When I was growing up, the rules didn’t make any sense. I didn’t know this was part of the plan. I thought there was something wrong with me. I thought I just hadn’t figured them out yet.
I thought the adults knew the rules and I was too young, too stupid or too inadequate to know them. I always felt like I was really close to ending the chaos and abuse. I needed a little longer, a little more information and I would be able to follow the rules. Everything would be better then.
But that was a defense mechanism. In reality, there were no rules. The only rule was there were no rules. If I figured out a rule, it would change the next week, so it no longer applied. This was a part of the control. This was a part of the manipulation and gas-lighting. I was supposed to remain confused and disoriented. But I didn’t know that.
I looked for ways I could figure out the rules. How can I live with less chaos and confusion? There must be a way. One of the places I found rules that made sense was in school. I thrived in the school environment (despite my intense dissociation which certainly made learning more challenging). I loved the rules. I thrived because I always knew what I had to do and when to do it. I could fight through my traumatic responses and meet the deadlines and the requirements to excel. It was the only place that felt safe. I knew what to expect and when to expect it.
The black and white rules of the school system fueled my academic success and my approach to life. I decided that I would follow the rules. I decided that if there were no rules, I would run the other way. Nebulous environments of any kind were fear-inducing, and per my controller, completely unnecessary in life. I wanted rules because I knew I would be fine with rules. I would be more than fine. I would excel.
Needless to say, when I moved in to the working world, I took a bias toward rule-based environments with me. I found my way in to the most logic-based professions in the world. Finance and information technology became my specialties. I always knew that 2+2 was going to equal 4. It made sense. It followed the rules. I was safe.
But I was bored as hell. Deep down inside, I knew it did nothing to fuel my passion or purpose. This was not what I was supposed to do. My true self was the type that threw caution to the wind, loved the complicated, wanted to live in a world where everything wasn’t so cut and dry. The world of people was where I wanted to be. I wanted to throw out all the rules and make my own. I wanted to interpret things differently than most. I wanted to bring a new approach to the world. I didn’t know how, but I knew I wanted to do it.
So I spent years locked in a battle between safety and purpose. And as I am sure you have figured out, purpose won. But I can still hear that part of me who is questioning things.
It isn’t straight-forward anymore.
There aren’t rules to follow, so it is dangerous.
Find the rules. If you don’t follow them, you can’t succeed.
So we had a conversation:
Why can’t I succeed without following the rules? Because everyone says you can’t.
Who’s everyone? All the people who follow the rules.
But what if they are all wrong? How can they be wrong? Why would the rules exist if they weren’t right?
What if the rules exist so that everyone feels safe? What if that is the wrong reason to have rules? That’s stupid.
But the rules were created to make people feel safe and secure at the cost of control. So what happens when we start to ignore the rules? I am not talking about breaking rules just to break them. That is not freedom. But what if we followed intuition even when it went against the rules? Of course, I am not suggesting we all go out and break laws (unless they need to be broken). But maybe we need to spend a bit more time exploring the reason we follow society’s rules about who we are and what we are allowed to do.
What if the resolution to all the anxiety comes when we stop following the rules?
What if success in life is messy and complicated?
What would happen if we listened to ourselves instead of everyone else?
What if life lies on the other side of the rules?
Written By Elisabeth Corey, MSW
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