I was watching a TV show tonight and was fascinated by the way one of the characters was moving seamlessly in and out of different roles, without judging herself for her oscillating personality variations, ie, how she was showing up in the world. It was especially cool to notice that her peers also didn’t judge her for how she would play out one role, and then switch to another way of being.
I got really curious as I watched this, because I’ve been paying attention to how I switch back and forth between (1) boxing myself and other people into being certain ways and/or (2) changing my role/way of being; and how I’ve done both to feel safe/“get love”, or to avoid being “unloved”/feeling unsafe.
Boxing Myself and Other People into Being Certain Ways
I often change roles without self-judgment or even a second thought. But then there are other times when I don’t have that fluidity or flexibility with how I ‘show up’, and also when I want people to show up the same way. It’s as if there are some subtle beliefs at play:
- Inconsistencies are dangerous
- Constancy will keep me safe/loved
- I should be consistent in/committed to “who I am”, (and others should be as well).
I think this is a pretty normal human experience. I’m sure we’ve all heard or directly experienced someone getting angry with another for changing their mind, or doing something different– almost as if they were a different person from one moment to the next.
News flash! We actually are cellularly different, from one moment to the next. We are constantly evolving, moving, changing, experiencing, “being” in this movement called Life. And yet this constant change can feel unnerving and threatening. There are times when we’d much rather have stasis and consistency, and gleefully wear our “knowing hats” and have some control.
When I notice someone changing his/her behavior, I might notice some resistance to that, as if I’m saying, “Hey! Can you just help me feel some control in this world, and stay the same?!?!? Please, just be who I want you to be!” Likewise, I might feel that there is more safety in me being a fixed permanent identity. Then I can cling to all that goes into that personality, and again try to hold onto that illusionary control.
The world is constantly changing, and so paradoxically enough, this static way of thinking does not provide safety at all, and instead leads to much frustration, exertion, resentment, and tail chasing.
We think we’d be safer in as fixed personalities, but because there is always movement that fixation leads to suffering as we desperately try to hold on to what has already passed. It’s like getting on an escalator and clinging to the walls, trying to keep from going anywhere. It can’t be done!
What keeps us trying so hard to “hold on”, to what we have known? I’ve noticed that it is usually the desire to be loved, worthy, or safe- all concepts that can’t ever be “given” or “gotten” from anything outside of ourselves. The ever-changing scenery of life can’t be depended upon to give us such conceptually based comforts. Instead we are always guided inward, to see what it is that gets in our way of directly experiencing the felt resonance of what we’d label as love, worth, and safety (or another closely related concept).
Changing My Role/Way of Being
I’m actually always moving in and out of different roles and different ways of showing up. It’s a natural expression of evolution. Sometimes it is fluid and not conscious. Sometimes it is done with intention and/or awareness. Sometimes it is in play, with no outcomes desired; other times I actually chase or go after a role, which will give me the illusion of either feeling loved or unloved.
We have all probably had thoughts somewhere along these lines:
“If I act happy, my partner will want to spend time with me.”
“If my child is obedient, then people will think I’m a good mother/ praise me.”
“If I am an authoritarian boss, and my employees listen to me, I’ll berespected.”
“If I’m a good listener, then people will think I’m compassionate.”
The roles and belief systems vary in those examples, but the desired outcome is the same for all of them- to feel loved/worthy/safe. Also the same is the underlying belief that love/worth/safety is dependent upon their interactions out in the world, including how others perceive them.
If the desired outcome is to get love/worth/safety from others, and I don’t experience that, then I have a couple of options. I can continue to try to get it from outside myself, engaging in self-judgment analysis such as, “I should be more of a listener”, (i.e., “I should be in the role of the one who listens a certain way,” and/or “I should be different then who I am, because if I am different, then people will love me/I’ll feel worthy/ I’ll feel safe.”)
In doing so, in correlating how I show up with the amount of perceived love/worth/safety I feel from the people/situations around me, I make the expression of showing up a certain way into something bad/wrong. Being busy judging myself will forever discount the love that is inherent to my being already, now, in the myriad of ways of showing up in the world.
The other option is to inquire into these perceptions of lovability/worth/safety in and of themselves. What thoughts tell me I’m not lovable? What images does my mind conjure up to confirm that I’m not lovable? What am I noticing in my body that seems to be telling me I am SOOOO not loveable? Are these thoughts, images and sensations really telling me that who I am is unlovable? When closely explored through inquiry, we might experience for ourselves that words/images/energy/sensations in and of themselves don’t convey lovability/worth/safety/threats.
Looking at all of this has me even more curious about how it would be to play even more roles in the world, with all their various qualities— without pigeon-holing any of them as bad/wrong/unlovable/ lovable. Me as a yelling mom. Am I still loveable? Let me inquire and see. Me as the fabulous multi-tasker. Am I loveable or unlovable in that role? Let me inquire inward and see. Me as the attractive wife. Am I loveable or unlovable? Let me take a look….. When I think something makes me either lovable or unlovable, it doesn’t matter which, it’s time to do some inquiry, as I’m attaching content and meaning onto words/images or energy.
And then, turning that curiosity outward, also allows others to play all their roles, without making them bad. My friend as the responsible and always-timely mother. My friend as the forgetful and preoccupied wife. Do their varied roles affect my perceptions of lovability? Let me inquire…..
What would it be like to drop the assumption/belief that we’re unloved/unsafe/unworthy, and allow ourselves to fully and creatively express and accept our aliveness, as it shows up, and play? One way to find out…… What have you got to lose?