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EXCERPTS FROM

ALL MANNER OF THINGS: perspectives for young people on Sex, Relationship, Self & Life

FROM CHAPTER TEN:

GETTING TO KNOW WHAT'S NOT US

When we're discovering the current of being present that's inside of us, our feelings, thoughts, and behavior shift. We begin to feel our connection so we aren’t focused on what’s wrong with us and we don't search for validation. We're more steady, so don’t feel threatened or get defensive. We’re willing to learn, and to change when it's best, and we don't deny or get embarrassed about our weaknesses; we see them as opportunities to grow. More present, we trust more, are increasingly conscious of the paths we choose, and are more able to feel what's right for us no matter what other people say or do. Our growing connection to our internal current powers us and we don’t try to get our sense of worth from somewhere else.

 

When we’re numb to or distracted from the current inside us, our experience is very different. We feel like we don’t belong, think we’re not good enough and often feel lost. Trying to find our footing and our power, we gossip, isolate, and judge. We get worried and fearful, and struggle to feel excited about ourselves and our lives.

 

During and leading up to puberty, the current is usually way off our radar. As we've discussed, ideas about value, bodies and sex are getting much stronger, and exasperated by fake news, anxiety about the Earth's future, and the internet and social media, disconnection and the various ways of feeling and behaving that come with it become a cycle. It can be super challenging to navigate an often fractious, pressurized world and be connected to who we are within at the same time.

 

•So what can we do?

If we look at the descriptions above, we see they refer to ways of behaving, thinking and feeling.  One describes when we're exploring and strengthening our connection, and one describes when we've lost sight of it, or don't remember or realize it's there. In each, our thoughts, feelings, and behavior are these big indicators that tell us what’s going on. Essentially they signal whether we’re connected or not.

 

If we pay attention and become aware of our thoughts, feelings, and what we do, they’ll be a direct line that tells us what's going on with us, giving immediate information that we can work with.

PART ONE:

THE ROLES WE PLAY

 

One way to gain insight into our behavior is to notice when what we're doing feels  familiar. We all have habits. For instance, when we wake up we immediately check our phone. Or if we're leaving to go somewhere we rush. A lot of the time we link a circumstance with a way of behaving as well; our sibling or parent comes into our room and we're annoyed. It's our default reaction. In each day, we walk the same, familiar paths without thinking about them over and over again.

Another way to think of habits is that they're like roles. Just as we all look and sound the same when we’re not ourselves when we’ve drunk too much alcohol—we’re slurry, our eyes glaze over, we get emotional—when we're in a role, our behavior looks the same as other people who in the role as well.

Imagine the scenario above. A sibling or parent walks into our room and we take on the role of being annoyed. Our behavior is much like everyone else who takes on the same role. What's more, it's likely that our parent or sibling will react with a role that other parents and siblings react with as well.

A lot of the time we think how we behave is pretty unique and important. But behaviors have characters to them, and once we start to see them they become easier and easier to recognize. For instance:

 

Gossip is exclusive and insidious.

It likes attention, and likes to create its own group of people who are "in" with it. It wants people who aren’t in to feel bad and wish they were. It likes to seem like it knows stuff, and it's good at making that stuff seem important. Often it likes to convince us it’s not really around when actually it is. Its air of justification, exclusivity, and entitlement makes it seem powerful.

 

Being A Victim craves attention.

It likes to seem like it’s small and isolated when in fact it’s pretty big. Sometimes it likes to rally people and get them on its side and bring Self Righteousness into the mix. Other times it wants people to feel sorry for it. If asked "what’s wrong", most of the time it will say, "nothing", but really it hopes it will get more attention and be asked again. Morally, it strikes an air of superiority. Someone else is always wrong and it is always right or misunderstood. The feeling of power comes from its ability to get attention and draw others in. If allowed, it can change the feeling in an entire room.

 

Being Superior is entitled and arrogant.

It thinks it knows what it’s doing, and thinks it has every right to do whatever it wants. It doesn’t listen, but sometimes pretends to. It’s sure it knows exactly who other people are and what they’re like, and is dismissive of anyone and anything it deems inferior. When it encounters something that seems more powerful, it can change its way like a chameleon and act charming and magnanimous. Most of the time the people around it believe it and act inferior. This is where it gets its sense of power.

 

Being A Bully is bloated.

It likes to surround itself with people who are impressed, scared of, or want to be like it. When in a group, it thrives on attention and can get really puffed up. Its feeling of power comes from generating fear and controlling others, and the rush it feels when it achieves its goal.

Whatever is it—Jealousy, Talking Back, Not Caring, Being Tough, Being Popular, or whatever—most roles are pretty predictable. It’s as if, when we take one on we’re going along with a script that’s been played a trillion times over.

 

•When we’re not feeling good about ourselves, what kinds of roles do we play?

