“I’m trying to make all of these changes but I feel like my family is resisting me and their resistance is holding me back. They’re threatened by my growth and I don’t know what to do about it.” – modified from a Facebook post
There is a contradiction in growth and personal development.
In order to have what we want, we must be willing to move forward. But in order to move forward, we must be willing to leave those that we love where they are.
For example, say you’re gay. Say your parents are devout, evangelical Christians in rural Arkansas. You can either stay in the closet to maintain the family and suffer or you can come out and lose your family in service of your deepest self. What do you choose?
Either way, there is pain and discomfort and this is what I’m referencing previously as the contradiction of change.
Leaving those that we love behind feels painful because it’s a violation of our belonging. It’s an abandoning of our tribe- a group that’s hardwired into our DNA as necessary for our survival- and in doing so, it will call up the associated feelings of guilt and shame.
The individual who posted on Facebook is facing this contradiction of growth. Growth has a price.
Imagine you and your family are starving and within days of dying. A higher power puts a bowl of soup in front of you and says you can eat the soup, while everyone else watches. No one else is allowed to eat a single spoon full. Do you eat the soup?
The answer is always no. We would rather suffer to belong than nourish ourselves.
This is one of the main reasons so many people are unhappy and struggling. Because they ensure they maintain their belonging at the expense of themselves.
If you’re going to feel bad either way (or at least have some negative feelings), what would you prefer? To stay where you are on behalf of others? Or be who you want to be and learn to be okay with the guilt?
This is not to stigmatize families or deny anyone’s experience. Families are inherently complex structures and one faction may surprise with open acceptance while another feels legitimately threatened and longs to keep us where we are. But no matter their position, staying where we are to avoid violating this belonging doesn’t help them. It only hurts us.
You don’t help your starving family by not eating the soup. Just like if your parents got ebola, you can’t help them by contracting ebola in solidarity, you can only hurt yourself.
This is an extremely hard aspect of growth. We’ve been taught to believe by the self-help industry that change will put us on cloud nine all the time. This isn’t true. Growth is bumpy and it comes with some discomfort. If we can learn to start understanding this aspect of our experience, we can move forward accepting that growth is the best option, even if it comes with the pain of leaving those we love where they are.
Once this starts to sink in, I often get asked, “Well, how can I help my family? I feel lonely leaving them where they are. Isn’t there anything I can do?”
Yes. You can keep pursuing your personal growth. You can keep moving forward. Because maybe, just maybe you will set an example they will follow. Unfortunately, this is the only way.
Your belonging was handed to you based on where, when, and to whom you were born. It’s not something you can control, but you can control the experience you make it.
You can choose to move forward and accept the discomfort of violating your belonging. Or you can stay where you are and nobody benefits. It’s your choice.