What often happens when we first start trying to live authentically is that we hear from the people, whom we’ve trained to believe we are always going to do what we’ve always done. So, for example, if you’ve trained the boss to believe you can always get everything done yesterday with absolute perfection, then when you suddenly stop doing that, the boss is likely to wonder what the heck is going on. And if he’s particularly bully-ish, he might come stomping in your office to confront you with your newfound laziness. Or, if you’ve always played the Victim and suddenly start making your own decisions and taking charge of your own life, your Rescuer is likely to feel displaced and want to turn you into a Victim again. If you’ve always accepted the blame and felt guilty and responsible for others, those others are likely to wonder what you are up to when they can no longer hold you accountable for their choices.
What can you do about this? Well, it helps soften the blow a bit if you give people a heads-up before you start drastically changing your interactions with them. You might tell your boss that you’ve come to realize that you are really overstressed and that you are going to have to back up and reassess the amount of work you are doing. You know that you’ve always had this unspoken agreement that you would carry most of the load, but you need to rethink this and you’d like his or her help. Most bosses will consider this to be an issue that could have some legal ramifications and try to support you. But others will not–in which case you may need to consider looking into other options for a job. If you find another job, however, you will need to take care not to unconsciously set up the same dynamic with the new boss.
If it is a closer relationship a sit down conversation might be in order-one in which you explain what changes you are making and why, and again ask for support. Many relationships will be able to accommodate the shifts, with some complaining and continued boundary making. But some will not accommodate and will demand–through either verbal or nonverbal means–that you change back. At that point, you may need to reassess the value of this relationship in your life and create whatever new parameters you may need, up to and including, a total abandonment of the relationship.
But there’s another consequence we need to consider to becoming authentic. We may also experience uncomfortable feelings. For example, if guilt has been your primary motivator for most of your exchanges with others, when you stop doing those things you’ve done for guilt, then guilt is going to speak up loud and clear. The fact is that people who manage their lives by guilt, i.e., people with a Scapegoat identity, have been caving to guilt in order to keep from feeling even more guilt. And just like an addict who caves to the cravings for years, when he stops caving, the cravings start screaming. Likewise, the guilt will start screaming if you’ve always caved to it before.
If rage has been the way I got people to do what I wanted them to do, because I live out of a Bully identity, then rage is going to come up really strongly when I stop using it to manipulate others. If self-pity has been the feeling that has worked most frequently to allow me to avoid taking responsibility for my life and to get others to take over that responsibility, then self-pity may come up again and surprise me when I least expect it, as I begin to take charge of my choices.
These feelings come up to be understood and compassionately placed into appropriate perspective. But since we’ve always obeyed these feelings as if they were a command before, we never really got to the base of them, nor understood why we had them in the first place. Why, for example, would I feel guilty when guilt is not appropriate-that is, when I’ve done nothing about which a reasonable person would feel guilty. When these feelings arise, we may tend to want them to go away rather quickly. We’ve always been able to make them go away quickly in the past, by obeying their commands. But as authentic persons we may also begin to see that we’ve been held hostage to these inner commands that come from the internalized role we’ve played for so long. And we want now, to disobey these commands. Yet the commands seem to be getting louder.
We can’t really ignore these feelings–they simply won’t let us do that. But we can sit beside them as a kind mother might do with a troubled child. We might compassionately ask ourselves what triggered the feeling, and find out what the feeling wants us to do and why. This automatically puts us in the observer position-rather than in the actor position. The actor wants to act on the feeling. The observer simply wants to observe the feeling-to get to know it, and to have a conversation with it.
Allowing that feeling to speak to the observer, rather than act, gives the feeling room to breathe. It is a bit like giving a child the attention and room for expression that she needs. Having been heard and attended to, the child eventually gets interested in something else and goes off to take care of the new intrigue.
We tend to want to judge ourselves for “being so stupid,” or “not being able to get it” when we have these frequent episodes of intense feelings that come about as a result of not obeying their commands. But what we need to understand here is twofold:
1) It took us a while to build the Role, and it will take some time to come to know the authentic Self.
2) When we judge ourselves we are very probably parenting ourselves, as we were parented, instead of birthing the authentic Self in support, compassion and a trust for the process.
If we can learn to be just as compassionate with ourselves as we would a small innocent child, we will get through these periods of intense feelings and in the process come to know ourselves even better.
For more of Andrea’s articles, please visit her blog.