This post is for those that felt very different than others growing up. This post is to describe and validate that experience, as well as give a hint at some current implications.
It doesn’t matter what the source of feeling different was. It could have been ethnicity, race, wealth or lack of it, sexual orientation, parents who were alcoholics, immigration status, learning disability, any type of family dysfunction, the experience of abuse, what side of the tracks you lived on…The origin of that sense of otherness could have come from any identifying characteristic.
II. The Secret Knowledge Club
Otherness is directly connected to a phenomenon I call the Secret Knowledge Club. It’s the sense that something is really wrong with one’s home life and the values and anything else that might be learned there. And so, with the faulty logic of a child, one assumes everybody else is in on something, knows something that he/she doesn’t. One throws out all references they have gained at home and assumes that all others can be a source of information about what normal is.
So one harnesses all their power of detective-ness, empathy, and analysis to try to glean insight into how other “normal” kids from “normal” families do things. It’s the idea that one is on one side of circumstances and everybody else is unified on the other side. And that if one just tries hard enough to crack the case, entry to the Secret Knowledge Club will be granted, and that that acceptance will bring a kind of redemption and make up for the lack of love not received at home. It can be as if one resolved through will to gain the love outside they feel they lacked from their roots.
Another possible aspect of this is that any one identifying characteristic becomes a focal point for everything else idiosyncratic and disliked about one's family and household. So, for example, say abuse and dysfunction get grouped together as a reflection of heritage. Heritage becomes the most shameful aspect. Yet it stands in for several aspects of one’s young life experienced as shameful.
There are infinite ways it could have taken root and expressed in your individual, nuanced situation. The main point is that there was a feeling of outsider-dom. And in some way, it continues to express today.
III. Current Implications and Symptoms
What this experience as a child points in the direction of in our current lives is self-alienation. That sounds like a strong term. Most people don’t want to identify such a term with themselves. But one universal law is that powers of healing and transformation only become available through awareness and acceptance. Denial and resistance keeps things the same.
What are some tell-tale signs/symptoms of self-alienation?
- Insecurity and dependence on others and external circumstances for validation.
- Feelings of helplessness or being trapped in one or more areas of one’s life.
- Frustration when not getting one’s way.
- A sense of dryness and meaninglessness.
- Applying one’s sense of reason and logic to how other people should do things rather than using them for oneself.
Those are just a few. Sometimes these types of indicators are so "normal: as we take a look around us, that we don’t even suspect that paths to richer experiences of life are possible.
But it’s exactly that looking outside to norms for reassurance that indicates self-alienation.
All wisdom traditions universally indicate that the actual secret knowledge you are seeking access to resides inside you. That one's true self is a source of great power, love, and joy.
Sometimes that sort of thing can sound corny. But that’s the kind of era we live in—that which is truthful, timeless, and beautiful brings eye rolls and people continue to go along with lives that don’t feel like their own. I almost wrote merrily go along with lives, but it isn’t merrily at all. That which is normal comes alongside numbness and despair.
IV. Possible Action Steps
Here are 7 possible things you can begin to do today, if self-alienation is a challenge you recognize and identify with. Any of these steps can be combined with others on the list of course. I am including all of these just off the top of my head. I am sure I am forgetting some good ones. But I am confident that these resources and ideas can be supportive of change.
The stronger the yearning for change you experience, the more ready you will be to take action. If things are all good as they are, then by all means keep doing what you are doing!
I want to encourage you past the notion of quick fixes at this point. This is about opening new pathways of ongoing change and increasing well-being. I am talking about opening more deeply to a fundamental shift in lifestyle and mindset. That takes serious effort and patience. If you want superficial changes, there are millions of hucksters out there trying to convince you of the value of those possibilities.
1. Read one or more of the following books and/or look up videos connected to the following authors. Click around inside, read reviews and choose one that really resonates with you. These types of perspectives open people up. Let your current point of view be challenged and notice your own resistance points as they arise. When you become aware of those thoughts, are they reflective and supportive of who you want to be?
