Intuition & The Role of Spirituality in People-Pleasing
If all went well,
our parents were at times angelic figures that swooped in to patch bruised knees and kiss bonked elbows. At others, they were daunting figures of justice, forging via discipline the parameters of our expected behavior in order to make us acceptable and well mannered in the eyes of the world.
Our parents, in early years, served as both caretaker and authoritarian, and for their part were constantly grappling with an incomprehensible task: to be both loving and firm. Theirs was the impossible job of identifying and fostering your unique character before it was even fully formed, while molding you into a well-adjusted, ‘normal’ being that can live in a society laden with unreasonable norms and expectations.
But very early on, I made a grave and lasting mistake in how I viewed my parents. It might have been that I was simply weak in character, feeble in spine, or that I was raised in a house not affiliated with any spiritual belief system. Either way, I saw my parents as being more powerful than they were. Grander than their titles of mom or dad or even human. That they were the decider, the judge and jury, as well as the provider gave them an other-worldly quality that I mistook as having more overarching power than was warranted. After all, I was just a little girl figuring out the world, and authority figures of all kinds always knew so obviously right from wrong and good from bad. And I knew of no other power greater than them.
In essence, I understood parents, and subsequently all authority figures, as being Godlike. As God-abled in their discernment.
I gave other people the authority in my own decision making at the level of a higher power, and none to the quiet voice within me, meant to guide me to my own unique identity.
Without any framework of a judicious force more powerful than human beings, other people with power took over my understanding of the world and eventually of myself. Their opinions told me who to be and how to look and what to think. Earning their approval was the only way to earn my right to be.
A child may intrinsically know such things as right and wrong or just and unjust, but may not know how to act from that knowledge and trust it’s guidance. Long ago, my little child brain had decided: ultimate authority must live in other people, and whoever was confident enough to say what is acceptable and not acceptable got power over me, be it parents, teachers, bosses, or peers who presented themselves as more popular and thus ‘better’ than me. They must know something I don't, I thought. They must be informed in a way that I’m not. Thus, they must be more important and valuable than me.
When such power is placed in the hands of other people, a deadly game of juggled self worth ensues. I could never say the right thing, I never wore the right clothes. I never fit in. Other people held the keys to my freedom because they knew what I should be doing, how I should look, and by abandoning my power to self identify and self validate, I was thus powerless to their judgments which were often whims and nearly always ill-informed by society, media, or their own parents. I came to understand myself as: clueless, stupid, and vilely unacceptable in not just their eyes, but the eyes of something much bigger. Each time I was labeled ‘weird’ or ‘different’ or tritely ‘uncool’, I digested the information as much more than only one person’s opinion; it was a judgment from on high. This belief shaped me into a people pleaser, an over-achiever, and at times a perfectionist in a bid to earn the affection of authority figures, rather than prioritizing what felt good and right to me. Other people were the voice of God and got to decide who I was allowed be and how I could behave, and I never exercised my right to at times defy them in order to strike out as my own person.
As anyone who has gone spiritually seeking knows, self understanding can only come from within, from the very place one connects to the force that created the self. The place of residence of God. Goddess. Source. The universe. A myriad of names for the same intangible and timeless self discernment.
Because I’d never formed a strong dialogue and trusting bond with my own inner knowing, I frequently and eagerly abandon my intuition in order to meet standards unattainable in beauty, femininity, physical abilities, and more.
I am self-programmed to replace the loving voice of intuition with a commitment to humanistic authority in all its facets: societal, educational, parental. For decades, I have crumbled and been squished under the authoritative boot of others; their opinions have been more valid than mine, their needs are always more important than my own. I have been malleable in my character to meet everyone else’s definitions of ‘friend’, ‘girlfriend’, ‘coworker’. I was afraid to say no when I needed to, confront bad treatment when it befell me, and generally stand up for myself.
It’s an understandable misstep that I am only now unraveling in my 30’s as I consider having children of my own. When asking: “How do I instill in my child a trust in a greater permeating goodness, some ‘higher power’ beyond other people that they can turn to and relax into knowing it values them no matter who they choose to become, without deciding too much of their belief system?”
And if you’re still reading, my money is on that you made the same mistake in your own childhood.
Breaking the cycle:
There were two moments in life, the first of which I regret not holding more firmly to, that have been profound enough to break this patterning. First, a life threatening diagnosis. At the time, it was strangely easy to detach authority of the highest order from the humans in the room, their eyes full of tears and their hearts full of fear. I could for once see these mere mortals as having no say over my survival, and that the decision was up to something much greater than all of us. In that split second, ‘God’ or whatever I might have called it was something outside us all, which render us all equal for the first time. No one was more important or more powerful than anyone else, and we were all at the will of Source. The voice of my own intuition whispered undeniably: “Don’t give up. Don’t fall prey to their fear. Fight, and believe you will win.” But this understanding lasted only a year at best after chemotherapy, when the pressures to look normal again (grow my hair back faster, lose the steroid weight quicker, be able to talk about anything except cancer) pressed upon me too harshly. I succumbed again to wanting to meet everyone else’s expectations.
The second, unfortunately, was Covid. Or rather, it’s impact on my close relationships. Without the distraction of work and social hierarchies on the scene, it became easier to identify when another person was making me unreasonably uncomfortable especially during conflict, and even easier to press pause on the moment in order to ask if the power to cast judgment was really theirs. When it wasn’t up to anyone else whether my character or actions met any standard of acceptability, given the new frequency of solitude in the quiet hours of midnight, slowly my inner authority grew to the point when my intuition could tell me: ‘hang on, they’re not right on this one.’
It is easy for some, and harder for others (IE Codependents. People Pleasers. Me.)
But once you accept: they don’t always know best.
You are forced to ask yourself: Then who does?
If you’ve never done it, it will hurt to answer. Because the answer is your intuition, and you’ll have to atone for that you’ve never given it it’s rightful power. Handing the reins to yourself this way might induce panic, confusion, and fear. Moreso it will require revoking that authority from other people and setting ‘boundaries’ (my least favorite social media buzzword) around what another person can and can’t say to you, and how much of your opinion others can decide and what you’ll tolerate from them. Those boundaries might require more space, might change the dynamics of conversation with people you love, and might even require fully separating or ending certain relationships. You may lose people, especially (as is often said) the people who benefited from you not having boundaries before. We are powerful beings, and all crave sovereignty. When a person gives us authority over them, it makes us feel needed and important, as in the necessary case of parent-and-child, or more toxic cases of abusive and manipulative relationships.
But in redistributing this authority and taking back your identity, your opinions, and your validation, you gain a much more vast and liberating knowledge. You become free, self empowered, and in time self assured. And as far as I’m concerned, such is the only literal expression of the higher power that made us in the first place.
photos by Anna Shvets via pexels