If you haven’t done so already, please do go read
Today we’re going to dive deeper into how we are culturally conditioned, how this cultural conditioning forms our view of reality, and how we can start to navigate THROUGH the conditioning we’ve received that constantly has us doubting and trying to fix ourselves - so that we can see where the REAL problems in our society lie, and where the REAL solutions can be found.
As we were talking about last week, cultural conditioning starts at birth. It’s something that is deeply woven into our sense of safety and our sense of identity. Cultural conditioning gives us a rule book to follow, that promises to help us achieve the things we need in order to have health, happiness and safety - and it also provides us with a framework around which to build our personal selves.
It tells us what to love, hate, accept, reject, grow and deny in ourselves, and it tells us what values to pursue and what things we should distance ourselves from - lest we get ‘cast out’ or get put into a situation where we can’t get our needs met.
This cultural conditioning again is deeply tied to our sense of security, because we learn from day one of our lives that ‘fitting in’ = safety and that being rejected/different = not getting what we need.
We learn from very early on that we are DEPENDENT upon the approval of others to be safe - and thus starts the web of indoctrination that many of us have never been able to question - because we’ve been too busy trying to get rid of any part of ourselves that isn’t seen as ‘good’ by our culture.
We deeply believe that we MUST fit in in order to be safe - and this is how culture keeps us trapped in its dictates - even when those dictates objectively fly in the face of what would be good for us.
Our Temporary Codependency Sets Us Up For A Lifetime Of Codependency
We are susceptible to the idea that to fit in is to survive and to be outcasted is to die/be miserable because in the temporary codependent reality of our childhoods, we aren’t able to provide for or care for ourselves. We aren’t able to determine right from wrong, helpful from harmful, nor are we able to create and validate our own perception. Rather, we are pretty much fully dependent upon those around us - our caregivers - to provide for us, to protect us, to understand us and to meet all of our needs.
In this state, we don’t have the cognitive or physical capacity to understand our own needs or to get them met. We don’t have the capacity to see that if something about us isn’t ‘liked’ by those around us, that they will still love, care for and provide for us.
We don’t have the ability to see that our caregivers and everyone else in the world are simply people doing what THEY have been told to do in order to gain acceptance and approval from those who raised THEM. We aren’t able to see that there are many different ways of doing things - all of them with some form of validity.
We aren’t able to really get that it’s ok if we’re rejected - because in these delicate years we aren’t able to fend for ourselves if our caregivers don’t approve of us and therefore work to continually meet our needs.
We learn that to get what we want REQUIRES that we are LOVED - and this program goes DEEP in most of us - which means as we grow, we carry with us the feeling that if we stray from what’s ‘normal’ we’re going to lose any chance of being safe - and this drives us to continually try to fit into things even at our own expense - because to our bodies it FEELS like fitting in is ALWAYS the solution to our pain.
From here, most of us never learn how to understand and communicate our own needs. Most of us never learn how to grow into the adult perspective where we can see that being approved of is no longer the main ‘middle man’ between ourselves and getting what we want.
Instead, we grow up and seek out people who respond to our behavior patterns in similar ways to our caregivers. We learned to cry out, to be codependent, to lean on the empathy and understanding of those around us - and in this we learned that getting our needs met/feeling safe comes from behaving in a way that causes those around us to understand us and meet our needs for us. Like a baby doesn’t know how to ask for food when they are hungry, they only know how to cry out and hope that the caregiver can assess their needs properly - we grow into adults who learned to treat others in particular ways in order to elicit a certain response - often without realizing WHY we’re doing what we are.
Again, the program is that approval = provision, safety and joy.
So whatever we had to be/do to be approved of in our households of origin become our ‘blueprint’ of what we ‘should do’ whenever we’re in PAIN.
We never learn to deeply investigate our pain or to deeply investigate our desires - and to look to REALITY for how to remedy that pain or gain what we want.
Instead, we constantly look to where we aren’t ‘measuring up’ or where we’re not being properly loved by others - and we try to fix THAT - thinking that if we can just get that perfect approval/understanding, all of our pain will go away and all that we want will be given to us.
