We all have times where we consciously compromise our own plans, preferences, and choices to go along with those of others. We choose to do this to avoid unnecessary conflict, keep the peace, make sure everyone around us is happy, and to support the wellbeing of the greater group, the whole of which we are a part.
But submerging your own choices as a constant approach to your relationships, and to life in general, can have devastating outcomes.
Reflecting on how you live your life, consider if you continually think of yourself as nobody special, as someone whose voice can have no impact; even perhaps that your point of view is not even worth being heard. Ask yourself:
The experience of being unable to assert ourselves in the world, to stand up for oneself, can become a habit that further breeds a kind of spiritual lethargy. This is driven by a desire to avoid being deeply touched or affected by reality. We might appear busy and productive to the world at large, going about daily tasks in a sort of efficiently robotic way, but inside, we are in zombie land. At worst, hours can go by sitting at one’s desk during the workday, staring mindlessly out the window. We do the minimum we have to just to get by in terms of what is expected of us.
This state of inertia can easily descend into depression. Perhaps you have the house, the car, the partner, the acceptable job, but inside there is a sense of meaninglessness, of utter lack of purpose. There can be chronic fatigue, sleeplessness, limited energy, and lack of confidence in any ability to cope with the real challenges of life. It seems impossible to take positive action for oneself, to harness the energy to know let alone realise your dreams. Having a definite direction in life seems like a hopeless fantasy.
So how does this ‘nobody special’ syndrome start? It probably began early in life, when showing up actively, demonstrating initiative, was met with opposition and disapproval to such an extent that it felt life-threatening. A desire to maintain feelings of safety and security, of inner comfort, took precedence over feelings of vitality, of joy, of being fully alive in your own skin.
Having discounted oneself and one’s abilities, others’ experience becomes our own. We might appear relaxed and friendly but are actually out of focus and numb. This detached disengagement, which might come across as humility, results in the opposite of the connection and ease this approach was aiming for. Because we are not present in our own experience, grounded in our body, we easily lose connection from self and others. In this state there is no inner peace and no self- confidence, just the numbness which we wrongly assume is being relaxed. Real relaxation is a state of aliveness, energy, presence, and creativity.
To break free of the debilitating effects of this self-sacrifice try the following:
Cultivate your ability for self-observation.
Become aware of the ways in which you discount yourself and your abilities to keep the peace. Learn to see the difference between humility and giving up on yourself.
Develop stronger boundaries.
Foster your capacity for saying “no”. Healthy boundaries are the limits you place around your time, emotions, body, and mental health to stay resilient, solid, and content with who you are. These empowering borders protect you from being used, drained, or manipulated by others.
Discriminate in relationships.
Be wise in who you choose to have relationships with. Avoid self-interested people who drain your energy and are overly demanding.
Don’t worry about making mistakes or saying the incorrect thing or sharing something not particularly groundbreaking. Share your view.
Take the time to know what you want.
Do not be afraid to take the time to consider what you want in each situation. Let go the need to always understand and cater to others’ needs and consider all the options. Be prepared to pursue your own options.
Invest in your own development.
Your health and wellbeing are dependent on your capacity to learn and grow, to expand your capabilities. Invest in your own development. This will benefit others as well as yourself, because a stronger, more aware you can contribute so much more.
Notice when you check out and why.
Be curious when you notice you are checking out in your relationships. What happened to trigger the withdrawal? Are you angry about something, or bored? Use the opportunity to breathe deep and come back into presence, alert, listening, engaging with the other person.
Self-sacrifice motivated by the fear of self-actualising and fully engaging with life’s challenges is incredibly common. It can lead to all sorts of self-defeating passive aggressive behaviors like approval-seeking, dependence, avoidance. All these are the breeding-ground of self-contempt, suppressed rage, shame and general unhappiness.
Embody your life experience.
When you notice you are shutting down, bring your awareness into your body. Notice what it feels like to be in your body right now. What sensations are you feeling in your body and where? Can you feel your body touching objects, like a chair, the floor, or the fabric of your clothing? Can you describe those sensations?
Maintaining your attention in your body ask yourself bigger questions like: What things are stressing you right now? What is your life situation like right now? What are you telling yourself about your life situation right now? Telling others?
Only bold steps to take brave action will overcome inertia and bring you back into your true nature and true potential. Do exercise, dance, take up yoga class, tai chi, smile more and laugh out loud, jump up and down, spend time with loved ones.
Much of the anxiety and depression we experience is due to checking out of our life, of giving up on oneself to be safe. Although a learned behavior in response to the expectations of others when you were young, continuing with this is dangerous for your health and wellbeing. When you notice yourself going into zombie-land bring yourself straight back. There is nothing there for you but a living death, and enslavement to negative thoughts and feelings.
Your happiness and wellbeing are your responsibility. Speak up. The world needs your voice. Your life is worth the effort. You are worth the effort. Learn to say “no” to what makes you unhappy. Never give up on yourself, no matter what.
By living deliberately, bravely, and openly, you will move out of the unstable, artificial world you inadvertently constructed and enter a more rewarding and honest experience of life. Then, the joy of living purposefully will always be yours.
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