The Shift from External to Internal

Margi DehlinFaith Transition, Parenting, Relationships4 Comments

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.



4 Comments on “The Shift from External to Internal”

  1. I was so lucky to have children that found and listened to their inner voices and taught me to love fully and unconditionally. They helped me recognize that they too have the right to choose for themselves and that I could set boundaries as a parent without trying to control or make them feel like my love was conditioned on strict obedience or doing what I wanted them to do. I regret that I ever made them feel that love was conditional but I am so grateful that we learned and loved together and now share unbreakable bonds with open and honest communication. They inspire me as I watch them navigate their own paths! I look forward to your words and insight Margi ❤️

  2. Heather — This is such an exquisite reminder that it isn’t over until it is over. Relationships can not only be reborn but also reconstructed into more healthy, loving versions as we are open to the spiritual practice that is parenting. When we change, our relationships do too. We can take responsibility for what we did not know. We can work to create new ways of loving. Your children are lucky to have you! I can think of few things in life that can trump having “unbreakable bonds with open and honest communication.” So beautiful. Thank you.

  3. This.

    Thoughts from A Performing Monkey (me)

    Where to start…I truly believe this is the next big cultural shift – I see it in the next generation, and the way so many of them don’t take on board cultural norms unless they resonate with them.

    I think we need to learn to live well with paradox. On the one hand we are a social species that would not survive or thrive alone but on the other hand we are unique individuals and we have within us all that we need. I believe the absolute key is being selective with who and what we invite into our lives. And that is where I went wrong….there are a lot of rabbit holes for new-comers!!

    As you know, as children we are dependent on whatever circumstances we are born into…and the brain is shaped so much in those early years. It takes a whole lot of work to re-wire the brain as adults if we have been immersed in dysfunction or dis-ease.

    I was a double winner as I had parents who were traumatized by the Second World War… emigrating to NZ in their late teens with the clothes on their back. Our family system wasn’t off to a good start….I was put into a Convent girls’ schools for 12 years. So THAT came with a whole heap of indoctrination …I didn’t leave Christianity behind until 5 or so years ago – it was my rock (but a slippery one I now realise!!)

    And so, today, the shift from external to internal motivations is a work in progress. I think I had an ‘A’ in co-dependency…..always worrying about everyone else. Because that was my ‘training’ as a child to stay alive. Dad was alcoholic and Mum anorexic. I HAD to pay close attention to get my needs met….(I understand now that addictions are a bid for connection….my parents suffered terribly as children.
    As you say in this post, Margi, the shift has to move from external to internal. I think learning to trust myself is the key. Thank goodness for all the fabulous information we have now! Phew!

    A few go to’s for me…

    Brene Brown – especially her work on shame (by the way there is a wonderful interview promoting her new book ‘Braving the Wilderness’ with Maria Forleo.

    Ross Rosenberg and his work on Self Love Deficit Disorder

    Shefali Tsabury because I AM NOT HANDING THE PAIN BATON to my beautiful daughter

    Dan Siegal with his work on the brain (fascinating!)

    Religious transition podcasts

    The life of Margi Dehlin 💖

    I find it’s the little things we do every day that build a rich life. The dog walk…yummy essential oils….nourishing food…the clothes I choose to wear.

    My work for this week is to pay attention to my words. I am going to mindfully choose affirming words to all I meet this week.

    Take care, dear Margi xox

  4. Fiona–Thank you for sharing a bit of your story and some resources for inspiration. I always love your recommends! I appreciate your awareness and how intentional you are in your life. It inspires me. I think the shift from external to internal is a life long endeavor for most of us. But when we show up for ourselves–to the extent that we can–we are infused with our own aliveness. We are actually being conscious of what we are choosing and why! So happy to hear from you. Glad we are on this journey together.

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