For instance, we learned that to be pleasant and pleasing was the best way to get the words of approval we need - and thus we never learned to become aware that what we want are words of affirmation nor did we learn healthy ways of communicating this need to those around us. We learned to over-compensate for the feelings of others as a way of protecting ourselves from emotional outbursts instead of learning to express our need for emotional safety from the other person. We learned to do things for others with the express expectation that they will then do things for us - without ever learning to communicate what we actually want, why we want it and developing a consent based relationship where expectations are clearly stated and agreed to.
We learn to continually manipulate ourselves to try to make ourselves pleasing to those around us, in the hopes that this will cause them to understand us (even better than we understand ourselves) which will lead them to meeting our needs for us. We often feel deeply incapable of meeting our own needs without the love and support of others, because again, we weren’t trained to see ourselves as capable of doing so. We grew up codependent, and then we stayed that way because most other people are that way too!
We learn in this delicate state how to behave in order to get approval - and in that approval we receive provision, safety, care and protection. We learn that the ONE THING we have control over in terms of our life experience is our behavior - how much we fit in or don’t fit into what’s expected of us. We learn that the way to happiness, the way to getting what we want/need and the way out of pain is through someone outside of ourselves understanding us and providing for us. We learn that to ‘act right’ is to be loved, and therefore to be given pleasure and protected from pain. We learn that to act wrong - to be rejected, abandoned, abused, shamed or neglected - is to suffer and to be genuinely unsafe.
We learn that our own behavior is the driving factor in our experience - but not in a one to one results of reality way - in a ‘how do I fit in’ way.
This way of being that we’re trying to live up to oftentimes means that we have to deny certain aspects of ourselves, that we have to deny certain aspects of reality, and that we have to REJECT what actually feels good/right to us, and that we have to ‘go along’ with things that don’t feel good to us at all.
We learn that rejecting ourselves and our natural impulses is the best way to survive - and thus we need some sort of system in place that will help us do the things that don’t feel good but get us approval, and that stop us from doing what DOES feel good but gets us rejected.
This is where we develop shame and guilt.
Shame And Guilt - The Two States That Keep Us Locked In Conditioning
We all develop a little coping mechanism called ‘shame/guilt.’
Shame and guilt are feelings that are there for the express purpose of driving us to do the ‘right’ behaviors by cultural standards and to avoid doing the ‘wrong’ behaviors by cultural standards.
The shame and guilt response is our coping mechanism for when what feels good/right to US gets us abandoned, rejected, misunderstood or otherwise causes us pain, and when doing what doesn’t feel good to US gets us provision, love, acceptance and safety. Shame and guilt are there to try to help us augment our behavior to match the cultural expectations we’re raised in, as a survival strategy - even when doing so goes AGAINST what feels right/natural/intuitive to us.
Shame and guilt are also TAUGHT to us. Usually when we aren’t able to live up to the expectations of our caregivers, we receive a response of either anger/blame/shaming/outright abuse OR we receive a response of abandonment/rejection/pulling away. When we hit another child, we may be reprimanded and punished - sent to our rooms or blasted with words about how we are being ‘bad.’ When we refuse to or simply don’t have the capacity to live up to behavior expectations - when we cry in public or have big emotions we don’t know how to process other than by letting them out we may find that our caregivers pull away, ignore us, or otherwise leave us feeling abandoned.
Both of these reactions trigger a survival based fear in us - when we’re abandoned or rejected by the people we depend upon for ALL of our survival and safety needs, we have an experience of being close to death. We feel in our bodies like there’s a possibility these people are going to go away forever, and there’s an awareness that if that happens, we’re hopelessly lost and unable to be ok.
This causes us to develop an existential relationship with all parts of ourselves that get us rejected or abandoned.
This causes us to see the parts of ourselves that lead to us getting shamed, blamed, yelled at, sent away, that cause our caregivers to pull away or to reprimand us in ways that we can only process as them thinking we are bad and wrong as being parts of self that may literally get us killed - or at the very least cause us to experience loneliness/threat of violence and anger.
We’re then deeply conditioned to reject these parts of ourselves, to try to fix them or change them, to try to make them go away - in the hopes that if we do, we will then be safe and loved again.
