Do you feel trapped by your social and financial obligations? People often blame their inability to decide whether to stay or leave their relationship on such responsibilities as contributing to their joint mortgage, having to earn a hefty salary to maintain their family’s lifestyle or not disrupting their children’s education and friends by moving schools.
They say ‘I’m wavering because every time I make a firm decision, I worry about the disruption damaging my parents’ health’, or ‘I can’t do it because it devastates me to think of my children feeling torn between the two of us’ or ‘My community has been so supportive and everyone assumes we’re doing fine. If they blame me for the break up, I’m scared they’ll disown me’.
Whenever you waiver, do you equally feel immobilized by your obligations? Do you fear that moving to a poorer geographical area will mean a longer commute to work that will reduce your time with your children and impact their self confidence? Do you worry that a divorce might embarrass your parents? Are you anxious that you can’t exist without your partner’s income? Do you feel guilty that your partner, who has a physical disability, relies on you for care? Or maybe you cannot contemplate adding the inevitable arguments and unpleasantness to your already stressful life?
Alternatively, do you use commitments as your excuse for your not making the move today: your daughter came to stay for the weekend so it was difficult; your partner made an effort this week; or it’s their birthday soon and it wouldn’t be fair? Perhaps you’ve booked a holiday together and feel you can’t un-book it. Or you’re both invited to the wedding of a mutual friend and it would be embarrassing not to go. Maybe one of you is incapacitated with ‘flu and needs looking after.
When clients feel imprisoned by their obligations, I relate Benoit’s description of a man who similarly imagines himself to be a prisoner, trapped in a cell. He stands at one end of a small dark empty room on his toes, with his arms stretched upwards, hands grasping the small barred window for support, the room’s only apparent source of light.
If he holds on tight, straining upward towards the window, he can see a bit of bright sunlight between the top bars. So committed is his effort not to lose sight of that glimmer of life-giving light that it never occurs to him to let go and explore the rest of the cell. So it is that he never discovers that the door at the end of the cell is open, he is in fact, free. He has always been free to walk out into the brightness of day, if only he would let go. As Sheldon Kopp* puts it:
‘In life, we are defeated not only by the narrowness of our perspective, and our fear of the darkness, but by our excuses as well…we make circumstances our prison and other people our jailors’
Are you making circumstances your prison and other people your jailor? In reality, like Benoit’s man, you are your own jailor. You may say, as do my clients, ‘How can I possibly be responsible for not crossing my Rubicon when I’ve just told you I can’t because of my social and financial obligations?
Well you’re not responsible if you define ‘responsibility’ as follows:
‘Responsibility, n. A detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of
God, Fate, Fortune, Luck or one’s neighbour.
In the days of astrology it was customary to unload it upon a star.’ (A. Bierce)*
But for me, responsibility is by no means a ‘detachable burden’. This is because, when I speak of your responsibility, I am not merely talking about your being responsible for your behaviour.
I am talking about your being responsible for being yourself. Once we’re here, what we make of ourselves is up to us. Responsibility in this sense is inseparable from freedom – the freedom to choose.
In choosing who you are and who you are to become, you have absolute freedom: even refusing to chose represents a choice. If you are to stop tearing yourself apart and live life to the full, you must acknowledge that you are freely choosing to do with your life what you are now doing – vacillating.
And that you could equally freely chose to do a number of other things: go for good, stay and make improvements, move out yet continue to be couple, divorce, have a trial separation, and so on. You choose…!
* Kopp, S., If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him! (London: Sheldon Press, 1972)
* Bierce,A., The Devil’s Dictionary (Oxford Book of Quotations) (London: Penguin Books, 1976) Text No. 803
Copyright © Beverley Stone Confronting Company Politics Published by Palgrave Macmillan 1997 ISBN 0-333-68154-1
Copyright © Beverley Stone The Inner Warrior Published by Palgrave Macmillan 2004 ISBN 1-4039-3677-3
Copyright © Beverley Stone 2010