Do you ever feel like you are moving through a sea of scripted puppets, passive-aggressive robots, and Stepford wives who are all just sooo nice?
Being nice means being fake. It means not being true to you. We can get so good at pretending that we don’t feel or think what we actually feel or think – that we forget how to have natural relationships. The result can be an uncomfortable feeling whose origin we can’t explain, passive-agressiveness, resentment, anger, manipulative behaviour, feelings of loneliness, suspicion, and confusion.
Nice behaviour is not the same as being LOVING. It is a defense mechanism that most of us learned as children in order to avoid punishment and gain reward (although it was framed to us by parents as ‘earning’ it). In an attempt to protect ourselves from artificially imposed consequences and rationed rewards, we each developed ways based on our natural aptitudes to “get ours.”
In time we internalized the parental figure and eventually got pretty good at punishing ourselves and judging others. We even learned to agree to do things that we don’t like to do, want to do, are bad for our well being to do – in order to 1) avoid perceived punishment 2) earn perceived reward 3) punish ourselves – because we believe that we owe others, or 4) punish others because we believe that they owe us.
So how does this translate into our adult relationships? Maybe you are the type who bends over backwards being nice, sacrificing your needs, EXPECTING the reward for being compliant. And when does not come, feel either short changed or at fault for not earning it. Or maybe you are of the opinion that others should fear your punishment and bend to your will. Either way, adhering to punishment and reward means being trained out of relating to each other and ourselves with gratitude and generosity.
It also explains why we lie, why we are afraid of being direct, why we disown our legitimate feelings, and why we sacrifice our needs – Because we learned that being natural was dangerous, and it was better to follow the rules. When we RE-learn to hold our own needs in loving regard, we can do the same for others and work out compassionate and cooperative ways of resolving what seem to be conflicts. The P&R perspective is actually one of extortion.
A major deficit of the P&R perspective is that is presupposes lack, and asks us to buy into approval of ourselves as necessarily externally based. What I mean about lack is this: if we believe that only mom or dad can reward us for being good – then we come to believe that if we don’t have what we want, it means that 1) we are not good enough yet and 2) it has to be someone else who rewards us, we can’t do it for ourselves. OR in order to get around the EXTORTION of having to be good instead of ourselves, we must lie, cheat, and steal. By approval I mean this: That only others can tell us if we are good or bad. We even have a word for people who seem to love themselves without external queue – arrogant.
As children, this style of parenting keyed us into perceiving the world as a place that we must navigate in order to GET things, or to AVOID things. When our natural desires, feelings and explorations were punished by parents trying to teach us the right way behave, instead of the compassionate way to relate, we learned that it was not ok to be ourselves. This was the beginning of learning to separate ourselves from our greatest joys, and trained us to move towards doing things to make other people happy at our own expense.
Allowing another person to “always have their way” tends to breed resentment. This is because in order to feel resentful, you have to believe that you are powerless (which is an attitude that P&R breeds in order to achieve obedience). The response is often resorting to blame because it feels more active and empowering than resentment. In truth, blame is another way to forget your power.
Fear of being direct and honest comes from the punishment and reward worldview because we learn that honesty gets us into trouble. Being direct is a critical aspect of developing healthy relationships with ourselves and with others. When we learn to recognize and honour our own needs, honouring the experience of another person becomes much like feeling sympathetically. When we don’t feel defensive about losing our potential rewards, we are more ready to listen to and understand others.
The two extremes of the punishment-reward veteran are the sociopath/stubborn bully and the spineless pushover. This does not mean that if you relate to this perspective that you represent either of the extremes. A single person can fluctuate between the degrees of this pendulum to embody an array of stances depending on how they evaluate their “authoritative rights” (not a real thing, just a bought into concept ;)) in a given situation.
Usually the degree to which one expresses one end of the pendulum is matched by how far one will swing to the other end (or is suppressing the equally intense identity of the other end). You can usually pinpoint your suppressed identity by noticing the personality traits in others that irritate you. This is a part of you that you have disowned, and must learn to love and accept in order to heal. Start by finding ways to approve of the aspect that irritates you. You can find a way to interpret this trait in a more uplifted form. For example, if meekness irritates you, you might come to understand it as gentleness and respect for autonomy.
There is no such thing as anybody making you do anything. You can be convinced – but you have to agree. The most clever manipulations make us feel like we don’t have a choice, but if it feels weird, do a double take. Most often if we live by punishment and reward rules, we believe that when bad things happen “to us” that it is our fault and that we deserve it. It is true that you are responsible for your experiences, but try to take a more empowering stance to the interpretation. You are not a VICTIM of what happened – you are the CREATOR. This means that you have the power to choose something different. You have the power to develop the awareness you need to make a real shift. Take this is a perspective you can use to break free from the mentality of rules and regulations. You are sovereign over yourself and therefore responsible for all of your decisions. Choose loving empowerment that does not self-deny or trample the free will of others. Develop the courage to incrementally and lovingly test out your honest personality and see where it takes you.
GIVE UP THE BATTLE because there isn’t one! You are already perfect, just learn to connect with that perspective with the understanding that you are forever growing.