Rebel or Comply?: Steps to Find the Middle Ground

“One of my best friends left a marriage where her husband beat her, and a man at my church found out his wife was cheating on him for fifteen years. Nothing like that is happening in my marriage, so I should make it work, right?” Margie, 54

“It’s my senior year, and I’m applying to 6 different colleges. I’ve been in advanced placement science and math classes my whole life, and my dad is an engineer. I’m sure I would do well at Colorado School of Mines and my parents offered to pay, so I should go?” Warren, 17

“Everyone likes her; she’s the most popular girl in my school. She’s having a birthday party and she purposely didn’t invite two of my best friends. Am I supposed to miss it? It’s going to be the best party of the year!” Bethany, 7

We all experience layers of “shoulds” in our lives. When we are making decisions all the past and present messages from our selves, families, friends, communities and society bubble to the surface. Some people consistently rebel against the shoulds while others try to please everyone around them. The extreme ends of this spectrum include narcissistic people, who are unable to acknowledge the existence of needs outside of their own, and codependent people, who cannot make any decisions without others input.

The goal for Margie, Warren and Bethany is threefold. One: Awareness of internal and external messages. Margie spent some time talking through the external, “divorce is only an acceptable in the face of violence or affairs,” and internal messages of guilt and shame around potentially ending her marriage. Two: Awareness of want/need. Warren wanted to please his parents and take the safe, predictable route, but needed to honor his artistic skills and challenge himself. Three: Awareness of short-term and long-term effects. Bethany would feel happy at the party and appreciate the attention she received from the popular girl, but sad later on when her best friends were mad at her and potentially stopped being her friends.

It can feel easier in the moment to rebel or comply. Instead, take a few minutes to consider the different steps of awareness and make a decision that benefits both you and the world you impact.