One of the greatest challenges we face in our development is self-discovery, finding out who we are, being ourselves. We start off innocent children. Inevitably, we encounter people who want us to conform, beginning a power struggle that will follow us throughout our lives at home, school, church, peers, the workplace, etc. Socially, the world seems to want us to fit in. Get with the program. Don’t rock the boat.
There are advantages to this. When you’re young, protection, education and a system of stability are very important. Can you imagine the chaos and carnage that would ensue if five-year-olds ran the world? Of course not. It’s bad enough the world is being run by adults who behave like five-year-olds, but I digress.
Another advantage is having someone or something to blame. If someone else takes responsibility for you, then you can get a lot of mileage out of phrases such as “he made me do it”, or “she told me to”. Even if no one believes you there is enough grey area to manoeuvre in, and enough doubt to cut you some slack.
Of course, the goal in nurturing young people is to give them the support, protection and encouragement they need while providing them with opportunities for self-discovery and responsibility. Even with the best will in the world, the path of this guidance is not navigated easily, or even perfectly. The issues, beliefs and baggage of those guides and guardians are going to impact the form and effectiveness of that development process, for better or worse. The negative impact can mean being subjected to domination, inflexibility and conditional love. Conform or else.
I bring this up not to deride all those who ever served as a figure of authority to you, because being human means being flawed. There is nothing to be gained by withholding forgiveness. Where I’m going, I hope, is to provide some background into how some of us can come into adulthood feeling like a perennial victim, like our goal in life is to serve others at the expense of our own happiness and fulfilment.
I look back and can see how I once took it on myself to conform to what I perceived as the expectations of those around me, especially in relationships. And in line with the law of attraction (or whatever you’re having yourself) many of the people in those social interactions were quite happy to let me conform to them, and quite willing to let me know with certainty when they were displeased by any lack of conformity. I got validation, they got control This pattern started deep back into my childhood, longer than I can remember.
This is what can happen: I developed patterns where I wasn’t happy unless I was making someone else happy, as though my own happiness and sense of self-worth had no value of its own – they needed validation, and that validation was often achieved by conforming. So when interpersonal relationships eroded from a hollow core, it was easy to blame the other person and their unreasonable expectations. The fact is the biggest problem with these relationships was that I wasn’t as present as I appeared to be. I was often trying to be someone else, aiming to please at my own expense.
Self-discovery shouldn’t end with the beginning of adulthood. Neither should nurturing. What changes is who is responsible for that nurturing. It is ourselves. We are responsible for our own happiness, our own fulfilment, our own sense of purpose. No one can hand these things to us, we need to find them ourselves.
We look to our relationships with others to reflect back to us that we have value, but the most valuable relationship you will ever have is with yourself. That relationship is solid when it is based on love and respect, and that requires being willing to be yourself.