Any discipline can be a pathway to open up your research. Some are better than others, but it’s also great to see there are innovative books in so many fields. New sources of knowledge are fundamental to change. Knowledge alone is necessary but not sufficient in of itself.
- Creativity: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
- Science: Science Set Free by Rupert Sheldrake
- Suffering to Joy by Sri Prem Baba
- Bhagavad Gita, translation by Eknath Easwaran
- Power v. Force or something else by David Hawkins
- New Earth or Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
- Loving What Is by Byron Katie
- Any of Brene Brown's books
- Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch
- The Undefended Self by Eva Pierrakos and Susan Thesenga
- Anything by Rumi, Thoreau, Emerson...
- Assertiveness: The Assertiveness Workbook by Randy Peterson
- Anger: The Anger Trap by Les Carter
- Politics/Current events: Profits over People by Noam Chomsky
- History: A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
- Neurosis and Human Growth by Karen Horney (a bit denser but amazing),
- Reinvent Your Life by Jeffrey Young
- Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller
- Presence/emotions: Presence Process by Michael Brown
- Economics: Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher
- Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge
- Liberating the Corporate Soul by Richard Barrett
- Money: Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker (probably my least favorite on the list, but it's a topic almost all of us are concerned with and it introduces some important principles of mindset)
2. Watch one or more of the following videos.
- What if Money was no Object?
- Two Wolves and Mindfulness
- How to Make a Country Rich? (A Satire)
- Century of the Self (4 part BBC series of one hour each)
- Food, Inc. (trailer)
- Ted Talk on Schools and Creativity, Sir Ken Robinson
- Ted Talk on Vulnerability, Brene Brown
- The Miracle of the Wolves (Systems Thinking and Nature)
And/or do one of the following actions...
3. Try yoga at least 2-3 classes/week for a month and see what happens.
4. Try meditating for a month and see what happens, even if it's just 5 times per day of one minute each time.
5. Try going on a media, phone, and/or meat-free diet for a week and see what happens. (Or a day or two a week for a month, if a week seems impossible.)
6. Begin doing a Daily Review. Take 10 minutes each evening to write down in a journal some of the worst and best moments during the day. The worst includes those moments which you felt triggered, fearful, irritated, angry, numb, gluttonous, envious, greedy, defensive, judgmental. The best includes those moments you feel most grateful for. The reason we pay attention to the more shadowy moments is that we start to gain power over our own patterns slowly but surely by increasing our awareness that they exist. It's simple and mathematical.
7. Start practicing breathing exercises, known in the yogic tradition as Pranayama. Here’s one simple video to get you started.
The emphasis on seeing what happens is about valuing your own experience. Your experience reveals what’s supportive of your own well-being. You just note how you feel before and after. It's as simple as that. This is about cultivating self-trust. We are remembering that self-alienation has a lot to do with an unhealthy reliance on external cues. We are learning to orient by our own inner compass.
The title of Gandhi’s autobiography was the Story of My Experiments with Truth. I love that one of the greatest men who ever lived and was an inspiration to so many, brought an attitude of true science and experimentation. It wasn’t an outer reliance on what scientists and their experiments told him. It was an inner reliance on what scientific experiments indicated to him from within. It was his own willingness to be a scientist, explore, and learn from mistakes. Gandhi shares with us a certain humility, curiosity, and greatness in even gifting us the title of his book.
I believe those qualities are possible for any of us. But we can only move further in that direction when we are willing to take honest stock of where we are. There are many defenses that want us to be beyond where we are. But avoidant behavior will only entrench the same patterns that are uncomfortable today.
I am no stranger to self-alienation. Meaning I have indeed been quite a stranger to my real self! Ha. But seriously, I write about the Secret Knowledge Club and walking the pathways beyond those dynamics from experience.
I am cheering for you and all of us to keep learning, growing, healing, and evolving. Much love.