Privilege the true over the good

Privilege the true over the good


From the time we arrive the world wants us to be “good”. It’s easier for our parents, for our teachers, for just about everybody—except perhaps our selves. Al Gore wrote the Inconvenient Truth over twenty years ago, related to the environment. But it could be applied to our own development as human beings. We learn early that our true self is inconvenient to others. Our truth, that we have feelings, needs, desires, and limits all of which impose limits on the freedom of others, is likewise inconvenient. We are nuanced beings, in need of being attuned to and responded to each in our unique ways.

An institution, whether a family, a school, a hospital or a corporation can operate more efficiently if its members just fit in. I’ve been in senior’s residences where it seemed obvious to me that one of the goals was to get the residents in wheelchairs as quickly as possible after checking in. Over-medication was common. It just made life easier. A “good” resident is a compliant one.

This example might seem extreme, but we learn compliance early. A great many of us were taught to be “good”, that is, to make life easier for our parents, from a very early age. We are implored to smile for strangers and then rewarded. We are shamed for being vocal about our needs. We learned early that there was something wrong with our tears. We are rushed through toilet training.

When we are very young, we intuitively understand when we are being a burden to others, when we are too loud, too needy, too much. We also intuitively know that our survival depends on this other person being able to take care of us. And while we may protest, eventually we are forced to give in, which mostly means we try to be “good”.

This goodness gets rewarded. Maybe we go to Sunday school and get star for perfect attendance. We hear sermon after sermon about the ideal human person—Jesus, and that we are supposed to like him. Maybe we hear that if we’re not good, we’ll end up in hell, punished by the Creator for being “bad”/sinful.

Being good, perfect, gifted, charming, etc. becomes our personality, our public presentation of our self to the world. The underlying grief, rage, hatred (all bad feelings) are banished to our unconscious and held in by bands of muscle. But our bodies and our nervous systems don’t lie. These underlying feelings will manifest as illness, tightness in the joints, anxiety, depression. All the while, we may deny that they even exist. Until we’re triggered by something or someone, and we’ll swear on the bible that it was a legitimate response to present conditions.

Except it wasn’t. It was a memory of being frustrated in not being loved for who we are. It is pent up emotion looking for an excuse to be expressed. Underneath these feelings, and within these feelings, is our true self, neither good or bad—just a human being wanting to be able to feel life fully and express ourselves as fully as possible. That human being is truly beautiful and radiant, when s/he is encouraged to show up in his/her uniqueness.

For most of us healing involves suspending the “good” persona long enough to allow the true self to come back on line. This isn’t an easy path. Being an individual takes courage. We have to be willing to see that if our truth disrupts another person’s status quo, or the institution’s peace, the answer is not conformance. The answer is to give the institution, the boss, the family, the teacher, the opportunity to contend with us. It might seem impossible, but if it does it’s because you are in a memory of not being able to do this as a young person and survive. We can’t change the past. But we can awaken to the present, and step into our full dignity as individuals who deserve respect.

Bruce Sanguin Psychotherapist

Written by Bruce Sanguin

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