Noel was an acclaimed jazz musician who struggled with being in the limelight. His passion for music fueled his drive to create and perform, but the networking was debilitating. He loathed the hobnobbing, the vapid chatter and the glitz and glam. In our therapy sessions he would lament, “Why can’t I just be like Joe? He doesn’t give a shit. When he’s had enough of these pretentious schmooze fests he just leaves. No apology or excuse. I stick around into perpetuity hating every moment of it.”
For Noel, being viewed as ‘nice’ and pleasing took precedence over being true to himself. Until he got fed up and mustered up the guts to defy the status quo, he acquiesced to the wishes of his devoted sycophants. When he rid himself of stultifying fears of rejection and recrimination, Noel exhumed his moxie and began to live by conditions that suited his needs. Finally free of parasitic demands, Noel fully prioritized his creative expression and his wellbeing. He knew what his priorities were and was ready to live by them without apology.
Noel’s dilemma resonated with me. Possessing the mettle to disappoint, be viewed as audacious, even ‘bad’ was something I grappled with throughout my life. As a reformed ‘fawner’ I instinctually feared the reprisal of standing in my truth and owning my power.
Unfortunately when abuse is systemic, as it was in my family, the real self goes underground and a false self emerges in the service of survival. Essentially devoid of a solid sense of identity, I learned to appeal to others humanity or lack thereof, by groveling, making myself small and over-functioning.
Even in college, I felt muzzled, timid and reluctant to share my ideas in classroom discussions. When professors claimed I had talent and encouraged me to pursue grad school I shrugged off the praise and lowballed my abilities.
Nevertheless, a deep inviolate part of me yearned to boldly realize my potentials and reveal who I am.
A turning point occurred with this intention when the devastation of numerous betrayals ignited my rage. Ironically, I was in seminary at the time.
My immersion in spiritual teachings coincided with profound disappointments and duplicity. The dissolution of a two decade long friendship culminated in an eviction notice that notified me to vacate the apartment owned by my friend’s mother. Along with that loss I discovered that the man who I believed I was in love with, was engaged to another while feeding my delusions that we shared a sustaining bond. These relational injuries threw me into fear, emptiness, and loneliness, but a deeper level of shattering occurred when I connected with a woman in seminary, who I knew from High School. Our conversations revealed that my father sexually preyed on a mutual friend when we were all in our teens.
At first fantasies of forgiveness and transcending the agony of my fury were deemed the magic elixir. Although a remedy was received it was the antithesis of what I imagined. Rather than being hurled into beatific redemption, darkness and rage consumed me.
My feeling crushed by inhumanity was further exacerbated by discovering that seminary was steeped in virtue signalers and grandstanding channelers who denounced darkness, while touting a direct line to God. This catapulted me into marginalization. Ironically this was exactly what I needed to assimilate my trapped fury and find liberation.
Accepting that the path of the outlier was always my fate freed me. Much of my life I tried so hard to blend in, to be ‘good’, normal (whatever that means), but when the crushing weight of oppression pinned me down, it was my moxie and aggression that saved me. It was the archetypal castaway and subversive who released me from the bondage of deference and blind obedience.
Unleashing what was disowned and conceptualized as ‘bad’ has allowed for a more mature, formidable personality. Not feeling shackled to protocols and niceties that inhibit my authenticity has freed me up to define limits and boundaries that clarify my moral principles and values. It also has fueled the libidinal energy needed to access my creativity and formulate life affirming pursuits. Specifically, channeling this pent up energy into a theater project awakened my dormant interest in acting and helped me confront fears of performance. Celebrating my moxie encouraged me to step out of my role as one who merely looks on, and embody being fully visible and seen.
Traversing the terrain from passive capitulation to self assertion is filled with challenges. Even when I try my best to adhere to the adage that honesty without sensitivity is brutality, the reality is that many folks simply don’t take well to candor regardless of how it’s served. Nevertheless I persist with asserting my unyielding truths while remaining open to receiving observations and rebuttals that challenge me to think beyond my scope. It’s this intrepid exchange of ideas which I previously shied away from, that I now perceive as a source of inspirational growth.
Philosopher Lao Tzu wrote in his Taoist text, Tao Te Ching,
“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.”
This parable encourages us to harness our strengths so as to actualize our full potentials. This means making room for those attributes that are unfeigned, even raw. It means having the moxie to denounce conformist directives, even at the risk of being condemned as an eccentric heretic. It is only by doing so that self realization and well-being can prevail.
I am grateful to have arrived at a place in my life where I know who I am and what my priorities are. It feels especially good to live by them as Noel does, without apology.