Linda: One big advantage of marriage is the opportunity to become our authentic self. Authentic is defined as not false or copied, genuine or real. To become authentic and to live according to our own values, is part of our life’s work. Although everyone all over the world is challenged to find their true self, we, in the United States, are especially challenged to accomplish this task since we live in a highly competitive culture. Our culture uses reward and punishment to prod us to achieve in the material realm.
In addition to the cultural influence, many of us have grown up in families where rewards and punishments were used to motivate us during the time that we were being socialized. And that tradition was reinforced in the school systems where we were educated, which now that we are adults, is continuing in the workplace. People come to take it for granted that because rewards and punishments are so pervasive, that without them, we would be barbarians and out of control, or passive slugs who can’t create results.
There is a growing body of research that disproves these false hypotheses. In his valuable book, Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-motivation, Edward Deci speaks eloquently of the truth that there exists within each of us, a drive for mastery. If we have the proper conditions to thrive, that innate drive will spring forth from within us to have us choose to pit ourselves against the challenges that will bring purpose and meaning into our lives. Deci’s claim, backed up by extensive research, is that we will want to learn; we will want to achieve mastery; we will want to be successful in the endeavors of our choice. These innate drives will flourish in a proper environment of respect and support. We can become our authentic selves without the influence of rewards and punishment that are so pervasive in our culture. It is because of the heavy influence on rewards and punishment, which is blatant control, that we are not thriving at optimal levels.
There are two types of controlling behavior, compliance and defiance. Compliance is most easily identified. Defiance is doing the opposite of what we are expected to do. Defiance offers the illusion of freedom of choice. But it is not being free because when we are in such reaction to that which is controlling us. We are still not making choices out of our own values and preferences. Compliance and defiance are both outgrowths of feeling that we “have to” do something rather than we “get to” do it. The alternative to compliance and defiance is authenticity, acting in accordance with one’s own inner self.
In many ways, we are all fish in the water. We have been swimming in it for so long that we take it for granted. To stop to realize the toll that it is taking on our lives is dangerous because it requires us to change. But to NOT stop for such an assessment, as to whether we are living the life we want to live, is even more dangerous.
If we don’t stop to estimate the toll that it is taking to live according to other’s scripts for us, we will continue to play them out. Constantly scanning to see what others want from us (to either comply or defy) takes us away from looking inside where the deeper truth lies. We won’t even realize how controlled we are, and we are at risk of paying the terrible price of not knowing what we really want to be doing with our life.
Autonomy is a human need. To be autonomous means to act in accord with one’s self, to be free to take action that comes from a place inside that is self-referential rather than other-referential. When people are autonomous, they are doing what they want to be doing, fully involved with the activity with interest and commitment, which results in both enjoying the process and feeling competent. Being autonomous is satisfying but feeling effective and free is only part of the equation.
To become a fully functioning person, completely engaged in becoming himself or herself, we must be connected to others in a loving, caring way. When we enter into a relationship, we create all kinds of agreements. One of the most important agreements that are available to us is the opportunity to create a contract that we will be supportive of each other’s development, assisting each other to actualize our potential
It is a good deal to mutually support each other to become free to be ourselves, finally released from “should” “have to,” “duty,” and “obligation.” In the process of discovering what motivates us from the inside, rather than from external motivation, we become more enthusiastic, fully alive, responsible, and creative.
Our partner becomes the new socializing agent. No matter how many years we may have been socialized with the reward and punishment system, the partnership is a brand-new opportunity to live from the belief system that we are all intrinsically motivated to learn. We are not barbarians that will be irresponsible if left unchecked. Nor will we turn into passive slugs that will cause no results if there are no rewards and punishments.
Together we can create a new context to live from that supports each other in the most meaningful ways. The new environment that we create will ultimately bring us each to choices that are filled with excitement and the satisfaction that comes from the accomplishment of activities that truly interest us. It is a great deal to make with our partner to become free, authentic, and whole, resting in the certainty that we are living the life we want to live.
Stay tuned for Part 2 for the 33 ways to support each other to become authentic and free.