Why is it that the deepest aspects of us, the parts of mind or body or psyche or soul that we absolutely cannot change because they’re hardwired or fixed, the characteristics, traits, qualities, and attributes built in to us from birth and honed by experience – why do we struggle so in giving ourselves permission to be (or do, or whatever) these things?
You’d think that these built-ins, these things that make us who we are, that serve as our definition in the dictionary of humanity, would serve us kind of like a safety net or a warm blanket as we move and act in the world. But, in truth, the defining things, the unalterable aspects of us are those that we seem to fight against the most ruthlessly. Giving oneself permission to be, and be comfortable being, who we are at our core feels, most of the time, nearly impossible.
Even Jung acknowledged that the most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely. In our terror we project those aspects of self we most hate onto others. Much like what seem to be the motivations behind the actions of prominent Republicans these days – an obvious determination to grab power and control over our society even if it means the destruction of that society – we’d rather punish our own nature, punish too those on whom we project the hateful, than permit it to show.
Which circles back around to the self-critical statements I began with. Asking “why” is human. Though there may not be an answer, at least not an answer we can understand in our human limitations, asking why is important – to our continued understanding of both self and others. In asking “why” we become vulnerable, open to experiencing reality that may arouse fear, sadness, shame. Thus the rationale for not permitting ourselves to ask, to not open to the inherent vulnerability of our humanity. I mean, who wants to volunteer to experience those affects?
Without experiencing that which hurts, the affects we’ve had-enough-of-thank-you-very-much in our lives, we cannot experience how those affects can become capacities which encourage and feed us. Only through feeling the fear do we encounter courage, through opening to sadness we discover compassion. Only through getting to know shame can we come to know its opposite – dignity.
Why sign up to do something so difficult? Isn’t life easier, don’t we ‘get along’ better, if we just keep pushing away what doesn’t feel good, blaming someone else for what we experience? There are those, obviously, who think so.
Some years ago a friend’s mother died after a prolonged battle with cancer. His relationship with his mother had been a source of profound conflict and intense need – on both sides – for all his life. Experiencing the death of the parent on whom we most depended will engender, for most of us, a struggle with choices. We can choose to accept that now whatever we wanted from our parent will never come our way; or we can choose to keep looking for what we wanted from those around us. We can grow up, become who we are meant to be, or we can remain a child, trying still to be mothered. My friend chose the latter. Since I couldn’t, and certainly wouldn’t, be a mother figure to him; our friendship ended.
Ending our friendship felt worse to me than the ending of my marriage. Yet I learned so much in grieving that loss, lived so completely with the sadness, the anger, and the fear that I came to understand both more about myself and a great deal more about myself in relationships.
The signs were all there that he wasn’t capable of living with what was difficult, that this was who, and ‘where’ he was. I’d seen them, and from who and where I was, chosen to ignore or explain them away. In the grief I later worked with at the loss of this friendship, I understood that I am a human who loves unreservedly, goes beyond the call, hangs in with relationships when others would quit. And I roiled around in the muck of self-punishment – because of this aspect of my humanity – for a long time. Until living with feeling a fool for how I’d been, and sitting in despair at my own stupidity became transformed, through sharing and writing, into appreciation for the depth and capacity for love my behaviors exhibited.
Permitting my humanity, dwelling in the places where I most hated to live – in the seeming foolishness of my response in relationships, in the palpable sadness of loss, in all those hurtful and hurting places – I learned greater acceptance of me. I’m more open in the world when I allow the difficult and painful to manifest, rather than try to push them down or project them out.
Maybe we don’t ask the ‘why’ questions because we can’t control what answers we’ll get. Following the difficult and uncomfortable feelings into our own interior, allowing them to inhabit and teach us, means we don’t control what will come back to our exterior. And as perfectly imperfect humans, we just hate it when that happens.