This has been a discussion going on inside me for quite some time now. It was brought to my attention during the past two Retreats about a. my desire to have permission from others to do what I want and b. how we are all influenced in our decisions and feelings by the “-ers” in our life. “-Ers” being mother, father, sister, brother, preacher, employer, etc, all the folks who seem to have a say in what you do and how you do it.
Here’s how the dictionary defines authority:
All my life, I have allowed other people in my life to be my authority. I waited and waited for permission or for someone to tell me I was a good girl so I could do things. That typically left me not doing the things I wanted to do, instead I did what they wanted. I may have struck out on my own now and then, travelling around camping with my kids by myself, for example, or exploring my spiritual being (undercover), but I did it with shackles on, staying well within my proscribed boundaries, never being open or daring enough to do the hidden things that mattered so deeply to my heart.
My adoptive father was a strict disciplinarian as well as an alcoholic, and I was afraid of him, all the time. I rarely tested my boundaries because the real possibility of getting caught was not worth the consequences. I toed the line in the foster home because stepping out of line even slightly brought physical or emotional punishment. Every single time I stepped over the line throughout my life, it seemed as though it brought me unwanted attention, and I got into trouble, even when it was not an intended stepping-over.
There’s another way I am triggered by authority. And that is when I’m feeling as though my intentions, wisdom, knowledge and abilities are being challenged. It’s like being told “you are too stupid to know the difference so I’m telling you the right way.” There’s a two-year old in me, stomping her foot, saying, Don’t tell me what to do! The adult part of me is saying, I am 58, I do know how to do such-and-so, while figuratively crossing my arms and glaring at the offender (okay, sometimes it’s not figuratively). I am well aware of these aspects and am working on transforming them. I’ll get there.
So, letting loose the bindings of authority, once I became aware of this pattern, has been slow going. In the last six months I have shed a lot of those beliefs, but still, the emotions can sneak up and sideswipe me when I least expect it. It’s like a drive-by, a quick and unexpected jolt that jerks me to a stop.
On the opposite side of this matter, I can unintentionally trigger others when I make comments or laugh about an “-er” after I’m uncomfortably reminded of my own trigger. I don’t mean to trigger that other person. Since I always KNOW when I am feeling provoked by authority, I tend to self-deprecatingly joke about this aspect of me that is still stubbornly hanging around. It’s more of a “oh there you are again!” response. This reaction needs to stop as it doesn’t translate well. I, absolutely and without a doubt, know it’s all ME and not the other person. My personal “-er” trigger takes a beeline straight to second-guessing and doubting myself, and has nothing to do with anyone else’s behavior. I am triggered because I am less than confident about certain qualities in myself. Then, while I am dealing with my own trigger, I have triggered them, making me feel doubly bad about the situation.
Last night, as I laid in bed, I realized that the person I jokingly brought this up with recently is not an authority figure in my mind based on the definitions 1,2, or 3 above. I see this person as the authority defined in 5 or 7; someone who knows what they’re talking about and has more knowledge and expertise than I do in certain subjects or qualities. That makes them an authority, but in a good way to me. It makes them someone I can go to for clarity and understanding when I am confused. It makes them someone who is smarter about some things that just don’t make sense to me. I find this to be a wonderful resource. My son is a computer authority, I love that I can go to him for help with that because I get lost in the maze of computer-ese solutions. My neighbor is a fix-it guy and knows how to do a lot things with his hands, how wonderful is that to have someone who lives next door who can fix the things I can’t? When I am emotionally confused, I have friends who can see clearer than I do at that moment. These kinds of authorities are most welcomed and desirable in my book.
I am working on transforming this. It took me time to get here, and as much as I want to be over it, time is what I need to regain my self-confidence. However, it has occurred to me that something in me triggers this other person, too. It has happened more than once. Now that I am acutely aware of it, I will take more care in how I come across, yet I firmly believe we are each vital to the other when we bring these things to the other’s awareness. Look, I’m still here, the trigger says.
And awareness is the first step towards transformation.