Giving Up to Fit In
Many years ago, I had the opportunity to go through an intensive diversity training institute. During one particularly challenging session we had to reflect on the things we’ve given up in order to be successful and fit in.
What I didn’t realize at the time was how this process begins in childhood. In so many ways, children are asked to give up parts of themselves to fit in, to fit the expectations of adults around them.
It wasn’t until I came to accept how controlling and oppressive my actions were as a parent that I realized how much I was asking the oldest child in my life, to give up parts of herself to please me.
Children know this is wrong.
That’s why they rebel against our control of them.
They also usually give in (some more than others) to get the love, care, and approval they need. I accepted this as a normal part of the parent-child relationship in my family of origin, in school, and in my work. I also accepted this when I first became a parent.
When my eyes were opened to the harm this does to our integrity as human beings, the experience I had in that institute deepened and became more meaningful for me.
I realized how our culture is about giving up parts of ourselves to fit it.
It’s called, “becoming an adult.”
It’s called “taming temper tantrums.”
It’s called proper “socialization.”
And it is based on the belief that human beings are born inherently bad and must unlearn these bad things in order to become proper members of society.
This belief that we are born into the world and need to be tamed by control and domination is a fundamental part of the process of disconnecting us from our inner voice and authority.
Once our inner voice and authority are replaced by outside authority, we can be taught others things more easily. We can be manipulated into believing that there is only one path to success in life.
We can internalize beliefs about how our particular gender, race, or sexual orientation mean we are less than others. We internalize the myriad of messages and they form a way of viewing ourselves and the world around.
This world-view becomes that are the foundation for our values, beliefs, and resulting actions.
The ways we control children and force them to change who they are teaches children that when we are more powerful we get to determine the standards by which we judge others. We get to determine what is right for others.
And, we learn that the more powerful you are, the more we can get others to conform to our expectations in order make us comfortable.
There is no need to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones and perhaps learn something new in the process. We can use our power to force others to adjust to us.
As parents, this not only relates to the personal preferences of children. It relates to gender identity, sexual orientation, race, disability, and all identities. We teach children about power and how to use power over others when we ask them give up to fit in.
What happens when we choose not to give up to fit in?
There are mechanisms in place in our society that punish us for not following the proper path.
Sometimes we face being ostracized by others. They might be our parents or peers.
We might be teased.
We might be attacked if who we are doesn’t fit what others want from us and they are more powerful than we are.
And there is a higher price to pay when we don’t live true to who we are. We lose touch with our true selves. We may learn to hate who we are. We may eat, drink, or take drugs to deaden the pain of not living true to who we are.
And, there is freedom in living true to our inner voice, in connection with who we really are.
For my part, I want to try to continue to choose freedom.
Freedom to discover and re-learn who I am.
Freedom to allow the children in our live to stay connected to who they truly are.
Freedom to not have to give up who they are in order to fit in and get their needs met.
If we give children the freedom to be who they are, to stay strongly connected to who they are and honor that, the change we wish to see in the world will happen through them.
The most important thing we can do as parents to challenge the injustice we see in the world is to honor the rights of all human beings (especially the smallest and least powerful) to be who they are.