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On the Corner

by Robert Docter – 

Are you autonomous? How do you know?

Our parents have all had tremendous impact on us. Their voices rattle around inside our heads, echo through the canyons of our gut and reverberate in our hearts. Most of the time, we move through life without much awareness of how they have contributed to what we are. Their statements about what we should do, think or feel or how we must behave seem indelibly etched within us. Their voices now sound like our own.

Often, we push ourselves to fit the mold we believe our parents have constructed for us. When the fit fails, when we are less than perfect, we are consumed by guilt and driven toward strong feelings of inadequacy. Sometimes, we achieve the fit and become like them. This is not always beneficial. The consequences of that match depend on the quality of health they transmitted. For some the product is arrogance or isolation or rejection or pathological competitiveness or staying stuck. Possibly, the product concerns believing you’re not lovable, or can’t succeed, or are unimportant. For others, it’s a life of movement toward autonomy.

This process doesn’t happen as we sit as passive receivers. We’re part of the process. We make decisions about the impact of these injunctions upon us. Therefore, we must accept some responsibility for how we indoctrinate ourselves.

Here are some thoughts.

The ways we internalized the messages our parents sent were not always helpful to us.

If we have taken our parents’ injunctions and made them say: “don’t grow,” “don’t succeed,” “don’t belong,” “don’t be important,” “don’t be close,” “don’t feel,” “don’t be you,” then we have burdened ourselves with non-productive beliefs about who and what we are.

Rebellion is not the same as autonomy.

The rebel is controlled by the person against whom s/he rebels. That person is not autonomous. There is nothing independent about such a person The rebel requires the counter thrusts, the external orders and injunctions, the requirements of others. The rebel, burdened with unfinished business with parents, is simply saturated with negative identity–being exactly the opposite of what is expected. The autonomous person has put that business to rest. S/he lances festering resentments and lets the poison out.

Becoming autonomous is a process.

Maturity is not something we “finally get.” It is something toward which we are moving. There are occasions when we need to be childlike. At other times we need to be thoughtful. We learn to be responsible for the person we are right now. We appreciate our uniqueness and are proud of our identity. We no longer need to continue proving our autonomy to others. We are able to make commitments and keep them. We are able to reach out to others and share ourselves fully with them in order to make our world a better place.

Choices mean power.

The person with the most choices is the person with the most power. When we limit the range of choices available to us by paying too much attention to that parental voice inside us, we diminish the amount of power in our lives. We learn to anticipate and accept the consequences of our acts. We avoid blaming others for our problems. Finally, we gain some insight into the manner in which we limit our own choices and contribute to our own difficulties. Then, we begin to do something about it.

Meaning for life is gained on a spiritual plane.

If you believe life is meaningless, then you have resisted autonomy and are controlled from outside. When there is spirit in your life, then your life is meaningful.

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