How Far Will You Go To Fit In?

And when do you need to sever bonds?

Photo by Gerome Viavant

You know how as kids you’ll do whatever it takes to blend and fit in, even if you know you don’t want to do it? I’m not talking about peer pressure. Call it ‘sameness’, assimilation; whatever we’re prepared to do to feel connected. It’s that sense of belonging we conscious beings crave.

I used to do it with my accent — it started when my mother and I moved to Birmingham, when I was 12. I immersed myself in a “Brummie” accent, so people didn’t know I was a “Lancashire lass.” Four years later, I moved back “up North,” alone, and quickly regained my Northern accent.

A decade later, like a chameleon, I did it again, when I moved to Yorkshire to begin my career in management within a team of Teachers of the Deaf (ToD). ToDs train to help deaf students with speech and language, but my colleagues focused less on what I was saying about supporting their students and more on my pronunciation. Then, on interpreter training, you’re told that ‘Received Pronunciation’ (RP) is received better than a Liverpudlian accent — which I didn’t have; and how audiences make assumptions about presenters and speakers, based on how you sound when you interpret them.

Your accent goes through the wash and ends up like faded blue jeans. Finally, you have one of those accents that’s diluted and difficult to pinpoint, because you’ve moved around so much, only to be told to embrace your accent and be proud! Hurrah, like fashion comes full circle, it’s now OK to be you (again), though you never really seem to regain your native dialect fully.

The lengths we’ll go to, to fit is exhausting. It can invalidate your life experiences, if you let it.

Turns out, we do the same energetically. We take on other people’s feelings, beliefs and behavioral patterns. Sounds weird, doesn’t it?

You could cut the tension with a knife

Think about a toxic workplace — how do you feel going into that environment? And when you come home, are you still feeling the effects?

Here’s my take on toxic environments: they start with one person, whose behaviour, emotions or energy become a catalyst for equally negative responses in others. How else does it spread like bacteria in a petri dish? Human Resources departments don’t advertise and recruit “Dynamic individuals with experience of transforming organisational culture by creating toxic environments” as an essential criteria and, “sociopathic tendencies” as a desirable ‘quality’, on person specifications.

This morning I had an “Aha!” moment in the shower. My best ideas are in the shower — a steamy meditative space where the mind roams free.

I’ve been living with untidiness and not completing studies, or certain tasks, and today I realised that these are my sister’s behavioural patterns, not mine.

My sister bullied me as we grew up. Overweight as a child, body-shamed and bulimic, I believe her mental health issues should have been addressed much earlier. Now, after years of depression, misdiagnoses, and Electro-Convulsive Treatments, her recent labels are Bipolar Affective Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder.

I’m a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), which means my nervous system is hyper-sensitive. I feel people deeply, and I tend to avoid films that make me teary, or recoil at the violence. My sister was too temperamental to be around. One moment she’d want to be closer to me, but sensed I wouldn’t allow it, the next she’d threaten violence, even punching me, totally unprovoked, while I was washing up once. I wear the souvenir above my eyebrow to this day.

I had to cut her out of my life and resist my siblings’ and my sister’s friends’ attempts to reconnect the severed ties between us. I’d endured all I could. Sometimes, it can be difficult to maintain boundaries you’ve put in place for your own wellbeing, and others, who are well meaning, may not fully understand your position. It’s usually around the time you hear, “Blood is thicker than water,” and instead of ‘giving in,’ you take on guilt.

These days my sister and I have periodic contact, and I don’t visit her when she is hospitalised. The one time I did, thanks to my hyper-sensitivity, my head buzzed manically being on a psychiatric ward around so many people who were mentally unwell. I chose, instead, to wait in reception to take her out for the day.

It dawned on me today that I had energetically taken on her behaviour of untidiness and not completing both Master degrees, as a way of remaining close to her, emotionally. If truth be told, I was more interested in the letters after my name than the degree course. Not the brightest way to study, nor sabotage success!

So what can you do to check whether you’ve taken on somebody else’s behaviour or energy? Even if you think absorbing other people’s energy is far-fetched, it’s worth being curious enough to see if you’re carrying other people’s baggage. Here’s one technique I use on myself and with my clients:

Do a body scan

Close your eyes focus on your breathing to quieten your mind. Allow your awareness to spread throughout your body and ask about the issue you want to insight on. Now ask the question who does this belong to?

Release it

If you get the sense that it belongs to someone else, simply say “Return to sender with kindness and consciousness.” You’ll be surprised at how simple, yet powerful that question is, which is taken from something called Access Consciousness.

If it belongs to you, you can ask “What will it take to change this?” Or, simply write it out in your journal, until you get the wisdom from within that’s required to change this unwanted behaviour.

If you experience a ‘shift’ you may want to explore other areas of your life where you’ve taken on other people’s beliefs or behaviours. There will be hidden beliefs about money, about relationships, even emotions you’ve mistaken as your own.

If you want to read more about how we retain other people’s beliefs and values within us, here’s a blog post about how one entrepreneur’s business block was due to her parents’ beliefs instilled before she was even born! That Business Problem May Not Be Yours.

If this post resonates with you, or you try the technique and feel different afterwards, I’d love you to share in the comments below.

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