“Don’t let the world squeeze you into its own mold” Bible—Romans 12:2 (Phillips translation)
It is difficult to be yourself. Family, society, and work organizations apply pressure on you to conform to expectations. You don’t get too old to no longer hurt from rejection. There are times when it can be very lonely to stand for what you believe. It is difficult to change a behavior when the influence of family attempts to pull you toward old destructive behaviors. This dynamic creates a real challenge for the addict leaving rehab to re-engage with family who operates from old patterns of behavior that are toxic to the change the addict has experienced in rehab. Many addicts in recovery fall to the pressure of family dynamics which squeeze the addict back into its own mold. It’s the reason that aftercare and halfway houses exist. It’s tough to be true to yourself when everyone else around you is doing something different.
It’s not only true for addicts but also for organizational leaders. There are many definitions of what it means to be a leader. People describe leaders as being visionary, having great organization skills, having charisma, being able to follow through and get things done, and being inspirational. Such descriptions effectively define leadership. However, for me, leadership ultimately depends upon the determination to stand for the principle of what one believes regardless of acceptance from others. Few leaders are willing to unwaveringly do so.
It is rare to experience a politician stand for the principle independent of the opinion polls or party affiliation. It has been my experience that it is also rare to experience leaders in religious organizations or workplaces standing for principle when the heat of criticism is turned up. It becomes so alluring to bend to the persuasion of the mainstream when what you believe differs from the consensus view of the many. Sometimes the popular view is right. Yet, leadership requires that you stand for the principle of being true to your heart, even when others think you are wrong. It’s not easy and requires emotional maturity. You never really know who has this emotional maturity until the heat of decision-making is turned up. It becomes formidable when the decision to confront an issue of principle might cost you a friendship, business opportunity, or romantic relationship. Many times in counseling settings I have heard relational commitments made that melted in the heat of follow-through.
Through my years in the workplace environment, I have witnessed different decisions made by leadership to address different issues but with no follow through, because of the hassle it would create, just plain busyness, passive acceptance of the status quo, etc. To be true to yourself requires a great commitment to follow through. When you choose to not follow through you are vulnerable to being squeezed into someone else’s mold. It’s a struggle that impacts parenting, educating children in the classroom, coaching in sports, marital relationships, religious organizations, and all types of work environments.
Addicts know this struggle. Literally, an internal war ensues in the presence of wanting to experience the approval of a family member, partner, or friend, for instance when it is necessary to make a decision to set a boundary or to say no that would create dissatisfaction and disapproval with certain others. It is difficult for addicts who need to set a boundary with a partner around certain unacceptable behaviors. There can be an intense struggle with the temptation to be squeezed into their partner’s mold. It is hard to say no to family or friends about behaviors that you were once ringleader. It is difficult to tell a close friend that if they are going to continue acting out in ways that betray their partner, then I will need to step back from the friendship because I am not willing to keep a destructive secret from their partner. It requires mature internal personal leadership to make the choice to not be squeezed into the mold of someone else’s idea of how you should live.
Here are a few reflections to consider about this matter in recovery:
- Be true to yourself. You will sell yourself down the river trying to please others at all costs. It’s true in relationship recovery. Oftentimes, in treatment for betrayal, addicts will lose themselves trying to please the other by compromising their values. They choose not to be true to themselves. Being true to yourself is not a rigid, strictly self-focused decision. It requires that in the presence of trying to please your partner, there is a recognition that you cannot abandon yourself and what your heart tells you to please the significant other. It’s a truth that goes both ways in a partner relationship. Deep relational healing will occur only when both partners are true to themselves. Short of this, the partnership will tend to writhe in unsustainable back-and-forth reactivity.
- Be your own Guru. Guru is a teacher. To be your own guru does not mean that you do not seek support or guidance from another. It means that truly the resource of wisdom you hope to find is within your heart. You must go find it. Good therapy and 12-step work underscore this reality. There is no outside fix. Coming to terms with your values, insight and essential self is truly an inside job. People tend to put others on a pedestal, such as old-timers, celebrities, recovery gurus, and on and on it goes. Frankly, it makes me sick. There is no magic guide. No magic guide! Whatever insights others might offer are designed by the universe for you to consider and connect with the wisdom that is within you. This is where you will find the strength and the brilliance to not be squeezed into someone else’s mold. Grace Lee Boggs is correct when she penned “We are the leaders we are looking for.”
- Accept the loneliness that comes from being true to yourself. There is a cost to being authentic and genuine. Others may reject you. Not everyone will reject you but often those whose approval and acceptance you would most desire will. It is tempting to become contemptuous in overt or covert ways by becoming judgmental. One response to rejection can be egotistically flipping others the bird. If you don’t accept me then I won’t accept you. Yet, maturity in recovery requires that we quietly accept the decision of others while maintaining being true to self. In humility, letting go of those who reject you is a way of remaining open to the truth of the relationship and situation that can make you a better person. In this way we are best able to transform our loneliness into a deeper experience of solitude.
Refusing to be squeezed into the mold of others requires courage and willingness to face rejection in order to stand alone to the principles that are true to your heart. When you do this the promises of recovery become rich and rewarding. Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.