Monday, May 27, 2024

Keeping Up Appearances

This week, I attended an interesting course on conflict mediation and dialogue processes.
Interesting because in as much as I was learning to mediate conflict, quite quickly and unexpectedly, I observed and was drawn into conflicts myself.

In most cases, the conflicts, or personality clashes, were prompted by people feeling like their expertise, or intellectual prowess, was being unduly challenged. Since I also experienced the same sentiments from time to time, I found myself wondering why; and in what types of instances, we are so easily provoked.

In many cases, this provocation stems from the way we view ourselves, or the ‘images’ we’ve created in our minds about our lives. Where we feel these are being brought into question, our tendency is to lash out.

Like many people, I sometimes find it difficult to separate who I am as a person, from what I do for a living.

Some of us have so much vested in the images we have of ourselves at work, or other roles we play in life, that we attack anything we perceive as threatening that.

The ‘images’ we create are often related to our jobs; or our perceived status in society; anything which contributes to our sense of worthiness or self-esteem.

We particularly over-identify with these aspects of our lives if we’ve been cultivating them for some time, perhaps beginning with being told we’re clever in school, to being addicted, as an adult, to coming off as the smartest person in the room.

We feel an acute need to protect that image, or ‘brand me’ because without it, we’d feel lost.
If you want to check whether you over-identify with a certain aspect of your life, ask yourself who you would be without it. Who would you be without your current job; your friends; or your Range Rover? Would you still feel valuable without them? If not, you likely over-identify with that aspect of your life.

The truth is, we are not what we do for a living; we are not even the sum of our opinions. Yet we cling to certain titles, or even people, because we’re afraid of losing the admiration we think comes with these particular associations. Our identities feel inextricably bound with these external situations.

But in every case, we are just as important without these external factors as we feel we are with (or because of) them. Our power doesn’t come from our job title, or our wealth; our wealth is a manifestation of our innate power.

Similarly, ingratiating ourselves with people does not make us loveable and worthy. We were born worthy; and once we recognise this, we develop excellent relationships with people based on mutual love and respect.

Our power derives from within, and provided we take the time to cultivate a strong relationship with ourselves, it can be the most enduring and secure form of power.

When we sit in silence for a few minutes every day; and give our minds a much-needed break from wandering, often negative, thoughts, it allows us to connect to ourselves and to our source of power.
Emptying our minds by focusing on our breath, or some other object that doesn’t prompt feelings of resistance, enables us to let go of the struggle that has become all too common for many of us, including the struggle to be seen as successful.

Connecting to our inner selves gives us the confidence to drop our worthless facades; and to stop worrying about keeping up appearances.

This week, surrounded by a large group of relative strangers mostly from similar professional backgrounds, I was struck by how upon meeting, some of us adopted the image of ‘consummate, all-knowing professional.’

While everyone was clearly intelligent with a lot to contribute, not all the ideas put forward were embraced by the entire group.

In my particular case, I found numerous opportunities to cultivate grudges against people whom I felt were dismissing my views.

Yet I reminded myself that others not respecting my opinions did not make them any less valid.
Furthermore, I stopped being wedded to those opinions; and started to see them as something I had chosen to share at that moment. People also had a choice about how to react to them.

Once I made a conscious decision to let go of the ‘knowledgeable Primrose’ image, people disagreeing with me felt far less threatening; it actually became something I could learn from.
By choosing not to react negatively to some downright incendiary remarks, I also claimed back my power. I avoided dwelling on the negative moments, including by replaying scenes that I perceived as disempowering over and over again in my mind.

If I found somebody difficult to interact with, I didn’t give them any more attention than was necessary. While the temptation to pursue a showdown was great, it proved far more effective to simply focus on the people who brought me joy, which frankly, was the vast majority.

Ironically, when I practiced focusing on what I loved – the picturesque surroundings (we were in Northern Sweden, with piles of fluffy snow on the ground); the diversity of the group; our collective knowledge; as well as the immense hospitality, even my ‘difficult’ relationships were transformed!

Focusing my attention on what I appreciated allowed me to come back later and view former protagonists with similarly appreciative eyes. And while there remained aspects of people’s personalities I would rather not have had to deal with, I also became aware of how I was personally contributing to the situation, including through my own disconnection to my power.

In what area of your life are you keeping up appearances? Do you live beyond your means, or stay in a relationship that doesn’t honour you because of the perceived benefits it brings you? Whatever it is, remember that your true power comes from within. Instead of trying so hard, just breathe; and smile rather than struggle.

You were born worthy. You have nothing more to prove.


Read this week's paper