How to Embrace Change in a World of Conformity
BY SHAWNA WILLOW
Hello fellow seeker, thank you so much for being here.
We have probably all experienced that familiar moment in an argument between two people when, in a moment of heightened emotional charge, someone gazes intently at the other, pauses and- often with brow furrowed and finger pointed- utters those two nasty little words:
Feeling a surge of immediate shame, the recipient of the statement often recedes, highly offended, and counters with the only possible response to such a torrid allegation:
“No, you’ve changed!”
And so, the dance continues, with both parties locked in an age old battle of ego, trying to prove to the other person that we are totally the same and it is them, in fact, who has contaminated the relationship through their descent into selfishness/carelessness/emotional unavailability/co-dependency/whatever.
This is a dance that has been the prevalent dynamic in the majority of close relationships, to some extent or another, for centuries.
Whether it manifests as the parents who dismiss their child’s newfound sense of personal style as a “rebellious phase”, the group of friends who scoff at a member of their group for becoming sober or the husband who feels threatened by his wife going back to school, there is one common dynamic at play here: People resisting the changes taking place within another.
But why do we resist change so much in other people?
Because, of course, our ego is actually resisting change within ourselves and, through the trusty mechanism of projection, is making it everyone else’s problem.
How does this happen?!
We are taught as children to identify with our names, ages, families, nationalities, genders, favourite colours, favourite movies and favourite foods (to name a few) and, while still in public school, to determine what it is that we want to be doing when we are “all grown up”.
This pressure from an early age to behave and perform within the confines of a singular identity construct creates a belief system that lacks the fluidity required for true spiritual, emotional and creative growth as we move into adulthood.
Moreover, we unconsciously police each other to remain within the identity that we have projected onto them, thus mutually delaying each other’s natural evolutionary process.
One analogy that could be used to illustrate this “policing” of one another is the idea of the “Panopticon”– a type of institutional building developed in the 18th century for surveillance purposes. Docility amongst the “prisoners” was enforced by placing all of the prison cells in a circular motion around a central observatory, who could be potentially watching the occupants of the cells at any given time. The creator of the Panopticon concept, philosopher Jeremy Bentham, referred to it as ” a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind” and touted the concept as a model for schools, asylums, hospitals and, most notably, prisons.
By placing the threat of a central authoritative figure within view of every cell, it did not even matter whether there was an actual person present in the observatory or not, the people inside the cells curtailed their behaviour accordingly. More interestingly, the behaviour modification continued even without the central observatory present, proving that the self-policing of the people within the cells was adequate enough to create an environment of conformity.
I believe that we, as a society, have created a Panopticon like reality whereby people are afraid to change, grow and evolve because they are under the constant “surveillance” of everyone around them who, themselves, are bound to the same expectation of conformity.
Just think, how many people do you know within any given family/group/community that have wanted to start singing/painting/meditating/going to law school/taking up knitting/becoming vegan/working out/changing their name/moving to another country/getting a new hairdo/experimenting with their sexuality but have not done so for fear of what others in their community may think about them making these changes to their identity. If you can’t think of anyone, this is because most of us never acquire the bravery to even discuss our deepest desires with those around us, lest we be ridiculed, shamed or abandoned. Use yourself as an example.
I know that, for myself, I was terrified for so many years to actually follow my heart and become the person that I felt I really was because of what everyone who “knew me” would have to say about it…Instead of singing, I went to theatre school. Instead of travelling, I went to university. Instead of sobriety, I went to the bar with my friends. Instead of leaving those unfulfilling relationship(s), I stayed.
Instead of truly growing and, in doing so, taking the risk of being ostracized within society-or our internalized perception of it– we often choose to forego our desires and take what we believe to be the “safe route”.
So, what is to be done about all this? How can we step out of the suffocation of a singular identity and begin to explore ourselves as the multidimensional, holographic beings that we truly are?
Here are three avenues of approach that can help to dismantle these patterns of conformity and help you to reinvent yourself over and over (and over) again:
1) SUBPERSONALITY WORK
Ok, so we all assume that we have only one personality and that we will carry, more or less, this set of traits with us throughout our lifetime.
How wrong we are.
