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Tradition: Inspiration or Limitation?


Is it a Sacred Support System or a dream-killing bully? maybe a little of both?



I recently wrote an article about the protective ego-self. That's the part of us that tries to keep us safe at all cost. But it can also prevent us from reaching our potential, because in addition to keeping us out of real danger, it also wants to help us avoid any discomfort at all--like rejection, disappointment, heartbreak, and failure.


But these painful experiences are just a part of life, not signs that we’re in actual danger.


On the contrary, they're pretty much a given if we're learning and accomplishing anything. They can also help us build resilience. And if we’re paying attention, they'll make us smarter, wiser, and more compassionate and empathetic (Read more about the protective ego-self here).




The Internalized Voice of Tradition


One aspect of the protective ego-self can be especially powerful is the Internalized Voice of Tradition. In the broadest sense, tradition is the voice of our Tribe. Our People. We internalize this voice by absorbing messages from our family, culture, or history--without even realizing we're doing so--starting the moment we're born.


The traditional ways of Our People have always been our reality, so they feel comfortable and safe--even if they're not. And because they're familiar, leaving them behind to follow our own individual path can feel misguided or even scary.


The familiar and established guidance of tradition is necessary when we're young and vulnerable. Ideally, it keeps us safe and provides structure while we're finding our way and learning the basics about the world.



But when we get older that voice remains, its messages playing in a loop in our head, telling us what we should and shouldn’t do--telling us it knows better than we do. It can cause a lot of serious self-doubt.



This is especially true if our goals and passions don't fit in well with how we were raised. The Internalized Voice of Tradition insists we need to do it the way “everybody” does it. The safe and established way. We end up worrying about what “they” will think if we decide to go off alone on our own path (I wrote about it in my last article, Grandma's Surprising Adventure).



“Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.”

-W. Somerset Maugham



In sessions, my clients often realize that the unconsciously absorbed rules and values from family or culture are a big source of their anxiety and self-doubt. These messages can make us feel judged, ashamed, and doubtful about our own abilities. They tell us we’re being impractical or silly if we follow our heart or passion.



The Internalized Voice of Tradition asks us, "Who do you think you are, going off in your own direction, when we’ve laid out the guidelines, rules, and values so clearly for you?"




Depending on who you are and where you came from, traditional values can look very different. For a lot of people, tradition says to get a degree in something practical and score a well-paying job. Then get married, buy a big house in the suburbs, and start making babies—and definitely only in that order!


And there’s nothing wrong with that way of life if that's your dream. For many it’s exactly the right thing to do. But not for everybody...



...What if following your bliss means growing amazing organic vegetables for the farmer’s market? Or living in a one-room apartment in the city and writing crime novels?


What if you're a would-be monk in a family of atheists, or a hopelessly romantic poet surrounded by rigid pragmatists?


What if you want to be a beach bum mystic, a digital nomad, or a hermit witch in the woods?



Be it family, culture, or history, the Internalized Voice of Tradition wants and expects us to follow its program and dedicate our lives to its established values. Its aim is not to help us grow. It's not interested in our passions or dreams if they don't fit in. Its goal is to simply to keep us safe and keep us in line.



So, when we do decide to live our lives in a way that might not make sense to our families or--fall within the values of our culture--that Internalized Voice of Tradition rarely keeps its mouth shut. It lets us know we’re breaking the rules by filling us with feelings of fear, anxiety, shame, or imposter syndrome.



But we can learn to recognize this inner-critic. If the traditional rules and values we have absorbed are holding us back, we can leave them behind and create our own.



Ultimately, in order to find meaning and fulfillment, most of us will need to break with tradition to some degree. Many of us feel called to go beyond the values, plans, and programs of our families and cultures, to find our own way in life. We deserve to answer that call. And in that answer we can find our purpose.





Coming in early June, an article all about my wonderful client's real life experience with feeling totally out of sync with her family's values and expectations. If you've considered and dealt with these issues in your own life, I'd love to hear about it. Maybe I can write about you too if you're open to it! Your story could inspire a lot of other people.



Or, if you're still struggling with the pressure of others' opinions and expectations we can totally deal with that too. Get in touch if you'd like help sorting out and reframing old and outdated messages that aren't really yours and aren't helping you live your best life. Click here to read more about my Intuitive Coaching sessions. Or here to schedule a session or a quick free consult call to learn more.



Read more on this topic:

About tradition vs individuality: Grandma's Surprising Adventure

And the protective ego-self: You are so F*cking Amazing!




My mission is to help each highly sensitive and empathic person wake up to their power, brilliance, and authentic path. Learn more about Intuitive coaching. Send me an email or schedule a free consultation if you have question. Or book your one-on-one session to get started now.



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I'd love to hear your questions, comments, and ideas for further posts.

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