The roles in your life – puppet or director?
Have you ever thought about why you always react the same way in certain situations? The convenient answer would be: “Because I am just the way I am. I am faithful to myself in what I do. A nice thought, but is it really true? Is your behavior really a conscious and self-determined decision? Do you decide for yourself how you react to a situation, which language you choose, in which tone you speak and how you feel in the situation and afterwards? Or is it rather learned patterns that control all this in you? Patterns that help you react appropriately to expectations that are brought to you from outside? So is your behavior really freely determined, or is it more of an unconscious attempt to live up to expectations?
Let me illustrate this with a specific example: imagine your employee comes to your office and asks you: “Don’t you think you spend too much time at work? How would you react? What would you say? What feeling does the question trigger in you in this situation? Now imagine the same question coming out of your mother’s mouth. Would your answer be the same? Or your emotions? Probably not. And this is exactly where the question arises: To whom do you answer, why and in what way? Can you control this?
Without roles there is no togetherness
Not worrying about the fact that we all behave differently in different environments is quite normal and helpful. Depending on the situation, we slip into different roles that make social interaction easier and allow us to react appropriately. In the office you are a manager, with your parents you are always a child – regardless of whether you are five or fifty years old. Everyone has expectations on the environment, unconsciously and at all times. Even you yourself. When you get on a plane, you expect the pilot to take you safely to your destination. From your partner you expect support and honest feedback, from your neighbors a nice greeting when you meet in the morning at the garden fence. All this your mind has learned, stored and retrieved (I describe in this blog post how you learn to control and train your mind). You project your expectations onto others and expect them to behave according to the roles assigned to them. Just as they assume this for you.
Roles help us live up to expectations and that’s a good thing because the alternative would be exhausting and time-consuming: we would have to reconsider and evaluate which behavior is appropriate and desirable at any time and at any moment. So roles give us security and orientation, and they reduce the complexity of daily interaction.
You are the director!
However, things become dangerous when we are no longer aware of our roles, the expectations associated with them and our programmed reactions. For example, a role can become a corset: as a child you have learned to be a strong boy, as a manager you cannot perceive your own weaknesses and ask for help. If a role becomes too strong and overpowering, then we cannot help but react according to the learned, unconscious pattern of behavior: some people are always on duty, even at home with their family, they cannot give up the habitus of the boss.
If we are not aware of our roles, it can also easily happen that an external trigger lets us fall into a certain role behavior that is anything but helpful in the current situation: the boss becomes loud and suddenly you become a small child who can’t make a sound in front of the overpowering father.
You become the victim of your roles, the plaything of your unconscious mind. But there is a way out: if you become aware of your roles and your inner programs, you can decide freely when a role is meaningful and appropriate and when it is not. Dealing with your own roles, with external expectations and internal reaction programs is certainly exhausting, but also very rewarding: your gain is greater self-determination, autonomy and authenticity.