I came across this meme while searching for interesting news to push out on Wayfarers Facebook Page, and while I don't generally share memes, this one caught my attention.
Maybe Susan B. Anthony could have been a therapist! In that last phrase, where she suggests that the conscience is the best place to find approval for one's actions, she is offering wisdom that seems to elude many people who suffer from anxiety and depression. In fact, I suspect that one of the surest paths to emotional distress is for people to ignore what their conscience tells them is right for them, and look to external cues (what do others want? does it feel good in this moment? is it exciting? will I make someone angry?) to find their way. When people make choices that are essentially acts of aggression towards themselves, while they may be able to stay on auto-pilot and not think about what they are in fact doing, their enduring symptoms will eventually tell the truth.
Many people come into therapy confused about the chaos or paralysis that they experience in their lives. Under inquiry we discover that they are consistently using their emotions, wants, desires for approval, and buried fears as a compass for action--in addition to the demands, manipulations, and even threats* of others--rather than considering their values and beliefs and personality traits.
Emotions and wants change all the time, depending on anything from the weather to circumstances to how much sleep we got the night before. But our values, our ethics, our morals, our temperament, our history--the parts of us that make us uniquely human, and uniquely ourselves--are a steady part of who we are, and can be used like the humble and yet awesome compass, to point us in the direction that allows us to reach our goals and become our best selves.
For some, the very act of looking inward, and asking "who am I?", may seem useless or frivolous--and for others, it can represent one of the most terrifying acts of their lives. Alienation and separation from the self is a habit that is as hard to break as any. Like carbon monoxide it is an invisible poison that people don't know they have ingested, and learning to recognize it as the source of suffering, and to then change one's ways....that is often the long hard work of therapy.
Therapy is a journey that requires self-compassion, courage, and an enormous amount of hard work. Some are ready for it, and some are not. Today, at least, I encourage you to breathe deeply, and to remember Susan B. Anthony's words next time you are faced with a dilemma.
Many blessings, and I hope you are all enjoying your summer.
*I should add that when people are in relationships or situations where they are being controlled through another person's acts of violence, or through other circumstances such as finances, this can restrict a person's choices significantly. A psychotherapist is a good place to start, no matter what.