Life is sloppy. It’s not tidy or well-behaved. Nor is it the most predictable thing around. The whole mess is an iterative, trial-and-error investigation that hopefully moves you ever closer to self-discovery on your journey from utter unconsciousness — stumbling through various identities, beliefs, feelings, and realities — to a conscious existence that requires the least amount of psychic energy to justify, defend, and uphold.
Amid such a blatant shit-show of human flailing and existential groping, I’m always mystified by the fervor with which people assert their unsolicited critiques and momentary opinions of what everyone else is doing wrong. The sheer volume of flaccid, inconsequential human noise and the normalization of such collective dissociation is fucking mind-numbing.
We wanna be loved perfectly by imperfect people, to be understood by those who do not yet understand themselves, and to have certainty in a world that is anything but. We want roses without thorns, light without shadows, love without heartbreak, and life without suffering. What kind of delusional worldview could even support being right, happy, comfortable, and having things go your way all the time?
It’s astonishing to discover people are personally offended when life is hard. But maybe that’s all just part and parcel of the dualistic nature of being an individual.
In child development, the “terrible twos” are the age when kids begin to differentiate by saying “no” a thousand times per day. We typically don’t utter the word “I” until three years of age, but “no” absolutely paves the way for this individuation. Like Michelangelo’s statue of David, we must carve away all the material that is not us in order for our selves to emerge. It’s laborious but ultimately fruitful.
And maybe willful rejection is a cyclical process inherent to becoming a self. Perhaps the simple “no” of a toddler one day re-emerges as “My political ideology is correct and everyone else is wrong,” or “Anyone who doesn’t practice my religion is literally gonna burn in hell forever.” Admittedly a bit more complex than refusing to eat one’s broccoli, but seemingly about as immature and self-centered.
However, I think this becomes problematic for both yourself and the people around you when your personal preferences and opinions turn into demands, moral judgments, interventions, and coercive control.
Attachments and Expectations
Let’s define an attachment as something you’re committed to not being happy without. Could be physical — partner, car, house, pet, money, children, etc. You could also be attached to abstract things like respect, power, reputation, or legacy. Also, many people are attached to outcomes — winning, being right, getting their way, and so forth.
Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong about having attachments — we’d hardly be human without them. But they can foster a great deal of stubborn non-acceptance in the form of denial, delusion, and dissociation. Arguably, most violent acts occur under the lash of some kind of rigid attachment. Also, many forms of codependency essentially amount to “I can’t be happy unless other people act a certain way.”
And this is where shit gets dangerous for everyone involved.
First and foremost, believing that other people are responsible for your life is problematic. It leads to all sorts of “You make me feel…” and “I need you to…” statements that are categorically false. You may have feelings about how other people act, but nobody makes you feel. You may want people to do this or that, but human needs do not require a specific person to do a specific thing. That’s called a demand.
I feel sad — true.
You make me feel sad — false.
I need food — true.
I need you to make me food — false.
Believing that other people are the root of your problems is supremely disempowering and therefore harmful to you. Also, I’d wager that most people who are overly concerned with the affairs of others are typically underly concerned about their own ass self. Focusing on everyone else’s problems and the woes of the world is such an easy way to avoid facing your own music. But my second point is that such beliefs can even be harmful to others as well (and not just because avoiding your own healing work renders you a shittier citizen of the world).
One of my favorite Marshall Rosenberg quotes is, “All violence is the result of people tricking themselves into believing that their pain derives from other people and that consequently those people deserve to be punished.” Nothing illustrates why it’s best to stay in your lane quite as succinctly. Trying to control other people because you think your happiness rests in their unknowing grasp is a dubious road to chronic resentment and compulsive boundary violations.
It will make you suck.
Eyes On Your Own Yoga Mat
Something they recommend in the yoga community is to keep your eyes on your own mat. What the yogi next to you is doing is none of your concern. A similar expression from the other angle is, “What other people think of you is none of your damn business.” I’m a big fan of the live-and-let-live attitude.
You wanna day drink, eat paleo, get your news from Twitter, think the world is flat, refuse to wear undies, work out twice a day? Hey, whatever blows your hair back. Just don’t try to impose your habits and philosophies on me and everything will be lovely.
Yet, a lot of people have a remarkably difficult time knowing that others don’t subscribe to their arbitrary beliefs. It’s equal parts fascinating and annoying.
I’ve recently encountered a wealth of criticism aimed at people and communities doing their level best to make a contribution to this world. People tearing apart Eckhart Tolle, Marianne Williamson, Ram Dass, Louise Hay, Thich Nhat Hanh, Byron Katie, et al. for gaslighting and “spiritual bypassing.” People trashing religion, meditation, therapy, 12-step recovery. Literally disparaging positive affirmations, gratitude lists, and self-care practices.
Look, everything ain’t for everybody. You can take Advil, I can do physical therapy, the next man can use Reiki, and nobody needs to be wrong about it. What’s so hard about finding what works for you without dropping a whole steamy shit on what works for other people?
I imagine fear, insecurity, and the unyielding need for validation, significance, and belonging probably drive much of this unsavory human behavior. But I’ve also observed (in myself and others) that when people are triggered, upset, or emotionally flooded, they immediately turn to critical you-statements, which are almost always attacks and boundary violations. It appears almost reflexive.
I challenge you to pay attention to your thoughts and words the next time you feel triggered and take note of the other-directed indignation that appears out of thin air.
Pick A Lane
In these moments when you have an opportunity to attack someone else whose personal life choices “make you mad,” I’d like you to pause and consider the following:
- Blaming, shaming, judging, attacking, controlling, and criticizing are seldom helpful
- If you think others are responsible for your feelings, you’ll likely do aforementioned unhelpful things
- Trying to change and/or control other people against their will usually doesn’t work
- Focusing on others is the #1 way to avoid taking responsibility for your own life
Dr. Paul, author of You Can’t Make Me Angry, once wrote:
“When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me. I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment…. unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes.”
Trying to change other people will never make you a better person. That only happens when you change yourself.
Which exactly are you funneling your energy into?
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