I recently asked a client who was stuck with where to go in life a simple question, “Who do you look up to, what of their values do you admire?” The client was a young man who had been stuck in an apathetic depression, not wanting to do anything because it was all too hard, so he had given up. In this giving up, however, there was something that was dissonant for him, that was rubbing him wrong, so he had attended therapy to work it out, to get out of his rut and move forward. In reply to the question he was initially a little perplexed, why did this even matter, but I outlined my rationale that the purpose was to start to identify values which were important to him so that he could name them and then possibly action them. At the end of the session he felt a little relieved, and he left back into a world where the fog had lifted, if just a little. He returned the next week, morose and down and somewhat worse than before, the fog had closed back in and was crushing him, he had started to compare himself to others and in the comparing he found the things that he didn’t like, the reasons he needed to escape himself.
I reassessed after this, what had gone wrong, why had he turned so far down and not had any positive benefit, and I realised that it was not just comparison to others, but more the comparison to heroes and figures that he idolised that did it. We live in a culture that idolises heroes and they are abound in everyday life, we see them on the sports field, the television and we hear about them on the news. They are the figures whose achievements are larger than life. We talk about heroes, and whether they be sports people, actors, politicians or activists and we take on what their values are in life. But unfortunately these may not actually represent their real values at all, just the values which work the best for them when they are in the spotlight, and especially in the case of actors and sports people who may not need to stand behind any cause for a significant amount of time, but just show an interest for a little while for a single brief lived cause. The main issue is that when we idolise other humans for their deeds and the things that they achieve we start to seek to follow only that – their achievements. What his notion fails to do is recognise that the individual whom we idolise has their own flaws and follies that go along with just being them, the part that we never see, the everyday minutiae of their existences.
A lot of the work that I do in clinical practice involves people who want to ‘change’ themselves, people who want to be less like the person that they currently are, rather than to change their behaviour, they want to change their being. My feeling is that we far underrate our own ability to adapt, rather than change. One of the most worthwhile lessons that I tfeel that I teach clients is that being ‘yourself’ doesn’t mean having to change values, opinions or personal ‘weaknesses’ and in this lesson clients learn that without trying to be something different they make the decision to be themselves. This is an oft heard cliche “just be yourself and everything will be fine/people will love you for it” but my thought is that this is the wrong sentiment, that we shouldn’t be so much trying to be ourselves because in trying we look outside at the things that we need to do, rather than look inside at the things that we can accept.
The other issue that I have with this idolism is that this also means that if we are aiming to be ‘something else’, that we must be sincere to that something else and never waver from it. Activists are strong in prison, they never had a bad day; actors are deliriously happy with their lives due to amount of money that they have, CEOs live a self actualised life where they never question the direction of their lives. These are messages, both overt and subtle that are fed to us by the media, but they aren’t true. There are actors out there who have their own feelings of failure, and who do not like themselves for who they are. Who struggle with finances, or get angry when their children don’t do what they are told. These things are all the reality of being simply human. But we chase these super men and women, and focus on how we can get what they have and ignore the fact that what they have isn’t all that great some days, that the only positive feelings that they have sometimes is when they are working, when they are being anything but themselves.
So given that if you were to stay the same person that you are now faults and all, how do you accept that?