we feel, the more we actually know how we feel. Hearing ourselves talk, we can see our internal contradictions more easily and be better able to focus on them, shedding light and clarity on our own thought process. We get to know ourselves better when we start verbally expressing who we really are. And that’s the magic of it. It’s an exercise that helps us to align more with ourselves.
But it can mean, at least in the short term, that we align much less with our external environment. Does questing for internal peace mean settling for eternal conflict with all of those around us, just because we finally have the nerve to say how we really feel?
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