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« Moment of Mercy | Main | Script for Self-Empowerment »

Script for Personal Liberation

First, some dull, but very important facts.  Personality evolves in stages, and almost all of them involve people.  Specialists in early childhood education say that the first stages of learning involve relationships and interaction with people.  The nurturing stage makes up the first two years of life, during which a baby forms a bond of security and trust.  Somewhere between four to six months of age, a baby begins the social stage.  Recognition of the mothers face usually develops first, then, at seven months, a baby learns the first social games, like grasping objects and then giving them away, playing “patty-cake,” and “peek-a-boo.”  At nine months, babies start to tell the difference between faces, especially from known to unknown. As they enter the toddler stage, they begin to express wider ranges of emotions, speaking their first words, communicating with others. 

Since infancy and childhood marks the start of your core personality development, learning to rewrite your script starts here too. The values you have today, the raw, underlying reasons why your life is what it is and the unarticulated, shadowy background from which you emerged were primarily the result of your social maturation, and it has now formed into major governing forces in your life.  Biographers try to reconstruct these developments in subject’s lives to discern why they behaved in certain ways.  Comparing the background of Winston Churchill to that of Adolf Hitler, for example, is highly instructive in determining why each of them turned out the way they did.  We cannot truly understand these gigantic personalities that shaped world history without knowing who their parents were, what their cultural realities were, and how their social development progressed.  

Neither can you understand yourself without exposing the dominant forces in your past.  Until they invent time machines, changing your childhood will be impossible, but you can understand what happened, who contributed to your identity and how you arrived at your present state.  This knowledge pries the fingers of fate from around your neck, and helps disarm the feeling that you are helpless to change.  You need to be free from your past if you want to move forward to the person you want to be.  

The most critical aspect of your personal history, therefore, concerns people.  Are you uncomfortable around certain people?  Do you change your plans, your conversation or your demeanor because of their influence?   Do you sense that you are a different person when they are in the room?  Do your judge your own significance in terms of other people?  Without plunging too deeply into the psychology of personality (and I assure you that this could get extremely complicated), your viability as a person has less to do with who you really are and much more to do with who others think you are.  The criteria are many: looks, talent, intelligence, money, connections, etc.  When you locate these key factors, you will have the clues you need to write your personal liberating script.


Speak to a person who has always intimidated you. 

Ever hear of the term “pecking order?”  A German zoologist, Thorleif Schjelderup-Ebbe, introduced it in his doctoral dissertation.  He found that in any group of chickens, a hierarchy exists that establishes the top chicken, the second from the top and so on, all the way to the bottom chicken.  They use their beaks to arrive at their place in the order.  The order determines who gets the food first and who has to wait their turn.  Sociologists soon began to apply this study to humans and discovered that the same behavior shows up in groups of people such as elementary school classes, church congregations and even within families.  Fairness rhetoric aside, we all tend to operate within unspoken, yet very evident pecking order protocols.     

So, what does this mean in terms of your script?  Your script tells you to fold in the presence of certain people.  Sometimes it is attributed to the Alpha Male, or even the Beta Male dominance.  Whatever it is, it turns you into the Omega Male!  (Or, the female equivalent.)  The antagonists take many forms:  people who are super-extroverted, people who are judgmental and harsh, people in authority, people who threaten you with physical harm, people who are lawless types, people whom you have mistakenly stereotyped, members of your own gender, people who are extremely intelligent, and more.  But parsing behavior shows something more complicated going on.  It is one thing for someone to actually be superior to you.  It is another thing for you to perceive that another person is superior to you.  Both views lay out a script that you follow, whether you are aware of it or not.  

Sometimes, you can make changes through careful and deliberate thought.  Other times, you have to start by action, because thinking about it may lead to more inaction.  Since feelings are more intuitive than logical, you need to act first.  This is action time.  Open up a dialogue between you and someone who intimidates you.  What you talk about is not as important as starting the conversation.  Remember, you have never lacked the capability of addressing this person; you have only lacked the boldness.  However the conversation goes, you have taken a major step by establishing dialogue.  

Force yourself to speak to an intimidating person.  Several things will happen.  First, you will prove to yourself that you can do it.  Each successive time you initiate a conversation, you will feel increasingly at ease.  Second, you will be surprised at the response of the person who caused you such anxiety.  The aura of intimidation that you imagined will most likely evaporate and you will see this person as a real human being just like yourself.  Third, and most importantly, this breakthrough transfers to other people problems you may face.  A win in one area makes you feel and act like a winner in all areas.  

