There is a power in bearing witness to unfiltered truth and raw experience. It can also result in uncomfortable vulnerability, even when the story is not our own. Just being close to such unguarded candor opens the door to introspection. If we’re brave enough, we step forward to view our own barometers of self acceptance and authenticity. After reading Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton, I felt as if I’d been given permission to peek behind the curtain of my own inner realm with timid apprehension. The point isn't to compare the similarity of our stories. It's that you can’t help but trip over feelings that mirror our own experience simply because she reaches a place of brutal honesty about all that we are afraid to reveal about our own self limiting beliefs, regardless of what those beliefs may be. Is this a story of our collective truth? How much do we skim the surface of life and experience; afraid to look in the mirror long enough to recognize how much or little of ourselves we truly reveal? More than a limited view; the truth often speaks of our discomfort in seeing just how much we really hide from ourselves.
We all recognize an undercurrent of collaborative inauthenticity any time we work to maintain outward appearances. The image we portray outwardly often stands in stark contrast to the story we tell ourselves about who we really are. Ironically we may find that we share a deep connection in our silence. These societal and self imposed rules of engagement create fear of how we appear to others. Fear that our inner dialogue translates into not being a good enough parent or friend or child. Fear that we don’t love as we should. Fear that we aren’t smart enough, thin enough, attractive enough or brave enough. Fear that deep down we are unworthy of love and acceptance. Fear that tells us if anyone really understood the thoughts and feelings we push into the darkest corners of our heart and mind, we would be ostracized even more than we already isolate ourselves.
Because we are so strictly governed by cultural and societal rules, we force ourselves to choose between competing values of appropriateness and authenticity. We choose between our gifts and our goals, and if we aren’t careful we find ourself living a life structured and prioritized solely by what we should do and who we should be. In turn, we dim the light meant to illuminate who we truly are. That doesn’t presume we abandon our responsibility or moral compass in favor of a life of self indulgence. We are constantly being sold the idea that if we chase the image of the American dream; money, sex, career, then we can achieve the end goal of “stuff” that will make us happy and fulfilled. It is the conflicting pursuit of “doing” over “being” that has us numb and distract and self medicate to quiet the voice that says we aren’t good enough to achieve the unattainable goals we have been force-fed. We need the occasional reality check that has us stop, check in, and ask ourselves, “what am I chasing, and is it in line with my foundational values?”. The honesty, vulnerability and authenticity required to question the the path we travel requires courage. This self exploration exposes us to potential pain and rejection, but also creates a path for growth, healing, and deep connection. You are worth the risk!
Gina Waltmire, LMFT
Gina is a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in Overland Park, KS
This is the second in a two part blog post exploring personal boundaries and expectations.
Holding rigid expectations for yourself and those around you creates a sense of anxiety and powerlessness. So how do you know if this is a problem for you? Begin by getting curious about your notion of boundaries… Where does your responsibility truly begin and end? When you think about an area of personal struggle, what part of the struggle are you responsible for and what extends beyond your control? Where do your expectations violate the property lines of others? Is your goal to protect yourself or have others abide by your rules?
Any time someone fails to adhere to your standards, it can create a negative perception of their intentions and motivations. When you fall into the trap that this anxiety creates, you are prisoner to your lack of control by becoming a prisoner to the actions of others.
Ask yourself, is your peace of mind reliant on the behavior of others? Do you need someone to say or do things a certain way so that you feel ok? If you answered yes to either of these questions, then you might be struggling with boundaries, rigid expectations, or both. You may find yourself stuck in a trap where you have relinquished your personal power and happiness to things, circumstances, and people you cannot control. Many times there is an undercurrent of need; a void that you have longed to fill outside yourself that can stem from any number of situations that merit exploration.
We have all struggled to maintain healthy boundaries and expectations at some point in our lives. Only when we recognize that our methods are no longer working for us can we hope to create something different. We have to be open to change and the possibility that a different approach is necessary. There is nothing wrong with clear defensible boundaries and setting reasonable expectations for how we want to live our life. We enter into murky waters when we use either boundaries or expectations as a method of controlling others or as a measure of our own worth and value.
Accepting that life and relationships contain both freedom and uncertainty churns up a lot of emotion; for some it creates anxiety knowing how much of life is beyond our control, to others it creates excitement and anticipation about the potential and possibility of our unwritten future. Somewhere in between lies a middle ground where we are free to dream and imagine what life will hold. It is only when our dreams are balanced with a measure of acceptance of the reality and unpredictability of our world will we be equipped to handle the curveballs that get thrown in our direction, because the curveballs always come.
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