Developing Personal Standards
Judy learned as a child that “obedience” was a good thing in her parent’s eyes. They ordered her to conform blindly to their wishes and she did. She assumed that her reward would be her parent’s love and support. Twenty years later, she still does not have the encouragement that she sought. Her discouraged, insecure parents never got it either, so they certainly couldn’t give it to her.
Judy graduated from obeying her parents to obeying her husband to obeying her children. She never doubted that obedience was absolutely good in all circumstances. She accepted what she was told and believed it shouldn’t be questioned, let alone challenged. Complications arose when her obedience to her rigid, moralistic parents conflicted with the wishes of her husband and children. The problem of whom to obey first was unsolvable. She felt good for nothing; she became depressed and began having anxiety attacks.
Judy couldn’t tolerate the idea of disobedience. Her whole lifetime of deference and conformity would be threatened. Once she accepts she is wrong in one ways she may fear she is wrong in everyway, this would annihilate her identity. There is no middle ground between the absolutes of obedience and disobedience, good and bad, right and wrong. Merely telling Judy that it is all right to disobey her parents is not enough. She has feelings about this thought and about herself, which prevent her from taking action.
Judy was able to comprehend intellectually that she was submitting to her cold, unsupportive parents by beliefs based on past experiences. She had learned lessons about obedience all too well. However, the emotional component interfered with her ability to become independent and act according to her own personal standards. Her fear of displeasing her parents, from disappointing and defying them was to risk rejection. Rejection would mean she was “different” and “wrong”, which left her feeling “worthless”. She knew this stuff too. She just didn’t know how to remove these carry over beliefs from the past and do anything different.
We looked at her choices. A personal choice, large or small, is an opportunity to promote your independence. By expressing a differing opinion, Judy was able to starting living in reality and breaking away from the past. One opportunity occurred on Tuesdays on her way to the gym and she had to pass the street that lead to her parent’s house. She never had any intention of stopping by, but every time she approached that intersection her heart would race and she would arrive at the gym feeling guilty for not being a “better” daughter. And over twenty years she had become angry with herself for her failure to solve this problem.
She was encouraged to switch emotional gears. Her homework was to replace her feeling of being a guilty disobedient daughter with the notion that she is a worthwhile human being. One who will never be superior or inferior, one who is equally lovable despite her faults and imperfections. And on Tuesday night Judy drove through the intersection like a grown woman in her own right. She didn’t realize until four blocks later that she had driven by her parent’s house. For the first time in years, she had “forgotten” to look at the parent’s house to see if her mother was standing on the porch with disapproving eyes watching her daughter pursue “selfish” personal pleasure.
She had done her homework, She had taken a step to emotionally sort out what was appropriate and what was no according to her own standards. She felt liberated, not from her mother, but from herself, from her guilt, her fear of displeasing, her fictitious responsibility for her mother’s happiness. She did not fight these feelings, which would have only given then power and control over her. Instead she lived her life around them, on her own terms. She had bridged the gap between intellectual insight and emotional awareness. She had given herself permission to consider the possibilities of breaking the mold that her parents had put in. That took courage. This was a homework that bridged the gap between “knowing” and “feeling”.
It took courage to face her fear of her parents’ disapproval, and her fear of losing the only role she had ever played. She chose to take a risk because the old way wasn’t working. She didn’t have much to lose, but it was scary anyway. She saw that the healing process does not take place in the safety of a therapist’s office. Independence means taking action in the real world, present. Judy has done a thousand home works in the two years since that break through. Each time, she cuts another strand in the cable that binds her to her miserable past. She is not obeying her mother or disobeying her either. She found a third choice, to live on her own valid terms of good enough.
Thoughtful young girl image available from Shutterstock.
Karmin, A. (2013). Developing Personal Standards. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 4, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/anger/2013/07/the-happiness-doctrine/