Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Authority

How do you react to authority? Are you drawn to people in authority? Do they scare you? Do you want or hate having authority yourself?

I’ve been thinking about this because in one form or another it’s come up over and over in the past few months for me. Accepting a degree of authority. Recognizing a tendency in myself to be drawn to people who appear to have authority—as if they could somehow protect me. Recognizing that for years I felt a degree of fear that I would be hurt by people in authority and/or rejected.

I’m an adult. Been one for years. And so it becomes even more troubling when I recognize any of these patterns in myself. On the other hand, I firmly believe that we are able to recognize patterns when we are ready to break them.

It would be nice not to admit any of this to all of you. It would be nice to pretend I’m perfect. (She says, tongue in cheek.) But I began this blog to say the things most people don’t say—good and bad—about what it means to be a survivor of abuse and about our ability to overcome it.

So today I share with you my vulnerability to this pattern with regard to authority.

In a sense, many of these thoughts are not new. If we are continually growing and healing, we are on a spiral path. Issues come up over and over as we reach new points of understanding and the ability to perceive these issues in a new way and take another step forward in these areas of our lives.

Authority. I know that being drawn to authority goes back to when I was a kid and only the adults in my world had any power. If I could get the person with the most authority on my side, then I would be safe. Or at least safer. So what’s wrong with doing that now? Well, aside from the fact that I might (and sometimes have!) guessed wrong about who has the most power in a given situation or who is most likely to actually help or protect me, it means that I don’t recognize that I have the power within me to protect myself! I don’t recognize that I do have the ability to make choices and take actions that will protect me and allow me to have the life I want to have.

This is truly important to understand—WE EACH HAVE THE POWER TO MAKE CHOICES AND TAKE ACTIONS THAT WILL PROTECT US BETTER THAN ANY OTHER PERSON COULD.

I look back and know that for much of my life, I tried to teach other people how to protect and keep me safe. I tried to get other people to understand what I knew. There is an irony in this. I already had the knowledge to know what would keep me safe—if I had chosen to use it directly. Instead, I kept pinning my hopes on people who “failed” me. Except....

Except that it was never their responsibility—at least not once I was grown. Once I was grown, it was my life and my responsibility to protect myself and create the life I wanted to have. Yes, it’s good to have people to turn to in need, but ultimately we each must and can take care of ourselves. We may need to learn new skills, we may need to make mistakes along the way, but we CAN do this!

I wasted time and energy blaming and getting angry at people who failed to protect me—as I perceived it. I would have been better served to use that energy and time to focus on what I could do for myself. I would have been better served spending my time building trust in myself.

And that’s where it begins—with trust in ourselves. That is why I consider it so important to begin by creating lists of what we can do well and times we have succeeded in the past. That’s why I consider it so important to create lists of reasons to believe in ourselves.

What about the other side of it? Being afraid of those in authority or issues of having authority ourselves. For years, being in the presence of a police officer would make me start shaking even though I was never guilty of any crime nor the focus of the police officer’s investigation. I no longer have that reaction. If we trust in ourselves, we know we will not allow ourselves to be hurt by others—even those in authority. As we heal, we let go of misplaced guilt over things that were done to us and no longer carry that perhaps unrecognized fear that we deserve to be rejected or punished by those in authority.

For years, I avoided any situation where I might be perceived to have authority. My fears were two fold. One, I was terrified of causing harm. Second, I was terrified of being “visible,” of becoming a target for the wrath of others. Over the past few years I have started doing work that may cause me to be perceived as an authority figure and recently I have accepted responsibilities in my private life that may make me a target for the anger of others. I have been able to do so because I have come to trust myself.

If we trust ourselves, we will not fall into the trap of believing that if we have authority and use it to abuse others, it will make us more powerful. The truth is that abusing others damages and weakens us as deeply as it does the person we hurt.

If we trust ourselves, we will not need to be afraid of having authority because we know we will not abuse it nor will we be afraid of being “visible” and drawing the wrath of others because we know we can protect ourselves.

If we trust ourselves, we are less likely to fall into the trap of thinking we must rescue others—that they cannot rescue themselves. The truth is that the greatest gift we can give another person is to help them realize that they have the power within themselves to be who they want to be and to create a life that is loving and happy and free of paralyzing fear. If we help someone else recognize his or her own strength and wisdom we do far more good than if we simply “take care” of that person.

There are times when we need to turn to others for help and support. I am absolutely not advocating isolationism! I know that I would not be where I am had I not had people at various points in my life to turn to when I needed them most. Even in crisis, though, it’s important to remember that our lives are OUR responsibility and that we DO have the strength and wisdom and ability within us to accept and honor that responsibility—no matter what has happened to us in the past.

It’s not always easy to believe that. There are times I need to pull out my lists and remind myself of what I have been able to accomplish in the past. But as Anthony Robbins says: What we focus on becomes our reality. If we focus on a sense of hopelessness or belief we cannot do things, it WILL become our reality. If we focus, instead, on our strengths and how to build on them, then we will become stronger and more capable and safer and happier people.

I still turn to other people sometimes for advice. I am always grateful when they give it—whether or not I choose to accept that advice. I have and am discovering, however, just how strong I am and how capable. I have discovered that I can be me and be accepted and valued and even loved for who I am. I have discovered that I can create a life that will make me happy. And that’s what I want for all of you—that each and every one of you will recognize and embrace the strength and wisdom inside of you. That each of you will know you don’t need to struggle to get anyone to protect you, that you can protect yourself. I want for each of you lives that make you smile and a sense of peace with who you are and who you are becoming.

So...how do you respond to authority and is it a pattern you want to keep or one you want to change?

Sending safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),
April_optimist

1 comment:

Sharona N said...

"So...how do you respond to authority and is it a pattern you want to keep or one you want to change?"

Incredible post, and one that hits home for me. I have always had trouble with authority figures--trouble as in, it sets my teeth on edge to allow anyone authority over my life. I learned to fight back in childhood, and then went through the Sixties demonstrating against Powers That Shouldn't Be (IMO).

Obviously, my response to authority is somewhat irrational (not totally, LOL), and rooted in the fear of authority, and not having control over my own life. Fighting authority gives me both real control (to an extent), but it also gives me the illusion of control. Fighting back, for me, is easier than submitting to just about anything. And with certain people, I will fight about practically anything.

I find it fascinating that we can have different responses to authority, and the responses are all rooted in childhood abuse. So many of us have control issues based on childhood experiences with various authorities (parents, older family, teachers, etc.). The link between needing control and allowing a certain amount of authority, when necessary, is a big struggle for me, and continues to be.

As fighting back always gave me the illusion of safety, it's perhaps my hardest issue to work on. I keep trying.

Sharona