I am going to jump in with both feet this #thoughtfultuesday, as I have been contemplating this topic since last week. Over the past year, I have been listening to Russell Brand’s Podcast, Under the Skin. In his thought-provoking discussions with various guests, Russell recurrently emphasizes that the narratives developed by our social and political structures contribute to and perpetuate the stratification of society. Until recently, I have understood this on a conceptual level. Last week, however, the stars aligned, and an embodied understanding unfolded. It is my hope to share this enlightening experience in a way that resonates with you beyond mere perception.
All humans possess wounds, triggers, trauma, discomfort... call it what you may, for this I am 99.9% certain to be true. What I became interested in, as I was reflecting on my own process, is the way in which people respond when their wounds are confronted (or in other terms, when they are activated). I began to theorize that our reactions or responses exist on a spectrum, with internalization on one end and externalization on the other end. It would be assumed that the majority of people exist around the middle mark of the spectrum, meaning their responses to being triggered are one of either internalization or externalization. Thus, depending on the situation at hand, they either internalize the pain, or they externalize the pain. I speculate that the ability to do either or allows these individuals to function adequately in the pre-existing system.
As always, there exist outliers. The first outlier category to explore are individuals who markedly exhibit externalization. What exactly does it mean to exhibit externalization? An alternate term for externalization is projection. Accordingly, when confronted, an externalizer evades responsibility and pushes the blame back on the source of the trigger. Although I cannot verify this, it is with an educated guess that I suggest, many of our corporate executives or leaders largely fall into this category. It appears to be obvious to me that individuals who regularly assume responsibility and blame and shame themselves, are not likely to claw their way up the corporate ladder. In any case, leaders of similar styles have a high probability of developing systems according to their knowledge and understanding. So, if the majority of originators are externalizers, structures and systems will naturally be designed to best benefit externalizers. How could they be designed any other way?
Let’s take a moment to discuss the opposite outlier category, consisting of individuals who markedly exhibit internalization. An alternate term for internalization is repression. Hence, when confronted, an internalizer assumes full responsibility and faults him or herself. To elaborate on this further, an internalizer is overly accountable and takes on pain that may not necessarily be their own. I happen to fall in this outlier category (shocking, I know). Regardless of the situation, my initial and rather impulsive reaction is one of default to liability. The story that unfolds from this assumption feeds the “not good enough or damaged self,” leading to a tale of woe and destruction.
Now that the spectrum has been explored, it is evident that our founding systems, likely developed by externalizers, have not been designed to effectively serve internalizers. In fact, I boldly state that these social and political systems do not effectively serve many; possibly only a small minority of the population (if they even function for them). Knowing this, what is there to be done? As a pawn in this game of chess, I do not hold the answers. But, I am aware of the pattern that my default response plays into and serves. Despite this awareness, I have been unsuccessful to date at altering my initial response of internalization. In recognition of this, I have no choice but to meet myself with acceptance. From here, I enter a state of curiosity and reflection. In a minimum of twelve hours, dependant on the severity of the trigger, I typically reach an understanding that the self-sabotage stance no longer rings true. During this time, I decipher what is mine to take responsibility for and what requires letting go. At times, letting go of the pain does not suffice and in these situations I strive to push some of the responsibility back on the externalizer or situation. This is my path to the reclamation of my voice and the removal of myself from the cycle of victimhood.
Although externalizers exist on the opposite end, the process is largely the same; different sides of the same coin. The difference lies in the awareness of the externalizer in the evasion of accountability. Thus, the repair comes via the acceptance of projection and the conscious absorption of his or her portion of responsibility.
What is required of those in the combination category? For the masses in the middle range of the spectrum, you operate as the bridge between both outliers. Inherently, you can uniquely relate to, and speak the language of, either side. Dare I say that you have the most critical role of all? You play an instrumental role in advocating for dynamic approaches and securing under-represented outliers a seat at the negotiation table.
Regardless of stance, the point of this post is to demonstrate that humanity has the capacity to exist in harmony and integrity. Effective systems reflect the intricacies and nuances of the collective. Yet, in saying this it is important to highlight, you cannot heal the system without first healing yourself.
Cheers to us saving the world one wound at a time,