At the beginning of a New Year an essential question to ask is: ‘To this point in time, whose life have I been living’? At an unconscious, cleverly delusional level, many people believe they are living their own lives. However, if truth be told, few individuals live their own lives, but this is a highly challenging reality to accept and, not surprisingly, denial is the best form of defence. Nevertheless, it is not too difficult to determine whether you are living your life from the inside out or from the outside in. Individuals who conform to the beliefs, values, ways of others are definitely not living their own lives. Equally, those who rebel against how others live their lives and continuously criticise, judge and blame others, are, ironically, still living their lives from the outside in. Unconsciously, they are stuck in seeing others as being responsible for the sad plight of their own lives and they wait impatiently for others to change, rather than taking up the responsibility to live their own unique and individual lives.
There are other ways to determine whose life you are living, for example, if you are:
- Addicted to what others think
- Addicted to work
- Addicted to success
- Fearful of failure
- Addicted to alcohol, drugs
- Addicted to sports
- Consumed with bitterness
- Living in the past
- Constantly against virtually everything
- Living in the future
- Lack confidence
- Shy and timid
- Regularly advise others
- Can’t live without another
- Fearful of failure
you are not operating from a solid maturity but from the quicksand of reliance and dependence on others or the bottomless pit of dependence on a substance (alcohol, drugs) or a process (work, success).
Inevitably, there is a story to how you presently live your life. If you were fortunate to have parents and teachers who, from your earliest days, nurtured your undoubted ability to be independent and to live your own individual life, you would now be living your own life. Too few of us have had that empowering experience and, in order to survive the situation of parents and teacher possessing, controlling, mastering and imposing their own unfulfilled lives on us, we wisely outfitted ourselves to conform to their worlds. It is only when we encounter a significant adult in our adult years that sees us for ourselves and supports and encourages us to live our own lives are we likely to let go of our conformist and rebellious responses.
I am reminded of a woman in her late forties that sought my help for a depression that had haunted her all her adult years. She used to travel some 200 miles to come to see me and in spite of such a long journey she would arrive into my office looking fresh and dressed to the nines. In particular, I noticed that she always wore a different outfit and from that observation I posed the question to her: ‘just give me some idea of how you look at life’. Her answer was astonishing because it unconsciously revealed the source of her depression. She replied: ‘Tony, let me tell you, since I was three years of age I’ve always had a positive outfit.’ She didn’t spot the Freudian slip – have you? – and when I requested she repeat what she had said, she re-iterated the Freudian slip of ‘outfit’ for the intended word ‘outlook.’ When I put a second question to her, “from your earliest days, to whom did you ‘outfit’ your life?” – the answer came swiftly – ‘my father.’ It transpired that her father was continuously irritable and impatient and she remembered from age 3 years finding ways to humour and please him so as to reduce his threatening responses that deeply hurt her. She cleverly learned to tiptoe around her father and forty-six years later she continued to not only tiptoe around her elderly father but all men. The consciousness of her living her life for her father posed the challenge for her to begin to live her own life and view all her father’s irascible behaviours as being totally about and for him and not a rejection of her. Step-by-step, she embarked on the exciting, though painful journey of living life from the inside out. However, this journey not embarked on is a life not lived.
The more each individual learns to live his or her own life, becomes independent and realises that separateness is the basis for all couple relationships, the more the person himself or herself, others and the world benefit from that essential maturity.
Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist, author, national and international speaker. His book, ‘Whose Life Are You Living?’ is relevant to this article.