Yesterday, I was sitting, doing an acting exercise known as “emotional memory”, where you recall a memory that you associate with a particular emotion in vivid detail, effectively reliving it. This is an enlightening exercise for me, as I often find that I begin to recall a memory, expecting it to generate a particular emotional state, only to discover that the reality of how I “feel” when I go on the journey of recalling something is vastly different to what I anticipate. Yesterday, I chose the memory of me and my Dad going on our own adventure to go and get the family a puppy. I hadn’t thought about it in any detail for years, and letting myself go back to that time dredged up a concoction of emotions that knocked me sideways. I thought of my Dad, and that feeling we had of doing something on our own, as a team. I remembered making the call to the farm who had the puppies and our excitement as we planned our route to Pershore to collect him. I remembered the drive home and the shocked reactions of my Mum, brother and sister to the addition we had brought home to the family. I began to miss my Dad and our relationship terribly.
For the first time in years, I decided to pick up the phone, and call him. To tell him that I was thinking of him, and to share the memory that I had just relived. For the first time in living memory, I wasn’t afraid of the consequences of calling him, even though I know that he doesn’t agree with the choices I’ve made in my life, and is disappointed that I haven’t followed the path that he had envisioned for me. My lack of active communication with him isn’t a lack of love, by any stretch; my family is complex and riddled with a murky conflict and confusion that will take generations to cleanse itself, but we are, despite the appearance of being broken, a strong unit who share a deep bond of love. No, my lack of communication with my Dad is borne of a fear of being made to feel more inadequate than I do in my day to day life, because the disappointment that I became accustomed to hearing in my Dad’s voice when I began to make my own decisions was too much for me to bear. Somehow, I didn’t feel the fear of this on this day, though, and I picked up the phone and called.
It was strange. On the one hand, I felt the happiness in his voice that I had picked up the phone to get in touch. On the other, old habits die hard, and my step towards active communication appeared to have created the opportunity for him to share his views and anxieties about where my life is going, why I don’t have a house yet, and the merits of having a well-paid job that will enable me to settle down financially versus pursuing a freelance lifestyle. I spoke to him of my new job, working with adults who have learning disabilities, and expected a glimmer of interest or acknowledgement that I am pursuing something, on a part – time basis, that helps others, and gives me the opportunity to enable those who have not been as fortunate as I have in their roll of the die at birth to find and maximise their potential. A job that I feel is valuable, even if not well paid, because it is truly helping people. He didn’t respond, except to say that he was “worried”; a natural response for any parent, I suppose, but as he spoke to me of his woes regarding my choices, I felt a churning in my stomach that was horribly familiar. It was the churning that I had chosen to prevent by maintaining a safe distance from his judgement for the last 10 years. A crippling mix of anger, frustration, sadness, and guilt which I feel as I realise that I have become, in adult life, someone that he cannot feel proud of, or believe in. I have become someone who disappoints him on the most fundamental level. My enthusiasm began to fade, and I wanted to escape as soon as possible from the inadequacy that I was feeling. On top of that, I felt awful that I probably wouldn’t pick up the phone again for a long time, because I am not yet strong enough to handle the weight of his judgement.
Even now, at almost 30 years of age, I am reduced to an infant, looking up into my father’s eyes, desperate for his approval. Even now, despite my fundamental belief and the strength I have put behind each one of my decisions, a word, or a look of disapproval from him plants a seed of the deepest doubt and awakens the Inner Critic which I continue to face from day to day. Isn’t it incredible that one person can hold such power, despite your attempts to suppress it? There is so much conditioning in me, so many of my parents’ skewed values – the notion that how I appear to others actually counts for something, the completely maladjusted view of money that we are encouraged to fester in so that we can dedicate our energies to the pursuit of material wealth above any kind of true fulfilment, a lack of trust in one’s gut instincts (to name but a few), that I find it difficult to honestly believe in the small voice in my head that actually represents the “Me” that came into the world. The Me that was completely free of all of the conflicting messages and ideals and confused perceptions of Things carked into my consciousness by the well-meaning adults around me. How do you “find” yourself – your truest desires, needs and even dreams, when you have been conditioned so strongly by those who brought you into the world, informed you, and taught you? How much of what you believe is who you truly are, really is? Why is it that there are values within you that raise their ugly heads despite your fundamental detestation of them? Do I really have so little control over my own life that I can’t even live, with full conviction in the face of all criticism, by the principles that I have come to believe, holding on to the traditions and ideals of an older generation who I fundamentally disagree with?
