Freeing Ourselves From Our Characters

In ‘Let your past go and live’ Avril Carruthers indicates that there are eight steps to freeing ourselves from our ‘characters’, our unconscious behaviours that we become locked in to playing the same role over and over. See my previous post Losing Our True Self for more of an explanation of this.  

The eight steps:

1. Awareness of the automatic behaviours that indicate a character is operating.

2. Observing this character’s behaviour, thoughts, emotions, body language, clothing choices etc.

3. Source the character by asking yourself ‘when did it arise and why?’.

4. Understanding the character’s script; how playing this role once worked and now doesn’t.

5. Letting go of any significance attached to the character’s existence and behaviour.

6. Knowing that you have a choice to do what the character has always done, or do something different.

7. Taking responsibility for the automaticity of the character, thus robbing its power.

8. Practicing being in the present, so that our character acting from an old script is rendered powerless.

I have a colleague who plays the character of gossip spreader in the workplace. Even if the stories he tells me are not based on fact, he takes great joy in talking down our fellow colleagues.

It is obvious, to me at least, that his behaviour has a lot of history to it. This character he plays is an unconscious attempt to mask the emotional scars left long ago, probably since his childhood.

He was hurt and left with emotional scars, and as these scars have remained unresolved he continues to behave in this way to compensate. These scars are so powerful that they have locked in to play the same role over and over again. He will probably live his entire life in this state, unable to find his true self.

I have a lot of empathy for him, and rather than feeling anger towards him I feel sorry for him, but I don’t know if I am the person able to help. Any suggestions?

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Losing Our True Self

When we are hurt we are left with emotional scars, and as long as these scars remain unresolved we behave in certain ways to compensate. We do this without thinking so we can cope with particular situations.

These scars can be so powerful that they ‘lock in’ a person to playing the same role within their tribe over and over again. Some people live almost their entire lives in this state, in ‘character’ if you like, and are unable to live their ‘true self’.

We see this all the time with people whose day to day lives are dominated by the unwritten rules of their tribe. Two posts ago I wrote how some old friends of mine live like this.

How do we find this ‘true self’ when every time we communicate with others we revert to this automatic character? The key word here is ‘automatic’, because that’s what it is: a total unconscious response that happens instantly and without thought.

So to initially find our true self response to a particular situation, until we can master the process, we need to take extra time between the external stimulus and our response to it. We need to not react automatically. We need to take the time to consciously make the choice to not go into character by reacting to our beliefs.

Every time we consciously choose not to react, but instead seek out the truth of the situation, it gets easier and easier. Eventually this process becomes the more automatic response, and we are on our way to wisdom.

As Lao-Tzu says: “One who understands others has knowledge. One who understands himself has wisdom”.

Until then I say: “Fake it until you can make it”.


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Government Support v Government Control

I wrote a couple of months ago about how many politicians hold strong beliefs on how things should be, based on both their conservative greed and their unrealistic traditional values that they want to enforce on others, adding to our collective inability to escape from Shouldland.

‘Democratic’ governments around the world are moving towards a deliberate acquisition of control over its citizens. At the same time they are reducing the amount of support that they give to their citizens, especially those with the greatest need for support.

This government support versus government control model has shifted out of equilibrium, seemingly with the blessing of the majority, and with the encouragement of both sides of the political spectrum.

Governments are increasingly trying to reduce the supports that it provides, with their motivation to reduce costs and their responsibilities. At the same time they are increasing controls, similar to that in the corporate world where the carrot and stick approach is the dominant form of motivation of its people.

To build a society that allows people to walk their own path, we need to reverse this trend. Governments need to decrease their attempts to control their citizens with their metaphorical ‘stick’. Stop telling people how to live their lives by legislating unnecessary, controlling laws.

A recent law passed in my state made it illegal for a child under ten years old to sit in a car without a ‘kiddy seat’, a booster seat with restraints designed for babies. This is taking road safety policy way too far, basically telling parents “you are not fit to make a sensible decision to ensure the safety of your child so we will do it for you”. This government would do better to ‘support’ those parents instead of controlling them by providing education of the advantages of the ‘kiddy seats’, and then providing the seats at a subsidized (reduced) price. Encourage them, don’t force them.

The public education system in my state is moving schools towards an autonomous structure, where the individual school has more of a say in how their organisation will run. Sounds good in theory, however the result is the worst of both worlds. Newly free and independent schools are finding that the support from the central government administration has been reduced in terms of funding and curriculum assistance. At the same time the controls have increased, with harsher punishments for things they don’t like dealt out by the same central government administration. They have got it the wrong way around.

