Against our grain

Why do some of us feel we must push ourselves against our grains?  I’m thinking about my gentle, intuitive friend joining the Army as a young woman, or me marrying an exacting forceful husband (a budget analyst) when I was drawn to artistic, free-thinking sorts.  Was my friend trying to “whip herself into shape” with bootcamp and regimentation like I was in choosing a husband who would define things for me?  If so, why?

It seems when we’re young, we experiment, test ourselves, discover what we are made of.  Yet some of us have absorbed a puritanical streak or negative image of ourselves that shapes us still.  Are the psychodynamic psychotherapists right?  Do we unconsciously recreate the circumstances of a childhood in which we felt we were flawed and needed to change?

Let’s consider.  I married someone I thought would “whip me into shape.”  I thought something in me needed to be chastised and that I needed to learn to be more efficient, productive, logical, like him.  The marriage ultimately didn’t work, because I began to accept myself as I was with this global, intuitive way of seeing things, a less structured approach to my days in which I did what felt right.  Then I no longer wanted to be chastised and corrected.  Yes, I have many qualities or behaviors that could use improvement, but I learned it is crucial to trust myself and my inborn nature, to have compassion for those qualities.  Beating myself into shape through harsh means was disrespectful to myself.

I tried to rework the “terms” of my marriage, but it didn’t work; maybe we had too many years invested in the old way.  Years later, after working and living in line with my own grain, I met a man who respects me and champions my way of being.

Here’s another example:  I have tried three times now to become a psychotherapist.  Why?  People tell me I’m a good listener, and I’m fascinated by psychology, and I have benefitted greatly from being a client.  At the same time, I matured slowly and have been shy and emotionally illiterate in many ways.  Maybe becoming a therapist would be a good idea, teach me about emotions.  But no, it really isn’t a good fit for me.  And the truth is that I have no desire to be a counselor.

But it’s a good idea, and I have degrees in counseling, and coursework in psychology, and it’s a way to make a living, and it can be flexible work, and it’s a good idea, says some part of me.  So I went round and round attempting to be a therapist in different ways and modalities.

Once again, I was trying to correct myself, change myself, push myself.  I tried to reform and to compensate for areas I’m weak in.  At times it may be okay to challenge myself; I can imagine learning to keep better track of money I spend, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to become a therapist when I really don’t want to.  How fair is that to the clients, let alone me?

My friend who joined the army hated it, and now she works for the Veterans Administration as a social worker.  This job is about as difficult for her as being in the Army was.  She is gentle and spiritual, attuned to insights emerging in images and symbols, but instead she is often running up against rules and ways of thinking and requirements of her position that drain her.  While her coworkers rely on cognitive behavioral therapy, she keeps a sand tray in her office.  I think she needs an environment that nurtures her  imaginative qualities, though I also think the VA is lucky to have her.

Why does she do it?   I don’t know.  Is she a rare individual who doesn’t belong in this material world and rather belongs in a parallel universe where people are spiritual and intuitive?  Is the world too brutal for her?  Is she punishing herself as I was?  I don’t think she even knows.

It can be quite okay to test oneself, to try new things; sometimes we need to learn from discomfort.  We have all been there.  I knew when I worked in my dream job at a magazine on psychology and spirituality that I really wanted to be there, and I was VERY uncomfortable.  I knew when I taught yoga that it was what I had to do, even though much of the time I was scared and felt awkward and out of place.  But I see these instances in a different way than the others I’ve discussed.  The others go beyond stretching and growing into violence against oneself.

Marrying as I did, or trying to go into a profession I thought I should go into, I did because deep down I believed I was worthless.  I thought I needed to be remade, from the ground up.

My my, that’s a trip.  If I accept myself, I tend to make very different choices?  If I take the “shape up” out of the equation of living, what does my life look like?  What might society look like if we assumed we were okay?  As I have healed and grown and begun to live with my grain, life is rich and full of meaning.  I enjoy my work as a writer, yoga teacher, and disability educator.  I still struggle with my foibles, my fears, my weaknesses, but I feel oriented, clear, grateful to spend my days as I do.  But life feels magical, satisfying, and precious.  This state is life-affirming.  I know it is right.

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