Then as we grow, it’s common that we never really bloom past this perception of our codependent nature. We instead simply EXPAND the number of people/institutions that are influencing our perceptions of good/bad/right/wrong - and we increase the circle of people we feel dependent upon for love and approval to keep ourselves feeling safe.
Remember - in real reality, we would still have NEGATIVE feelings when we do something harmful, and we will have POSITIVE feelings when we do something that’s productive. Many of us believe that without shame and guilt we would all turn into lawless, selfish individuals who live lives of excessive hedonism.
The reality is, consequences will ALWAYS exist in real reality. We don’t need shame and guilt to feel what is harmful, or to understand what’s helpful.
Rather, we need to be connected to our HUMANITY in order to feel what’s helpful, and to feel what’s harmful. To be able to witness the consequences of our way of being and to honestly assess if what we’ve done/are doing is ACTUALLY ‘good’ in terms of outcome or if it may be more harmful than good.
In fact, the reality is, when we are in a state of shame and guilt, we are making a MORAL judgment on ourselves as PEOPLE. We are questioning our fundamental NATURE, our fundamental GOODNESS/WORTHINESS - and this triggers our nervous systems so deeply into a state of fight or flight that we aren’t able to accurately assess anything.
This is part of the mess of culture.
It teaches us that ‘bad behavior’ is a result of being a ‘bad person.’ That ‘good behavior’ is a result of being a ‘good person.’ It teaches us that how we are judged based on societal expectations is a reflection of WHO WE ARE as people.
This is not reality.
In real reality, we are all ‘good.’ We are all worthy of love. We are all completely worthy of care and support, just as we are.
We can be causing harm. We can be wrong about the impact of our actions. We can be misinformed or simply blind to our impact.
We can be doing ‘good things’ in one area, and be causing massive harm in another.
In real reality, when we can’t separate our ACTIONS/the outcomes of our actions from WHO WE ARE - we are more than likely not going to be able to see/admit where we’re causing harm and we’re not going to be able to adequate CHANGE to do better - because this is then tied to our sense of ‘goodness’ as a person.
Our sense of goodness is deeply tied to our sense of SAFETY. This is what we were taught growing up. How ‘good’ we were determined our experience.
So when we’re caught in loops of SHAME and GUILT - ie. feeling like WHO WE ARE is bad/wrong/flawed in some way - our bodies go into fight/flight/freeze, and we either double down on our behavior, denying harm so as to deny that there’s something wrong with US, or we spiral into states of fear and feeling like this ‘flaw’ means that WE are horrible and thus are’t going to be safe.
Then we aren’t able to adequately grow and change, to mature our view of the world and how our behavior could be improved - because we’re stuck in this immature fear response.
In real reality, when we are in a state of self compassion, we are MUCH more able to see the harm we may be causing ourselves or others, to see WHY we learned to be that way, to forgive ourselves, and to then CHANGE without that change meaning we are admitting WE SUCK fundamentally.
In real reality, shame and guilt don’t make us ‘good people.’ It does the exact opposite. It freezes us.
For most of us, this isn’t conscious at all. We know that we feel deeply attached to the love and approval of others, we feel like the more aspects of self that are rejected/abandoned by those around us the more difficult time we have accepting and approving of ourselves, we know that we get triggered into deep states of shame and guilt even without anyone actively observing our behavior or thoughts. Our behavior and thoughts are things we’ve had ingrained in our perception as being ‘bad’ ie. things that get us rejected, and we know that the more we’re loved and accepted the more we feel safe - but again, most of us aren’t deeply investigating into WHY acceptance seems to = safety to us and why rejection seems to equal threat.
We just know that’s how it feels.
Then culture uses this as a weapon to keep us in line.
We’re constantly stimulated into states of shame and guilt by culture - by being told that we’re not enough, we’re not measuring up, that our pain is our fault - and we’re fed the message that if we just did better, if we just tried harder, if we just conformed more - that THIS will be the WAY to get out of pain.
We believe it because it perfectly matches our childhood programming.
Which means we never question the system - because we’re fully set up to simply keep questioning ourselves, and feeling like we are falling and that we are bad people when we suffer.
Let’s take another pause here and come back for part three next week!
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