Give me support over control every time… 

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Supposed to…

On a recent trip I spent a night with some old friends. A great chance to catch up with close members of my tribe who I haven’t seen for ages and who I love dearly.  It was also a great opportunity to reflect on how members of my own tribe live by their Shouldland beliefs.

These friends have many instances where their behaviour is dictated by the rules they are supposed to follow. Even worse, they eagerly attempted to persuade me to behave as I am supposed to as well. They obviously don’t know me that well!

Here are a few rules that I observed in 24 hours:

1. How hot or cold you are supposed to feel, and thus what clothes you should wear.

2. When and how much you are supposed to feel hungry, and thus what times you should eat and which foods you should enjoy.

3. Which television shows people of your ‘social class’ are supposed to watch and enjoy. Nothing too highbrow or too lowbrow is allowed.

4. Which sports teams you are supposed to support. People from city X should follow only team X, and people from city Y should follow only team Y.

5. The method of transport you are supposed to use. You should use your car rather than walking, even though the destination is only 30 minutes walk away and it’s a beautiful day. And heaven forbid you might want to use public transport – how working class!

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I have spoken before about how travelling is a good way to escape Shouldland. Travelers explore the unknown. They go into strange countries, accidentally violate social and cultural norms, get lost in strange cities, and make errors in language translations.

They deliberately open themselves up to making errors. The farther they venture, the more they set themselves up for confusion, surprise, and the contravention of their beliefs.

It is great getting lost navigating the public transport system in Beijing. It is fantastic making cultural faux pas when eating in Kolkata. It is awesome mispronouncing words in rural towns in France where English is not spoken. These are all massive opportunities for growth.

Travelling, if only for a few weeks, within another culture is a great time to see how people behave according to the habits, practices, beliefs and tensions that regulate and guide human life. Culture educates the emotions. Culture contains implicit and often unnoticed messages about how to feel, how to respond, how to discern meaning.

It is a time to reflect on your own culture, and how it shapes your beliefs, attitudes and behaviours, not always for the better.

I have just spent a couple of weeks in the Northern Territory, in central and northern Australia. Indigenous (Aboriginal) Australia has a strong culture with rich traditions and practices. As with many cultures, there are unwritten rules about how to live your life: who you can marry, what you can eat, gender roles etc.

Culture and the associated unwritten rules were great ways in the past to teach people how to live a moral life, and they still play a role in this for many people. However, for those of us who do not need ‘instructions’ on how to be a good person and lead a positive life, culture can often just get in our way.

Escaping Shouldland is partly about resisting our own culture. Travelling to places very different to our own is an important element of this.

Travelling is like being a kid again. We experience the world as new, and remember that the best way to learn about it is to play in it. So go play!!

Darwin Harbour

Kakadu National Park

Litchfield National Park


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Friday the 13th

Once you have started to escape Shouldland, you will probably want to bring others with you. It’s really hard to change people’s minds though. External opposition to people’s beliefs, especially opposition they find threatening or insulting, tends to make them dig their heels in even more.

I have a family member who I got into a political debate with. Their substantiation was “cause that’s just how it is”, whereas my view was supported by logic and evidence, and basically exposed their racist ‘beliefs’.

Not only could I not convince them to see the modern, compassionate, enlightened point of view, I further strengthened their own beliefs. Listening to a much younger, although much more educated and more worldly, family member was insulting to them. To do otherwise would threaten their investment in their beliefs, and  potentially, more importantly, threaten their entire family hierarchical outlook.

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Stop being an automaton

We all like to think that we wouldn’t have fallen for the peer pressure in the Asch experiments, and we would have given the obvious correct answer. We all like to think that had we been living in France during the Nazi occupation of WWII, we would have been among the 2% of people who were members of the resistance, quietly standing up to the Nazis, helping the persecuted. The odds are against it though.

Hindsight is a great thing. We can see the error of our ways and the errors of others throughout history. Wouldn’t it be great if you could use your future wisdom to glimpse what you believe now, and how silly it will probably seem?

Unfortunately we can’t get instant hindsight to how we behave in the present. But we can act with intent. We can choose to no longer be an automaton. We can choose to no longer allow the brainwashing by generations of our tribe have any influence on us.

We WILL choose the correct answer on the Asch test, no matter what the strangers in the room say. We WILL choose to resist the Nazis in WWII France. And we WILL live our life OUR way and always do                       what is right.

I am leaving today on holiday, travelling around the Northern Territory in Australia. So if this and my next blog or two are a little shorter or less frequent than normal, I apologize but I will resume normal activity in a couple of weeks.

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