And, speaking of biographies, read about Theodore Roosevelt, C. S. Lewis, Thomas Edison, Orville Wright, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Barbara Walters, Julia Roberts and Elvis Presley.  Every one of them wrestled with and overcame shyness.  Each of them made a decision to fight back and write their own script.  You can too.  Dr. Clif Ford writes: 

“In Hans Sachs’ book, ‘Masks of Love and Life,’ there is a chapter title I’ve never forgotten – ‘Locked in a Room with Open Doors.’  The story behind the title is told in the chapter’s opening paragraph.  Says Sachs, ‘In a family of my acquaintance were two brothers, the younger of whom had a dread of opening doors. The older one became impatient, as older brothers will be, and wanting to break him of his habit, he threatened, ‘One day I will lock you up in a room with all the doors open.’

‘Locked in a room with open doors.’ What an image those words conjure up. They suggest that a person can be immobilized by inner weaknesses as well as outer obstacles. To be sure, there are people in our society who are locked in rooms with shut doors. That’s what most of the noise is about these days — people trying to open doors. Doors to more adequate education, doors to decent jobs, to good health, to better housing, to equal treatment, to a fair share of political and economic power.  But the fact remains, a person can still be a prisoner when all the doors are open. The enemies are not all out there. Some are on the inside. No reduction of obstacles on the outside can guarantee freedom within.” 

If there is a lock on the door to personal liberation, it exists only in your mind.  And, that’s precisely where the key is stored as well! 

Start a relationship that you never thought you could begin. 

A more advanced form of shyness may keep beating you up:  fear of relationships.  This script keeps many people locked into a loner mentality.  On a website called Social Anxiety Support, an eighteen year old man wrote, “I feel helpless with finding friends.  It’s rare for me to feel comfortable around a person.  I really want to help myself with my [social anxiety] though.  I’m just thinking of joining small groups I would be interested in but it seems hard and I have no money to do anything.”  The inability to form meaningful relationships is becoming an epidemic, and the onset of the technological age with television, personal computers, cell phones, video games, iPods, etc. has only exacerbated the problem.  Some people suffer from this problem so acutely that ending their lives seems like the only solution.  One can only imagine how the widespread use of robots will impact the sociology of future generations.  As it is, twenty-first century people can function in their silos with little need to bridge or bond to others.  This might be convenient, but it is hardly fulfilling.  

Fear of rejection tops the list of reasons for social anxiety.  Others loathe competition or any situation in which they are compared to someone else.  Still others were hurt so badly in a former relationship that they vowed never to let it happen again.  Isolation seems like the only protection.  Also, consider that you are your own problem.  Your expectations may be so unrealistic that you instinctively ride the brake and stop short of starting a relationship.  Where are you in this scenario?  Are you terrified of a relationship that you desperately want, but it appears to you that it could never happen?  It’s time to take another look at the script you have been following.  

If you have a history of negative episodes within your family as you were growing up, or while progressing through your school days, then that script was shaped by immature, undeveloped emotions.  Think about it.  A nine year old pre-pubescent mentality still wields the pen that writes out the way you are to behave as an adult!  In your mind, a ten year old bully continues to call you names.  In terms of your emotions, a fourth grade classmate who wrote an “I hate you” note may as well have written it yesterday.  The spiteful voice of a brother who called you “fatso” or a snotty sister who said you were ugly resonates in your head today.  

(Disclaimer: If a psychiatrist or other health care professional has diagnosed you with a clinical problem, you should follow his or her orders.  The advice given here is to supplement, not substitute, that of a medical practitioner.)  

Enough about the problem.  The way to a new you is to tear up the script that was written for you a long time ago and, as painful as it may be, to craft a new one.  Three things make sense here.  1) Confess your deep need for relationships.  Admitting it helps you suppress petty annoyances that you have allowed to sabotage your past attempts.  2) Understand that other people need relationships as badly as you do.  Quit assuming that others aren’t interested in you.  Relationships and friendships really travel a two-way street.  3) Relationships will cost you some freedom, but the rewards far outweigh the costs.  In mathematical terms, happiness shared is happiness squared.  (Happiness2.) 

To paraphrase John Maxwell, the leadership guru, when the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain of doing something different, you will change. 

Speak up in a situation in which you have always suppressed your opinion. 

Do you often wish that you had spoken up during a discussion, but kept your mouth shut? Does it seem like the dominant participant voiced an opinion that you not only disagreed with, but it was based on a false premise?  You knew more than the person that did all the talking, and you had information that could have totally reversed the outcome.  Afterwards, you could have kicked yourself for not speaking up. 