It’s all rather mind – boggling to think about. So mind – boggling, in fact, that all I could think of to do to deal with it all was to write a blog piece about it in the hope that writing it all out without boundary would help me to process it, and find some kind of resolution, or way forward, because that one phone call threw me so far off balance that I am questioning every one of my choices. Am I being completely foolish in pursuing my creative goals and an autonomous lifestyle rather than material security? Am I completely self – deluded to think that I’m ever going to be able to earn a living doing the things I love? Would it be better to satisfy my parents and conform to society’s norms and stop pursuing a path that is, ultimately selfish?
No. Of course not. Dad’s never going to be happy with what you do, because he’s still finding a way to be happy with who he is, and to reconcile the mistakes and missed opportunities of his past. He is looking to you to fill that gap for him, even though deep down he probably knows that you can’t. He wants you to be safe, which is natural, and he simply doesn’t realise what an impact his words and opinions have on you. Any opportunity for him to exert control will be taken, naturally, considering how much the balance of power has changed over the last 10 years or so. You conformed to society’s norms for a long time and found yourself depressed, looking for a way out and dreading the beginning of each new day because it spelt more of the drudgery that you had come to loathe so much. Material security didn’t do it for you; because you don’t want the same things that your parents do. You’re fortunate enough to have been born in the First World, able to see beyond the pursuit of material security (essentially because you have it), and are doing what is right for you. Selfish, yes, but if we were all a bit more selfish and honest about what we truly seek from our precious time on the planet, we’d be a far happier species. Maybe.
Sometimes, the biggest challenge in pursuing your truth, is dealing with the judgement of those whose opinions you value; whether you have come to value them through conditioning, or a respect that you have developed for them over time, or love. It’s human nature to want your parents to be proud of you, to agree with all that you do and provide their unerring support. To want your friends to be excited and interested in your pursuits. To want someone to tell you that you are doing the right thing, and that it’s all going to work out and yes, you have made the best choices you could possibly have made at every turn. It’s natural to want someone to do the hard work of validating your choices for you, because it’s so challenging believing in yourself all the time. The truth is, though, that dealing with the weight of judgement is part of the challenge of building the life that suits you; along the way, you may be met with the concern of your parents, the loss of friends who no longer feel that they “know” you, even the loss of a relationship as you break free of the “norms” that we are encouraged to live within in the name of comfort and safety. If you stay strong, learn to accept that everyone has the right to feel what they feel, even in relation to your choices, and are able to forge forward in the face of it all, you know you’re on the right track. Your track, and no one else’s.
We all have our own paths to pursue. They won’t always make sense to those watching as you take the ride, and they may be met with fear, doubt and even anger by those who can’t accept the fundamental truth that one person’s path cannot be the same as another’s. Just keep on doing what you’re doing, one step at a time, commit to the road that you take, and let those around you judge however they want to judge. They have every right to their feelings and opinions, and the right to express them. The key thing to remember is that you do too, and what you feel, believe, and wish to express, is no less valuable than what anyone else is offering up.
We all deserve our freedom. It’s the most fundamental human right we have. And no one, not even the parents who gave you life, fed you, and clothed you, have the right to compromise your right to pursue your truth. Your life is your own, and you can’t make mistakes, really. You can only encounter bumps on the road, fall flat on your backside, and get up and move forward. Just keep moving forward, and believe in yourself, and let those around you live their lives in the way that best suits them. That’s what you want from them, after all. When you start giving what you wish to receive, you may find the freedom from the judgement of others that you are looking for.
Wow. Writing this out really has helped. Interestingly, there seem to be a few “voices” speaking in this piece; a sure sign that there is some internal conflict to resolve on this particular issue. It’s fascinating how therapeutic it truly is to let yourself write out your thoughts as you deal with something that is clouding the landscape of your consciousness; quite trippy, but also quite cool!
Thanks for reading.
An Ordinary Idealist