I was first introduced to the concept of Subpersonalities through the work of Dr. Hal and Dr. Sidra Stone, a husband and wife team who developed a brilliant modality known within the psychotherapy community as Voice Dialoguing. You can purchase their book, Embracing Ourselves, here.
The concept of Subpersonalities hinges on the presupposition that we live in a holographic universe where we, as holographic beings, have within us the qualities of the entire spectrum of human behaviour. The aspects of ourself that we present as our (singular) outward “personality” are actually only the result of other qualities, which were deemed unsafe or unacceptable in our childhood, being repressed, distorted and, eventually, completely disowned.
It is through our learned coping mechanisms as children that we develop what we refer to as our “personality”…Not such a romantic notion considering how much we cling to it throughout our lives.
This universal social conditioning results in the existence of many co-existing personalities (or personas) within the self that, depending on our individual programming, will determine how we behave and how we will not behave. In addition, each Subpersonality operates under it’s own set of beliefs, drives and motivations.
For example, we may have one aspect within us that can be referred to as “the people pleaser” and, simultaneously, another opposing inner force that we could call “the rebel”. Each aspect comes with it’s very own set of traits, actions and needs, often conflicting with each other without you even being consciously aware of the showdown.
This can cause a LOT of psychological fragmentation over time, and is very different from the “multiple personalities” (now called Dissociative Identity Disorder) which we seen in movies.
(For more on the distinction between “multiple personalities” and Subpersonalities, please read the discussion here)
For example, if a young girl growing up within a quiet, religious household shows any signs of exuberance and outspokenness at a young age, she is reprimanded and told that “good girls stay quiet” or any other variety of common behaviour modifiers that we have used to curb children over time. As she gets older, in order to survive emotionally in the society around her, she will repress the loud, exuberant aspect of herself until, eventually, this aspect of her personality has been completely disowned and is now unconscious to her. Later in life, she may fall in love with someone who is loud and outspoken, thinking that she is in love with that person when in fact her psyche is just mirroring the disowned aspects onto the other.
Conversely, if a young boy growing up in a household of performers exhibits introversion and shyness, he may be told to “come out of his shell” and that “people must be charismatic if they ever want to get anywhere”. By the time he is an adult, he will have likely disowned his own introversion, becoming the “life of the party” in order to fit in within the confines of his social conditioning. Secretly, he may idolize the quiet, hermetic types upon whom his own psyche is projecting all that has been repressed over the years.
The thing is, we can only suppress aspects of our personality for so long until something starts to feel very inauthentic about being who we are.
One aspect of us may want one thing, while another aspect needs something completely different altogether, a state of wholeness is reached through the active integration of all aspects of self.
The goal of Subpersonality work is to a) determine what your primary Subpersonalities/disowned Subpersonalities are, b) create a dialogue with each individual personality whereby you can determine it’s origin, how it affects your life and what it needs from you in order to reach a healthier expression and, finally, c) to meet it’s needs in a way that creates harmony and integration amongst all the divergent aspects of self.
How do we start? By using “triggers” to examine those traits that we both love and loathe within others, as these will be your primary paths leading to the primary personalities at play/disowned in your subconscious.
2) PAST LIFE EXPLORATION
For me and many of my clients, Past Life Regression has been one of the primary ways to escape the prison of identity and to summon the courage for reinvention within this lifetime.
You see, when you experientially know that this identity is only one of many that your soul has experienced, you are not so attached to who you are in this lifetime.
Whether you work with a practitioner or choose to explore your soul’s history in meditation, this is powerful stuff that is sure to strike an emotional chord and, in many cases, have a profound impact on who you are, how you think and your concept of “reality”.
Because most of us, even those of us who claim to “believe” in reincarnation on a conceptual level, do not actually realize that we are eternal. It has become a novel thing for any pseudo New Ager with a limited knowledge of Buddhist philosophy to “believe” in reincarnation, but to “believe” and to experience are two very different things.
Until you actually have a direct experience of yourself as an eternal being who has deliberately chosen to have a vast array of experiences, bodies and personalities, you will only have a minute understanding of who you are and what your purpose is within this lifetime.
Another marvellous feature of delving into your past lives on an experiential scale is that you can actually draw upon your vast reservoir of past talents, beliefs and characteristics in order to evolve within this lifetime! For example, if someone has memories of being very physically strong within a past lifetime, they can draw upon those energies to embody more physical strength within this lifetime.
