A Question From Future You: "Are You Being Honest With Yourself?"
We need to ask ourselves this question - and more than once -
or crisis might force us to down the line
It's not unusual to run on auto-pilot, particularly when life is hectic: the diary is packed, the to-do list is brimming, the days are full.
What is unusual (and beats being busy every time) is to take a step back - as frequently as we can - and reassess; to look at what we are doing and ask ourselves: "Am I being true to myself?"
This kind of question is a catch-all for an infinite number of variations:
"Is this who I am?"
"Is this what I want?".
"Am I heading in the right direction?"
"Did I mean what I just said?"
"Do I really think that?"
"Is this person right for me?"
"Is this job/career really what I am about?"
And so on. And, as with all of them, we will, at times dislike the answers we get.
And that's a key reason why we don't ask ourselves these types of questions in the first place.
Or, we simply don't think to.
The thing is, if we keep dodging them, they will eventually present themselves to us in a way that we cannot escape.
This is what a mid-life crisis is all about.
It's about having these very questions thrust starkly in front of us at a time when we feel they must be answered.
It's when we begin to accept a truth about something (or many things) that we have, perhaps, always known deep inside but ignored.
And that dereliction of duty has given us a life that isn't the one we actually want.
It becomes a crisis because by the time life forces us to confront this, it comes with a sense of urgency inevitably due to the age at which we are made to face it.
Changes, then, have to be made - and fast.
Paying The Price
This is when marriages fail, when careers implode and when nervous breakdowns come knocking.
It is anything but pleasant.
And it is anything but the hedonistic red sports-car-driving caricature of mid-life that is so often painted for us.
What's worse is that while it will take just minutes to undo a life that has been built over decades, it might very well take years to get to the New Life - and to get there in one piece.
Inevitably, by the time we do get there, a big part of us will have wished that we had listened to that voice inside our heads so many years earlier when it was whispering, "this person isn't right for you", or "your career is killing you".
While this form of radical self-honesty might seem a bit extreme, it doesn't always have to reach existential levels. And we don't have to wait for a crisis to make changes.
There are subtle ways we can tap into this "knowing" right at this very minute, before it reaches such a dramatic point that it is forced to become a wake-up call.
It is called congruence.
Congruence (and its opposite, incongruence) is a concept that was coined by a psychologist by the name of Carl Rogers, which Jordan Peterson delves into in each of the videos below.
Being congruent basically means aligning body, mind and spirit. It's when our beliefs, values and desires line up with our actions.
By its nature, it requires being in touch with what we really think, what we really stand for, what we really want, who we really want to be etc.
It means recognizing the little voice in our head and actually listening to it.
The Body's Messages
And as Peterson explains, if we can't hear the voice, our body will also tell us when we are out of step. In his words, acting incongruently will make us feel "weak".
This is not weak, as in the machismo sense - it is in the sense that acting "out of alignment" dis-empowers us, destabilises us internally, puts us on the back foot.
We all know, for example, what it feels like when something feels "off", or not quite right.
We have all had a "bad feeling" about something at some point in our lives or done something and wish we hadn't as it didn't feel like us.
We might agree to an arrangement and a big part of us wishes we hadn't. We might make a decision and feel conflicted about it. We might say something and immediately regret it. We might push forward with a plan but it feels empty. There's no life in it. We aren't all in.
And that's what this is really about - being all in.
Because there is only so long that we can coast along, living a half-life: being in relationships that aren't right for us, working jobs we hate, being friends with people who don't have our backs, failing to connect meaningfully with people who do.
It is a form of self-betrayal which eats away at us each time we say or do something that contradicts our true nature - frequently in such subtle ways we fail to notice it at the time, if we are not paying attention.
Until at some point, much later in life, we are made to.
And when that happens, there won't be a red sports car waiting for us.
It will be something very different, indeed.
Want To Know What "The Shadow" Is All About? Here's An Easy Place To Start
If we want to get to know - and make peace with - the rejected and darker sides of our nature, we need to face up to our hypocrisy
When we talk to the uninitiated about Shadow Psychology: our repressed states, the idea about "integrating" our darker, unacknowledged traits in order to be fully realised "whole" human beings - we can forgive people if they look back at us blankly, unashamedly uninterested.
But mutter the word "hypocrite" in anyone's direction and we will get a decidedly different response.
We are ultimately talking about the same thing. But for anyone who isn't a self-help junkie, who hasn't studied the work of Carl Jung, been independently curious about psychological jargon, or spent time in therapy doing "shadow work", there is no reason why anyone else would even give this idea the time of day.
Hypocrisy, however, is a loaded - and very well understood - term. And it's powerful. It rocks people to their core and shakes their egos when branded in this way (if they actually listen).
There are, arguably, fewer powerful insults we can throw at someone than this one - particularly the more moral and ethical the target considers themselves to be.
It is a gift, in a sense, when we bump into it, as it is perhaps the ideal introduction into the world of Shadow Psychology, which in itself is also perhaps the most important widely ignored discipline that is so vital to our lives and well-being.
Do As I Say, Not As I Do
In psychological terms we could call it a kind of Cognitive Dissonance - the basic idea that we say one thing but believe something else or act in a way contrary to what we actually think.
It is the priest proselytizing on purity and abstinence while battling a drink problem or abusing the vulnerable; it is the avidly homophobic politician-in-public who is engaging in a homosexual relationship in private.
In essence, it is when we criticize and condemn people for acting in a way that we in fact are also acting ourselves (frequently unbeknownst to others) - and it can also be us hating on people for things we are not doing but wish we were.
As Jung once famously said:
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
Psychology and philosophy vlogger Einzelgänger gives a layman's introduction, below, and as he explains, it is not the fact that we are hypocrites in the first place that is the problem.
It is that we fail to recognize it.
We miss the opportunity to "integrate" these hidden aspects into our conscious selves so we are no longer dominated by misunderstood, unrecognized unconscious forces.
What We Resist...
Our darker urges exist because we resist looking at them.
And our hatred of other people's behaviour stems from the failure - or refusal - to recognize that the things we are villainising lie inside of us too.
Only when we bring these traits to the surface, then, facing them in the cold light of day and admit that we are, also, like that too, can they ever cease to hold power over us.
So how do we do this?
There are many different ways (you can find various techniques here).
One is via "The Work", by Byron Katie.
Katie has a simple "Judge Your Neighbor" exercise (with an explanatory video, below).
The basic idea behind it is also a fundamental lesson in hypocrisy - that whatever it is that is driving us nuts about XXX is generally the very thing we need to own up to ourselves.
And it goes without saying that it's easier to do in some cases than it is in others.
But it is always worth doing.
Take Byron Katie's