All sorts. If we look back at the list of behavior that can happen leading up to and during puberty, our repertoire can have quite a bit going on. We gossip, get angry, buy stuff, always try to win, do things that get attention, complain, spend a bunch of time trying to look right, act like we’re always in control or like we don’t care. We’re sexual because we want to be liked, act cocky, weak, and isolate ourselves or try to seem cool.

We know that, in their own ways the roles we put on to feel valuable seem to get us their specific sense of power; we judge and feel superior, we dress in a sexualized ways and get attention, etc. But for a couple of reasons, the roles end up making us feel worse.

Because we’re getting our sense of value from somewhere outside of ourselves—we act important and others are afraid of or they look up to us, we gossip and others want to hear what we have to say, we're the life of the party and others want to be around us—that good feeling runs out. As a result, we constantly need to find things to make us happy, or be certain ways to feel good again.

A young man was popular and had lots of followers and friends, and he played the role of  Being On Top Of The World really well. After a while he said it seemed like, no mater how much he had a seemingly good time, the feeling that something was missing kept catching up with him. He went to more parties and had more flings, but they buoyed him for less and less time.

Trying to find value on the outside, after a while the roles we're playing wear thin and eventually we become exhausted. Also, that temporary good feeling comes at a cost. Roles generally lead to more separation and feeling bad. For instance, if we're upset, people usually give us attention and it can seem appealing to stay in a Victim role, but then we're disempowering ourselves all the time. Or if we gossip or tease, the more we normalize being unkind, the more walls we build in order to be that way and the less connected we become.

The young man above felt pressure to always be "on show". He got to a point where he felt so empty, he didn't know who he was anymore.

Whether we realize it or not, we keep trying to fix the feelings of disconnect that are happening underneath. Because most of us never stop to think about how we behave or why, we keep playing and reaching for the same roles, getting nowhere until we make the choice to get to know ourselves, or something knocks us just enough that we have a chance to pause and take stock.

 

With help, the young man was about to see how he'd been over-compensatingrunning from a sense of never being enough, and burdened by worries of how to keep paying for college and live up to expectations. Forced to slow down, he re-evaluated just about everything.

 

•Why do we adopt roles in the first place?

There are a few reasons we'll put a role on for the first time. Maybe it grows on us, like the young man who was On Top Of The World, or we're imitating others, or people around us expect us to play it, or we're bored or trying to feel better about ourselves.

A nineteen year old remembers how, when she was eleven, there was a thing at her school where one girl was threatening to fight another. People were playing the roles of "you wanna fight?", "yeah I wanna fight", and the situation was growing fast. One of her cool, different friends was involved, so the young woman started playing Being A Fighter too. She messaged her friend, "yeah, I’d fight her". We know, when sending a message it’s easy to be a certain way that we’d never normally be to someone’s face. It's simple to put on roles that are unusual for us, or extreme. We don’t think about the consequences.

 

Once that text was sent, word got out and, for the eleven-year-old girl, Being A Fighter became really real, really fast. Before she knew it, everyone was saying she was going to be in a fight. Her whole life she'd been someone who was smart, funny, and who cared about others, and she'd never imagined she'd be in a situation like that. She remembers the feeling of knowing she would have to go through with it, and how she was disorientated and frightened, and how she kept playing the role. Before any fight took place, the school found out what was going on. Parents and police were involved, and  because it was so far from who the girl had always been, no one could believe she was part of it.

 

At first roles might feel a bit awkward, and then come to seem like they make us feel good, powerful and different. But because they disconnect us, they end up making us feel worse. It’s just most of us don’t realize that’s what’s going on. We keep taking them on because it seems like they make us feel better—they get us attention, or seem important and justified—or we don’t have the courage to drop them, or we get we get so used to them we think they’re us.

For the nineteen year old Being A Fighter, she says it was kind of like she was numb.When she got home after talking to the school and the police, she saw some photographs of her with her friends. They were a reminder of who she really was. That was when the whole thing caught up with her. She felt like she’d blown everything she had with the people she cared about, and most importantly blown what felt right in herself.

 

•What's the first step?

Unconscious and unhindered, the roles to directly affect our experience.

 

Imagine we have a plan with someone and last minute they tell us they can’t make it. Then we find out they made a plan with someone else. Our go-to reactions might be to get mad, feel like no one likes us, or try to get back at them. Each has its own role and it's own impact, from doing things we’re likely to regret, to making a bunch of drama and disconnect.

When we're aware, our experience is very different.

 

We communicate and listen clearly. We trust there's a greater reason we're not aware of. If something similar happens a few times with that person, we make note and determine the nature of our friendship.

If we want to change our relationship to our roles and therefore change our experience, the first step is to separate ourselves and recognize they're not us. To do this we want to get to know them really, really well. What they are—how they walk, talk, feel and think—when and why we put them on, and what signals our body gives us when we’re in one. As we become aware of our habits and reactions, we open to possibilities. Rather than traipsing along the familiar ruts, we entertain landscapes where it's as if there's a bunch of new fallen snow. The old paths are gone and we get to consciously chose completely new ways.

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