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Day 10. The Conformist


Its Motivations: To keep you on the straight and narrow so that you ‘fit in’.

The Fear It's Driven By: If you’re different, you won’t fit in and will be rejected.

Underlying Beliefs: Different is wrong. I’m not good enough. If someone thinks, feels or acts differently to you (and me the inner critic), you (and I) are being attacked. It’s safest to fit in because, surely people cannot reject you if you’re acting like them or doing what they want?

Look Out For: A key influencer in your family who had ideas and ‘rules’ about how people should be or even an entire family of conformists. Lots of talk in your childhood about what was considered “wrong”, e.g. sex, being gay, what women ‘should’ do, what men are free to do. Heavy religious upbringing or a parent who was super religious or even in the church. A parent/caregiver who each time you do something out of sync with their picture of things, they’re praying for you. Negative memories of feeling that you did not fit in or that you were excluded for something. Being bullied or mocked by your peers or even teachers.

The Conformist inner critic believes that the standard of what it feels is acceptable behaviour and the practices it dictates is the gospel.  No other input necessary. It does its best to focus on what gives you the ‘batch’ life so that you fit into standards of your family or society at large. It wants to keep you in line which also makes it easier to live your life by numbers and not invite scrutiny.

The emphasis is to be liked by family and society so that you’re not rejected, shamed, or abandoned.

Rules, rules, rules, it’s all about the rules with them. Happiness is not on the agenda or it’s inferred that if you follow the rules you will be safe which they think equals happy but it causes you to be afraid to lift your head above the parapet and to feel as if ‘dissenting’ aka being you and living by your values so living and let live, will cause you to be abandoned.

And that’s the threat that The Conformist inner critic is always holding over you whether it’s explicitly stated or implied— do as I say, or else.

The other way that it rules though is by using messaging that suggests that if you don’t conform that you are being disloyal, that you don’t love, for instance, your family. Question anything and it pipes up and it can feel as if your job here on earth is to obey commands.

The messages that you've picked up along the way that form and feed The Conformist are going to come either from an outer conformist in your life or criticisms made by your younger self in response to negative experiences that were informed as being the fault of not doing things by the rules. It can also be the case that when you are not very confident, you can sometimes turn to someone as a role model, putting them on a pedestal and seeing them as the definitive word on how to live. That ‘role model’ like some people who are given the power to be an authority over you, may abuse it and while you might have originally felt self in being directed, resentment will have built. If you tried to break away from that person, there may have been painful consequences that were distilled as life lessons about why it’s best to just follow the rules. Even an early experience or a very painful adult one of breaking the mould and not following the rules can be internalised as, It’s a bad idea to take risks.

The Conformist keeps you in child mode pleasing ‘authorities’ and this will feel oh so familiar if you had an overbearing, oppressive parent. It can feel as if you cannot put a foot wrong but also that they’re contrary and unpleasable. You obey all of their rules and don’t have sex before marriage and then they’re criticising you for not conforming and being married off, not realising that if you go around scaring the crap out of people about breaking rules, it can make decision-making a minefield.

When The Conformist inner critic is running your life, you are most likely to gravitate to people who you can make authorities out of so that they can direct you. It feels safe, it feels familiar and you don’t have to risk. Unfortunately, the type of person, especially in romantic relationships, that is happy to take up the reins and be an authority over you, is the somebody who you will have code red problems with. Only someone who wants to have power over someone, for there to be superiority and inferiority and who actually is reliant on somebody not owning their own power, wants to have this type of role. Cue the controllers, users and abusers of this world. Very critical folk also love these relationships because their criticisms are seen as Rules On How To Live (from a hyper-critical person who displaces their own issues by focusing on criticising others). You are likely to find that you get lost in your relationships, taking up the identity that you feel will most match you to the person or that will keep the peace. When relationships end, you will feel deeply confused and even aggrieved because it’s like, “I met the conditions, I followed the rules and I sacrificed myself! Why hasn’t this worked out? It’s not fair” and of course you’re going to be very critical and eventually blame you.

Being a conformist at work might be handy if you’re working for somebody who wants someone who says, “Yes sir, no sir, three bags four sir” but there will come a point in your career where it might feel as if things have stalled - people who stick their head above the parapet make the leaps ahead. You might be secretly frustrated about having been in the same role for long time. You probably have ideas that are quickly silenced or that you think about often but don’t voice. If you run a business, you might experience aspects of it that are incredibly taxing on you mentally and emotionally because you want to conform but then it can get in the way of growing.

It can be that you have a number of friendships but feel nervous about being yourself or that at times you’ve followed the herd and sometimes followed it into trouble. You might find it difficult to make friends because it feels as if it’s not a paint-by-numbers scenario where you can follow rules so when you’ve experienced conflict or criticism in the past, these are inferred as judgments on how much you fit in.

When you have this type of inner and out critic, you parrot rules that don’t even make sense and unconsciously follow rules that you’ve never questioned because you’re being ‘obedient’ and it can seem easier to comply than to invite more noise or outer criticism.

When you examine The Conformist inner critic versus what you’re being and doing whether it’s now or in the past, you can see how irrational they are. It wants you to conform because it sees anyone that’s different as a problem and a threat so if you do as you’re told, you won’t be ‘unacceptable’, but what is ‘acceptable’? Isn’t misery unacceptable? Does any one person or inner noise or even a group of people (your family) have the right to tell you that it’s better to be obedient and miserable than being yourself and happy?

Why does being yourself and being loved by others have to be mutually exclusive?

Oppression isn’t love; it’s more like suffocation.

Everybody is different and The Conformist projects their own fears of not conforming which may be based on a different time in the world or on different values that don’t reflect you.

JOURNALING: Do you identify with The Conformist experience? Write about the ways in which this habit has manifested itself in your life – locate your specific habits of thinking and behaviour. Is there anyone from your past that has influenced The Conformist’s tape and if so, who are they and what did they teach you about life? What were the reasoning habits that you used to explain their behaviour and outlook? What are all of the rules that you’re supposed to live by? List them all. Here’s an interesting one - did your outer critic live by these rules too or was it do as I say not as I do? Which ones have they broken and can you see how irrational their attitude is? What are the consequences that you imagine are going to happen? How many of these are real and how many of these actually matter and if so, why? Do you think that conforming is worth the price that you’re paying? What are the things that you’ve held back from being and doing due to The Conformist? Are you carrying anger and regret about these? If so, explore your feelings about these experiences. Also,

Don’t forget to use the Resources to help you to work through feelings that come up – the Releasing Exercise is ideal for homing in on memories associated with not fitting in and negative consequences of not obeying and following rules. Unsent Letters are ideal for distinguishing you from others, forgiving you and using compassionate enquiry to think about what you can do next.

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