Conversely, we can also carry the memories of past traumas, limiting patterns and negative ancestral karma into this lifetime from the past. For example, I have worked with a client who had a debilitating phobia of a certain animal, only to discover that they were attacked by that animal in a previous lifetime and that the energetic resonance of that trauma had carried over across time and space to affect her quality of life in her current lifetime. Once the memory had been discovered, worked with and released in a way that promoted her integration, the severity of the client’s phobia decreased overnight.
Investigating your past lives will help you change this one in ways that you could never imagine, you only need to have the courage, the intention and the proper environment in which to do so.
To read my take on the whole Past Life thing, please click here
To book a Past Life Regression session with me, please click here
3) PLAYING WITH ARCHETYPES
Finally, another way to reinvent yourself from within is to become familiar with the realm of archetypes and begin incorporating these energies into the fabric of your being.
What is an archetype?
The term archetype is derived from a fusion of two Greek words, “archein”- meaning original or ancient- and “typos”, meaning type/pattern. Together, these two terms almost perfectly explain how we have come to understand archetypal energies, since they are considered ancient, universal patterns of character that we all can access via the collective unconscious.
The collective unconscious is a term coined by Swiss psychiatrist and philosopher Carl Gustav Jung, who believed that there was a level of reality within each individual psyche that held the shared experiences, beliefs and archetypal patterns of all human history. As certain patterns emerged within the realm of human expression, it became obvious to Jung that there was something magical going on here and that, through the unconscious expression of these archetypes, we were all players in the epic saga of human evolution.
Some examples of popular archetypes are: The “hero”, the “dreamer”, the “victim”, the “sage”, the “jester”, the “Mother”, the “Priestess”, the “judge”, the “healer”, the “teacher”, the “saboteur”, the “addict” and so on…
Much like subpersonalities, the way that we individually embody, express and repress archetypal energy may be completely unconscious to us.
So, how can we use archetypal energies to reinvent ourselves?
First of all, I would recommend drawing up a “psychic map” which can help you identify which primary archetypes you are expressing, which archetypes you are resisting and, more importantly, which archetypes have become deeply embedded in your unconscious.
Here is a wonderful page, written by archetype expert Caroline Myss, that can help you identify your primary archetypes.
Once you have taken the time to identify which archetypes you resonate with- as well as which archetypes you are repulsed by- you can begin finding ways to actively weave these energies into (and out of) your life in a more profound way.
For example, sometimes I have my clients write a note to someone important in their life through the voice of a particular archetype, like the “victim”. Conversely, I would have them write the same note to the same person but in the voice of a more empowered archetype, like the “sage”. Often, this activity (or any variation thereof) brings a great deal of self awareness and exposes an entirely new belief system that the person did not even know they had within them.
Working within the archetypal sphere can also be very helpful when you need to zoom out and took at a situation more objectively. Ideally, this is done with a situation that causes you enough emotional charge to cloud your thinking on the matter- like a romantic relationship, fight with a parent or friend or an issue in your work environment.
By “trying on” the voices of different archetypes that co-exist within you, you can reach a more holistic perspective about something and reach the awareness that you are a multifaceted being who has the gift of being able to reach a multifaceted awareness of something that your ego has deemed unacceptable, like conflict.
When you get good enough at embodying and dialoguing with the primary archetypes within you, you can begin to play around with whichever ones you need to draw upon in any given situation. If you need to do a presentation, you can ask your “performer” archetype to take centre stage, if you need to write a paper, you can step into your “professor” archetype.
Whatever is needed to help you thrive in any given situation, task or encounter is already present with you, you just need to get good at playing with archetypal energies.
For more information on archetypes, I highly recommend the work of Caroline Myss and to her book Sacred Contracts, which you can purchase here. I would also suggest playing around with her set of Archetype Cards, which you can check out here.
Conclusively, while the Panopticon of social conformity is ever-present, there is so much that we can do as individuals to break free from the illusion of a singular identity and dive headfirst into understanding ourselves as holographic, multifaceted and multi-incarnational beings who have handcrafted our realities as a means through which to evolve.
So go ahead, dye your hair, change your name, move to that new place and quit pretending that you are a single identity having a singular experience, the world will be better off for it!
So much love.