By Larry Kaplowitz • September 10th, 2018
Why does being a human feel like such a struggle sometimes?
If we take a clear and honest look at the culture we live in, how could it not? From the time we’re born, our culture places a continual flow of expectations and restrictions on what we’re supposed to feel, express, desire, and do. Humans are deeply social animals, and acceptance, approval, and a sense of belonging are fundamentally important to us. Through the granting or denying of approval and acceptance (and sometimes through outright coercion), our impulses, behaviors, and expressions are managed—by our parents, our teachers, our friends, our employers, and our communities—according to the norms and standards of both our larger culture and the particular subcultures we inhabit.
So we learn and internalize what is deemed acceptable, and believe that all our emotions, desires, or behaviors that fall outside of these parameters are unacceptable. Since we all do sometimes have emotions, desires, and behaviors that fall outside these parameters, we assume that something must be fundamentally wrong with us, and that if we were to show our true selves we would be unwanted and unloved. This is called shame, and I believe it is the fundamental dis-ease of our civilization.
To cope with this shame, we often find ourselves trying to live within a narrow range that excludes much of our authentic human experience—we take on roles and identities that allow us to fit in and try to suppress the emotions and desires that don’t seem to fit. But here’s the rub: when we do that, we are unsatisfied. We are disconnected from what is truly important to us. We can feel that we are not being authentic and our experience can seem hollow and insignificant. We know something is off or missing but we can’t put our finger on just what it is. We feel isolated, separate, and insecure. We may get depressed, or live in a continual state of low-grade anxiety, or turn to addictive behaviors for relief.
How do we get out of this mess? The first step, I think, is to recognize the bind we are in and to accept that this game is unwinnable. However hard we may try, we will never be happy or satisfied if we are not being fully and authentically who we are.
With this acceptance, we can begin to release our control and self-protection. We can choose to be authentic. We can choose to honestly express our true emotions, desires, values, and visions. We can begin to open to and, ultimately, embrace, the fullness of who we are.
Sounds simple, right? It is simple, but the inertia of a lifetime of habit and patterning can sometimes make it feel very hard, if not impossible, to make this choice. It can also feel very risky because it requires that we let go of the roles and identities that we have become comfortable in, and runs counter to what we have learned and believed throughout our lives. It requires that we face and own our shame and let go of trying to control how other people will respond to us. It requires courage.
But given the alternatives, we may as well just dive in.