“Silence is not golden.”  So writes Margaret Heffernan of Inc. Magazine. She explains that many corporations, organizations and associations of every kind complain that many of their members fail to speak up, even when encouraged to do so.  Heffernan tells this story: 

“Elizabeth Morrison and Frances Miliken are both academics at New York University. One day they had an experience many of us can relate to: A new initiative was being proposed and all the commentary, in hallways, lunchrooms, and by the water cooler, was universally negative. The new idea was bad. Then, at the faculty meeting, when the subject came up, nobody said a word.

‘Nada. No one raised one word of complaint. It just sailed on through. And that’s when we thought: I wonder if that happens everywhere.’

When they asked a broad range of executives whether they had ever had issues at work that they had not voiced, fully 85% said that they had, at some point, felt unable to discuss their concerns. Morrison and Miliken called this ‘organization silence’ and their research demonstrated that there is a lot of it around.”  (Inc. 4/9/2012.) 

The relevant question is why?  Why do people refuse to talk?  Here are some of the reasons: 1) It’s a waste of time and energy to say anything when it won’t make any difference; 2) My voice doesn’t count; 3) I’ll get shut down by other people in the room; 4) I can’t explain myself very well; 5) I’m not interested; 6) I hate conflict and confrontation; and 7) People who talk all the time have oversized egos.  But, isn’t it ironic that people who don’t speak up during the discussion usually have a lot to say after the decision is made?  The reality is that somebody is going to talk and someone’s opinion is going to shape the ultimate decision.  Say what you want to about the so called movers and shakers, but they are the ones who make things happen. 

If you are following a script that includes some of the foregoing reasons, why not tear it up and write a new one?  You do have an opinion and, until proven otherwise, it is just as good as the next person’s opinion.  If you indeed have information that others lack, you owe it to them—and to yourself—to speak up.  You can’t control how they will take it, but you can give them a chance to know what you know.  

Our focus here, however, is not the discussion per se, but your participation in it.  Your personal liberation is tied to the script that is now yours to write.  You have been scripted to acquiesce to the voices around you, as though your opinion has always been inferior.  It’s time to recognize the voice within you and give it the expression it deserves.  Your passion, your zeal, your insight, your intelligence and your right to speak has to come front and center.  So what if others try to shut you down?  Regroup and speak up again.  Wayne Gretsky, the legendary hockey player said, “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.”  Likewise, you miss one hundred percent of the speeches you don’t make to influence a decision! 

Become vulnerable in areas that you have always tried to keep hidden. 

A leadership book I wrote several years ago, “Living and Leading in Ministry” contained several chapters in which I described a failure or a mistake that I made in my ministerial career.  One instance related a time when I disbanded a youth chorale, but was instructed by the pastor to reverse my decision and get the group back together.  Another time was putting out a financial report that was seriously flawed.  Yet another was failing to follow through on a capital campaign and having to finance a building project for much more money than was necessary.  Little did I know that these would be the incidents cited by readers as the most impacting chapters in the book!  They were not nearly as impressed by my successes as they were interested in my blunders.  

Should you risk exposing your weaknesses in human interaction?  Will it be embarrassing?  Probably.  Dangerous?  Sometimes.  Honest?  Always.  But pretentious maneuvering around the truth comes across as hollow and unrealistic.  Those traits are weaker than the weakness you may be trying to cover up!  It turns out becoming vulnerable takes more strength than hiding yourself.  

Once again, David illustrates the point.  Despite his sordid affair with Bathsheba and his murderous scheme to cover it up, he remains a compelling figure.  When the prophet Nathan exposed David’s sin, David took full responsibility for his actions and repented so completely that he wrote a psalm about his failure and his restoration.  Read it a ask yourself if this is the work of a weak man or a strong man. 

  Psalm 51:1-19 (NIV)
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.
14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18 In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then there will be righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings to delight you; then bulls will be offered on your altar. 

Has your script called for you to hide your mistakes?  Have you followed that script to the point where you have been disingenuous about your actions?  Have you mislead people, or even orchestrated a cover-up in order to deflect questions about your faults and failures?  That course of action may have been intended to preserve your strength, but instead, it underscored your weaknesses.  

A word of caution: becoming vulnerable does not mean celebrating your weakness, condoning wrongdoing or exploiting sin to gloat in prurient interests.  Your confession and repentance should not be a graphic tell-all story.  It should only be as revealing as is necessary to admit any sin on your part, and then to focus on the love and mercy of God to forgive and restore.  

It is time to be human, to be honest and, consequently, to be strong.  

These steps, simple in principle but difficult in practice, will be extremely liberating to your personal view of life.  Speak to a person who has always intimidated you, start a relationship you never thought you could begin, speak up in a situation in which you have always suppressed your opinion and become vulnerable in areas you have always tried to keep hidden.  The personal liberation you sense will change your life.

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Reader Comments (1)

Thank you

February 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAngela Roth

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