“A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.”

There are two sources of stress, external and internal. Much of the available advice only looks at the external sources. Here’s how to face up to a major internal source of stress and start to lessen its power over you.

When people give advice on how to deal with stress, they usually concentrate on the kind that comes at you from the outside: overwork, bullying bosses, threats to job security, and lack of control over your life in the workplace. There is, of course, another source of stress that is equally powerful. The stress that comes from within, usually driven by anxieties, insecurities,and—most common of all—a divided self.

A kingdom divided

Nearly everyone has the experience, at one time or another, of living a divided internal life; of experiencing the painful dissonance that comes from doing or saying one thing while believing another.

In a trivial sense, we all do it when we tell a white lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings; or when we say or do what is expected for the sake of politeness, even though our real wishes are quite different. None of that matters much. The type of internal division and dissonance that causes stress is more deep-rooted and painful. It happens when the demands of the outside world come up against your deepest beliefs . . . and you still go along with what the world wants.

For example, you know that working late yet again—or taking still more work home for the weekend—will upset your nearest and dearest. Yet you prefer that over facing the scorn of your macho boss. You know that what you’re being told to do is unethical, even dishonest, but you still do it. You can’t bear to be called a “goody two-shoes” and excluded from the fashionable clique. To do what it will take to beat all rivals and secure that coveted promotion sickens you. But you still ruin your rivals and betray your friends to come out on top.

Emotional and spiritual haemorraging

Giving in to external pressures often seems the easier course. Certainly it’s the one that brings least immediate danger to your prospects and pressure on you. But there’s still a cost: somewhere inside you will have inflicted a deep wound that bleeds away in silence, sapping your energy and undermining your self-esteem.

Such wounds to personal integrity don’t heal easily. If the division between inner and outer imperatives becomes too great, the dissonance may become so bad that it causes all the classic symptoms of destructive stress: headaches, sickness, depression, irrational anger, lowered immune reactions. Eventually, such extreme inner turmoil will become so intolerable that only violent action can relive the pressure. I wonder how many cases of domestic violence have their roots in such inner divisions?

To live with a dehumanizing and demoralizing gap between your true self and the one that collaborates with “the system” is to slowly strangle your integrity as a human being. There are ohly two ways out: to give into the external demands completely and crush your inner self; or to re-establish wholeness by following your personal integrity, whatever the cost. One leaves you as an empty shell of a person. The other will set you free, though it may involve great pain first.

Here’s what it takes to become whole again.

The steps in the process go something like this:

  • You must face the truth. You chose to deny your inner needs to make money, be popular, come out on top, avoid exclusion, or whatever. Now you have to reverse that choice.
  • Whatever you “bought” with the price of your integrity has to be given up. you won’t be able to have ti both ways. That may mean significant losses of power, cash, standing, influence, and credibility.
  • You’ll have to admit to yourself and those whom you hurt that you were wrong. Your choice was made in the outside world, so it has to be reversed there.
  • You’ll likely lose some face and various so-called friends. Mostly, this will be a benefit. Any friend who doesn’t value your integrity over his or her convenience isn’t worth having.
  • There will be considerable pressure to recant. Seeing you choosing inner integrity over outer advantage is going to make some people feel very queasy. You’ll need to be determined.

I’m sure all this sounds like considerable pain for little gain. In reality, the gain is massive. Internal, psychic dissonance is both extraordinarily painful and brings with it a slew of harmful effects, mentally and physically. The lowering of stress alone is likely to be worth it. That’s without the positive effects on your mind, your physical health. and your life expectancy.

Choosing integrity is choosing a good part of what makes life worth living. The earlier you can make that choice, the easier and less painful it will be. After all, if you never compromised your values for external gain, others would neither expect it nor be disappointed when it didn’t happen. In all likelihood, they would admire you for it too, however grudgingly.

Start now, before you do yourself still more damage.

Sign up for our Email Newsletter

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

Popularity: 66% [?]