The Shift from External to Internal


One of the first shifts that often occurs in life transitions but that is especially relevant to a religious one -- is the turn from looking outside of ourselves to find answers -- toward trying to discern how we feel, what we value, or what we need from the inside out. This is an especially tough task as many of us have grown up thoroughly disconnected from ourselves. And that is why this shift can feel like a foreign land. Our time of transition is likely the first time we will have taken back the reins from another to guide our own lives. We may stumble. We may wander for years exploring or trying on new values or possibilities. We may struggle to know what we desire. Or what we value. We may feel paralyzed with all the decisions before us, feeling completely incapable of making any choice on our own. Life has met us where we are. And it takes time to learn this new language of being in the world. But first, how did we get here?

Many of us grew up in households where love was entirely conditional in the way it was both defined and expressed. Obedience was paramount. We were told what to do and how to do it. Approval felt great when we conformed but more often than not, our efforts were found lacking or discouraging. We learned to hustle for love. We created masks to hide the parts of ourselves that were judged as lacking or sinful. Our worth was directly tied to what we chose. Even our thoughts were up for scrutiny.  I say this because many of us come from families where our parents embodied either the authoritative or authoritarian parenting style that relies on high expectations and numerous means of control. Both traditions tend to sacrifice connection while striving for an unachievable outcome that inadvertently communicates to children that they have no right to their own humanity or agency in their own lives.

If you then add in a religion "layer" that reinforces many of the same techniques with even more grave consequences (like your salvation or like seeing your family again in the afterlife) -- well now, you have multiple structures at work that have you trained to constantly look outside yourself for any answer you need. The formulas have been provided. All questions have a certain answer. The authority in your life exists in a text or a prophet or a leader or a parent or a culture. Your job is to pay attention to all of these externals and fall in line -- lest you be "othered" or deemed unworthy by those in authority. Regular meetings are scheduled to judge how well you are managing. Assessment is ongoing (hence, the hustle for worth).

I remember the first time I was introduced to the idea of living from the inside out or approaching life from more of a "tuning into myself" strategy. In an interview, Shefali Tsabary was discussing how important it is for children to NOT need their parent's approval. My mind was blown. I had never considered how approval might be a tool for control. How approval is still a jail cell of sorts. I immediately wished to embody this independence from approval. I desired to connect truly with myself and attempt to honor my innate goodness and wisdom for a change. And so began my journey with conscious parenting.

Consider some of the tenets of living a life that values the path inward--

  • Our own voices are developed, valued, considered, and utilized (versus listening to the voice of authority in order to conform or receive social approval).

  • Our own values are created. We are anchored in them. They come from us (versus being given values by those in authority).

  • Our beings can stand independently amidst the pressure of conformity and authority (versus having little individuation as we value conformity and the need for obedience).

  • Our journey includes exploring new ideas independently. We weigh options and value the process of gathering information and making mistakes as a key part of growth (versus endorsing and actively teaching a perfection/shame model).

  • Our commitment to integrity has everything to do with living in accordance with our own truths and intentions to create a life that feels most authentic to us (versus having our lives scripted and our worth assessed by authority).

In my coaching practice, I find that this shift away from the external (a training that had us constantly looking outside of ourselves for answers) to the internal (a commitment to look inside, to learn, to explore, to connect with ourselves) is one of the most difficult and empowering outcomes from times of transition.

My commitment to myself is a discipline that just keeps on giving. Since I have started trusting my own voice, I have found a greater sense of purpose in my life. More fulfillment. More peace amidst hard times. My relationships are healthier. I am still learning. It can still feel like a foreign land. Clearly, there is no escaping the suffering that comes with being human.  But I finally feel empowered that I can weather the storms of life while fully appreciating the beauty of being alive.

"I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul" wrote William Ernest Henley in his poem, Invictus.

Yes. I am. You are. And it has been a long time coming.