Somewhere along the way we decide who we are and what our lives are going to be about. Nothing wrong with that, right? The problem comes when we create a substitute life or an image that we present to the world (and to ourselves) that is not real.
The substitute life is made up of the identities, judgments, expectations and assumptions we develop to deal with life as we see it. We want people to see us a certain way, we want to avoid certain situations, we want to control what happens and what doesn’t. Over time we develop coping mechanisms and defensive walls to protect the image of this substitute life.
Let’s say you are naturally very sensitive and as a child you are repeatedly told that it is not acceptable to be this way.
The more you are admonished, rejected and teased for being sensitive, the more deeply ingrained your beliefs become about what you need to show and what you need to hide in order to get by.
This is the beginning of the substitute life.
Maybe you hide your sensitivity to feel safe. Maybe you start trying too hard to be the opposite of sensitive and you become aggressive or mean-spirited. Maybe you become excessively cheerful, acting as if nothing bothers you, everything is funny. Whatever it takes to cover the inadequacy that is built up from being constantly rejected for being your natural self.
In any case, we weave together these beliefs and strategies — all based in thought and ego — to create a picture of an artificial life. A life where we can’t be completely authentic and still feel safe and still thrive. The more we believe in this artificial life, the more we struggle to accept life as it really, really is with all its imperfection and uncertainty.
In this example, the truth is that you are sensitive so any life you lead where you pretend not to be, is a substitute life. Any life you lead where you are denying your true nature and circumstances is a substitute life and it moves you further away from your purpose.
Make a list of all the images, identities, judgments, and expectations that make up your substitute life. Think of it as your “should’s” and “supposed to’s”. List as many as you can.
E X A M P L E:
I’m supposed to get married and have children.
I’m supposed to be loud and aggressive.
I’m supposed to put everyone’s needs before my own.
I’m supposed to believe what my parents believe.
I should be happy with what makes others happy.
I should do what others expect me to do.
I should diminish myself to make others feel more comfortable.
I should never show my vulnerable side.
After you make your list, look at the decisions you’ve made about who you are supposed to be and think about how these decisions are altering your life experience. Let’s keep this going!