By: Sarah Collier, MA, LP
Think back to when you were a kid on a school field trip. All crammed on a bus heading in the direction of something full of hope and potential of something good (anything’s better than the day at school!)
You and your classmates all approached the bus ride differently though, I assume. Some were excited, some were loud and silly, some were sneaky and mischievous, some were bored, some were trying to sleep and kept getting disrupted, some were obediently following all the rules, some were anxious and terrified, some were in awe of the scenery outside, some were singing at the top of their lungs, etc. Probably lots of differing voices, behaviors, viewpoints, attitudes, all probably assuming their limited perspective made the most sense.
Now imagine you’re the driver of the bus. You’re at the head, trying to focus on the direction you’re heading towards. You’re heading towards the good. You’re heading towards the things in life that are aligned with your values and what you aim to be or have. For example, reliability, safety, trust, hope, connection, success, peace, family, etc. They are like your compass, always pulling you into that direction.
Behind you on the bus, however, are all the passengers. Like your classmates on the field trip, they all have their own perspectives and they all think they’re right.
It may sound like a room of very enthusiastic and passionate voices all vying for attention and for their voice to be heard. Perhaps they’re pounding their fists, shouting, standing up and pointing at each other and at you. You’re driving, attempting to be steady and secure and trying your best to listen to everyone in the inconsistency and, at times, chaos.
Perhaps some voices come up behind you and whisper things in your ear in order to be best heard. All of them act as if what they have to say is the most important thing.
How would you feel? It would be very hard not to appease the voices and just respond to them in the way they want which would require you to give up your steadiness and position and bend to their will, allowing them to jump in the driver’s seat and veer you off course and in the direction of their choosing which may be away from the value you have. This may cause you to feel confused, frustrated, lost, disconnected to your values and alone. It may be hard to talk with that new driver and ask them to return to their seat. If we walk up and demand it get off the bus and banish it, they’ll probably respond with why we need them and why they make the most sense. If we comply, it’ll be happy but we’ll feel the tension and loss, but if we push back, it’ll probably get louder and more persuasive which would feel distressing.
The banishment and tug of war won’t work, so we’ll be tempted to feel helpless and out of control. However, another approach would be to walk up to the voice at the head of the bus, ask to hear its perspective, respect where it’s coming from even in its limited viewpoint and then respond by saying something like “Thanks for the information and for trying to help, but I can see what you can’t, so I got this, let me drive. Go rest back in your seat” And then reclaim the driver’s seat even if that voice isn’t satisfied or compliant yet.
Those voices can’t hurt you or force you to do anything, even in their loudest moments. Although it’s not fun to hear them yelling, we do have the ability to respond to them in a new relational way, full of compassion and understanding and validation and still choose to act in the way that’s in line with our values, knowing that voice can only see a tiny fraction of reality and is usually trying to help us out in its limited way.
This all very conceptual. Let’s think of an example. You’re driving the bus in the direction of your value of speaking up more and using your voice instead of letting others take advantage of you. In other words, confidence, clarity and honesty. You’ve set out on your drive and the passengers are fairly calm and quiet. Some of the passengers are even supportive and complementary of your path and dedication to the destination. However, the longer the drive lasts, the more some of the passengers may get agitated or loud or disruptive. They may start shouting out comments like “Let’s not be too confident, you need to stay humble” or “What if we speak up and our boss at work doesn’t like it and we get fired?” or “Every time I try to be honest with my mom she puts me down” “What if the ladies at church start to think I’m pushy or difficult?”
And then those voices start suggesting alternatives. They may say “It’s best to turn here, so we can avoid any conflict” or “Stop the bus! We couldn’t handle the potential rejection!” or “Quick, turn here, let’s just do what the boss says so we’ll appear compliant, even if it means sacrifices”
If you remain in the driver’s seat heading towards confidence, clarity and honesty you’ll be more inclined to do behaviors and make choices that are going to challenge the passengers, but that’s growth!
If we don’t respond or comply to those voices and urges they’ll most likely raise the volume and surge our body up with adrenaline to compel us to act and move in the new, usually much safer, direction. And while safety is a good thing, if it requires us give up our commitment to heading in the direction of our values, it’s a loss of self.
It’s not easy, but we can learn to listen to the voices as they shout out their opinions, note them and respond with validation and understanding, knowing that they’re probably coming from parts of ourselves that are old and bent towards protection, but we can talk back by saying “Thank you but I can see what you can’t see ahead and I’m committed to this direction. You’re allowed to be here but I will drive.” It’s a much more compassionate response than one of war and banishment. The voices won’t disappear completely (they’re convinced they need to be there) but they should take their seats peacefully in time. All the while, you realize more and more their inability to force you to take any other action than the one you’ve chosen.
Going forward, see if you can imagine the bus and its passengers. What do they look like, how do they sound for you, when do they show up, how do you feel when they show up? What are your values you’re always aiming towards and how can you stay committed to those paths even when the other voices show up?
(ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy metaphor, check out the video for more of a visual: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z29ptSuoWRc)
Legacy Strategy Blog
Legacy Strategy, Inc. is a private counseling practice in Kennesaw, Georgia.