It’s Okay to Feel Complicated

This is a Facebook post I wrote at 1 AM:

Everyone is hurting. Everyone on my feed is unhappy. Everyone feels unheard and misunderstood and judged.

This is shadow work. Face what you hate in yourself. Look at it and understand it and own it. Face what you hate in your country. Face what you rejected – what you thought could never exist. Drag it into the light and look at it.

Dear friends who are usually even keel are flying off the handle. That’s shadow work. Look at your anger. Look at your fear – in what ways has it always been there just beneath the surface?

I am saying the very opposite of get over it. Sit in it. Let your heart break. Hate every minute of it. But be honest with yourself and be honest with people around you.

Be complicated. Be upset. Be conflicted. Be human.

Much of shadow work is sitting with uncomfortable ands. It’s the eastern philosophy of seeing opposites as false, and living in the cognitive dissonance.

It is human nature to want to resolve opposing, conflicting, difficult ands into simple, clear this-or-that statements.  It is how our brains are designed to function.

And it is the requirement of growth, change and healing that we do not allow ourselves to oversimplify complicated truths. We cannot resolve dissonance blindly and still grow. We have to accept the complexity and contradiction as part of who we are.

Get Rid of the Two-Party System In Your Head

If you’re tired of politics as usual. If you really would like to have 4 or more parties to choose from in an election. If you feel like the nation was polarized and wounded by two parties. Then recognize that that structure is largely a case of easy resolution of cognitive dissonance.

The two-party system is oversimplifying people. It’s oversimplifying our country and our values.

If you were selecting a candidate in this election, it’s likely you took a quiz with sliders along an “agree/disagree” continuum. And it’s likely you answered at least a dozen questions, if not many more.  Then, at the end, you likely got a “I agree with so-and-so X%.”  It was never 100%. And many of your sliders were in the middle. Right?

Then why do we suddenly expect that people who voted one way or the other had shoved all of their sliders to “Agree totally” and agreed 100% with the candidate they chose?

Because that’s what our brains do with cognitive dissonance. And it’s uncomfortable as hell to sit with the complexity that is the truth.

In reality, some of those sliders are way more important to each of us than others.  It goes back to the Nature of Man and the Role of the State. What does the government need to do, and what does it need to get out of the business of doing?  Every one of us has a different answer to those questions.

Here are some examples of uncomfortable, dissonant ands that I’m seeing my friends and family sitting with:

I will start with myself – my ands:

  • I see vast hypocrisy in the statements of “now we have to work together” after 8 years of obstruction. I am expected to offer grace and cooperation where others have not. It makes me angry as hell. AND I know that I expect of myself grace and cooperation. That I want to end the obstruction.
  • I’m weirdly galvanized by these events. I feel called to step up and guide people with what understanding I have of the world around me. AND I’m terrified of being vulnerable. I can’t offer my wisdom without putting myself “out there” more, and it scares me.
  • I’m probably going to lose friends if I keep speaking my mind. I’m probably going to have to have conflict I’ve so avoided my whole life. AND It’s not about me.

Some other observed / reported ands:

  • I love my country AND I don’t feel like it loves me – unpack this one. Sit with it. Look at all the fears that were always there under the surface. Look at the fact that this election just pulls them into the light. They already existed.  Now. How do you deal with them when you aren’t hiding them from sight?
  • I voted for Trump AND he has said some awful things that I disagree with. With your vote, you have essentially pointed out your slider bars.  You are saying that ways that you agreed with Trump were more important to you than the ways you disagreed with him. This could be a symptom of latent, shadowy, hidden beliefs. Or it could just be a question of priorities.   Want to know what you really think deep down? I recommend starting with this Harvard study called “Project Implicit” which is designed to test our underlying stereotypes and assumptions.

I’ve had blog comments turned off for a while. I’m going to turn them back on now. That’s me, facing one of my ands.

4 thoughts on “It’s Okay to Feel Complicated

  1. Alicia, this is brilliant. I’ve been a studier / observer of cognitive dissonance since I first learned what the words meant, because I think one must understand it in order to be a writer. We always talk about 3-dimensional characters (don’t make your characters so black and white!), because people are so complex and hold competing thoughts all the time.

    I so related to your “ands” I would say ditto for me on all three. Here’s another honest “and”: On one level I hope Trump fails miserably, and the US falls into a dystopian mess, in order to prove that promoting a culture of hate & fear of others, sexism, and homophobia is wrong and won’t be rewarded, and at the same time I very much want the U.S. to be peaceful and prosperous and move forward out of this mess.

  2. You’re my hero for so clearly rising above the existential angst so much of the population (including me) is facing, to put it in a framework that gives everybody language with which to move forward. Thank you for taking the time out to do this for us all. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Triggered Abuse Survivors | A.K. Anderson

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