I think it’s fair to say there’s some free-floating anxiety running through the veins of society right now. Though it seems to somewhat lessen the farther we get from January 20th, the slightly raised pitch of stress in the tenor of the radio journalists, nightly newscasters, conversations in my neighbor’s yard and of course, all over Facebook, hasn’t quite faded back to normal. Rather than seeing this emotional response as stemming from the presidential transition itself, I think a broader view reveals that the election amplified and exposed societal tensions that have been building for decades.
How is a person to keep their head on straight or do any good thinking with this higher than usual level of tension and chaos? One natural place to look for steadiness is in agreement from and with others. While this has it’s place in the emotional fabric of human society, in anxious times the pull for “togetherness” can often polarize into rigid “us” vs. “them” divisions. In exchange for the emotional security of belonging to the group, the individual gives up whatever part of their individuality doesn’t fit with the definition of “us.”
At the other end of the relationship spectrum from “togetherness,” there is a pull for autonomy or “self.” The force for autonomy is what helps us “stand on our own two feet.” It’s the force that moves someone to stand up and say “Well, that’s one way of seeing it. I see it differently.” When one person works toward steadiness by working on one’s own self (rather than pulling from or pushing against others), and at the same time works to stay connected to others in a meaningful way (walking “side by side”), it is possible for the group dynamic to begin moving away from anxious, rigid togetherness towards a flexible, resilient community of autonomous individuals.
What does it look like to move toward being more of a “self?” Primarily, I don’t think its about heavy introspection or naval-gazing. While quiet moments of solitude away from the world can be conducive toward this, a more effective place to start is right here, right now, in the midst of ordinary life. I think that the foibles and frustrations of everyday life and our everyday relationships not only afford us ample fodder to think about who we are and who we want to be, but also helps keep our steps towards change grounded in reality.
Some questions one might ask could be:
What do I think about this situation? What’s my contribution to the current situation?
What am I willing to do? What am I not willing to do?
What are my non-negotiable values? Where did these values come from? Have I decided what I really think about them for myself?
What are my realistic responsibilities? How am I doing in fulfilling those?
What do I want to change about myself? What might be a small, realistic step I want to take towards that change, today?
What am I fed up with? What I can do about it?
Is there an area of life where I feel stuck? How am I contributing to the stuck-ness?
In next month’s blog, I will explore how a healthy, autonomous self is a reflection of how God originally designed us—in His image. Stay tuned….
And if you would like to explore more about your own options of balancing the two life forces of Togetherness and Autonomy, please feel free to call.
Rachel E Gardner, LPC Intern 512-238-1700 ext 310 email@example.com