In the first interview in my new ‘Healers and Heretics’ series, myself and Carol Doyle-Plikk explored some of the ways we are unconsciously trained by our families and society, into overriding our real needs, feelings and desires.
This starts from our earliest childhood, leading to self-doubt and disconnection from our core selves throughout life. It happens as a result of doing whatever it took to maintain connection, approval and care from the adults we totally depended on for our lives.
Carol is a full-time yoga teacher based in Oslo, who also has a background in equine science, and has been on a journey of personal healing and growth (www.caroldoyleyoga.com).
NOTE: I apologise for the poor sound quality at my end in this recording. I had laptop/mic issues, however in the spirit of ‘Action, not perfection’, I decided to post it nevertherless, and I hope this won’t get in the way of you hearing all the interesting things Carol had to say!
How we are conditioned to comply with others
Carol talks about how, just like animals, we humans develop learned behaviours in response to others – a kind of ‘operant conditioning’ – and how this shapes who and how we trust. She describes how children’s inherent vulnerability and need to please others, trains them to behave in a way that can actually go directly against their inner nature or their needs in the moment. This is such an important point, often overlooked.
I refer to this as a form of unconscious ‘gaslighting’, because although it’s mostly not done intentionally, it results in a profound sense of self-doubt, and makes us question our own memory, perception, experiences… and even our own sanity.
It was really interesting to hear Carol describe how this happens, from both her professional teaching experience and personal experience, and bring to life what I see regularly in my therapy and coaching work.
Drawing from her personal journey, and her experience of working with horses, Carol reflects on how, as infants, we will literally do anything to get positive reinforcement, and feel accepted, connected and safe with our caregivers.
The need to adapt and fit in to our external environment often leads us to abandon our inner needs and reality, and this adaptation continues on into our adult lives as an unconscious habit.
I really enjoyed talking about this topic with Carol, as she really understands the subtleties at play, and shares candidly from her personal experience, conveying just how easy it is for us to override our own boundaries and sense of comfort, into adulthood.
Are we not exaggerating…? Does this really happen so often?
Nope, and yes. This kind of disconnect happens so much, and in everyday life. I see it in my own life and practice regularly, and it can be seen play out in contexts like a yoga class, for example, where Carol describes how students often miss the important cues from their bodies and power through into dangerous moves, way beyond their own comfort limit.
We also talk about how something as seemingly-innocuous as encouraging infants to hug people they don’t know – when they clearly don’t feel comfortable with it – actually repeatedly sends a clear message to them that they matter less: that their own discomfort or right to control their bodies is less important than the need to please others.
It’s no surprise, then, that people find themselves complying with other people’s wishes over their own, in subtle and less subtle ways, repressing the warning signs coming from within, and leading to serious breaches of their personal boundaries.
I hope that our conversation resonates with you, and helps to bring awareness to the subtle and complex ways we are socialised, and how repressing our true selves to some degree is unfortunately a necessary part of this.
I hope it also points the way for how you can start listening for the cues coming from within, unpeeling the layers of conditioning, and honouring your own needs and wishes.
Once you become more connected to yourself and what’s really going on within, and with the right support and validatoin, it becomes more and more possible to express your true self in different aspects of your life.
Find out more…
Carol Doyle-Plikk is a full-time yoga teacher based in Oslo, who also has a background in equine science, and has been on a journey of personal healing and growth.
An excellent resource on how early childhood experiences and attachments shape our personalities: ‘Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain’ by Sue Gerhardt.
Check out Irene Lyon – trauma and nervous system specialist – on common things that are traumatic but not recognised as such, including ‘societal decencies and cultural conditioning’, whatever that may look like where you grew up.