Three things make us depressed: unacknowledged feelings, denied truths, and unused will. We can’t feel whole and energetic if we engage in any of these things. They are simply too exhausting. But even if we admit secret feelings and accept painful truths, it is still necessary to exert our will in order to feel full strength and wholeness.
Will is the language of individuality. We know ourselves by the kinds of things we want and what we are willing to go after. Our ever-bubbling desires are the main source of our unique self-expression, and they put our personal stamp on this lifetime. Allowing yourself to know what you want is the necessary first step in living an energized, authentic life. We define the path of our lives by what we are willing to pursue, or not. By applying our will toward a goal, we tell the world that we have the right to create an individual, enjoyable life. This can be scary.
The problem is that many of us have been taught in our early life that exerting our own will was a bad thing. It could get us in trouble with our parents and teachers. For many parents, a willful child was a problem child. Willfulness was bad behavior, right up there with uncontrolled emotions and blurting out taboo truths.
But children by nature keep asserting their will until someone shames them out of it. They are little bundles of will and desire, coming up with one fun idea after another, and they want to make every one of them come true. If you thwart them, you can see from their intense distress how thoroughly they had invested in what they wanted. When you say no to them, it’s like you took away who they are.
As we grow up, we may be socialized into acting more politely about our deepest interests. We learn to play it cool and not be too demanding. We may even learn that the price of a relationship is to check your will and give up your desires. Never a good idea! There are many ways you can pursue goals with a strong will and remain sensitive to others in the process.
Unfortunately, we get the message from some people that our desires are dangerous, as though they are always at someone else’s expense. However, this is not true. What these types of people are really complaining about is that our desires threaten their control of us. Our will is the marvelous instinct that alerts and saves us from any person’s illegitimate control over us.
Some religious or cultural messages can also pressure us to surrender our will to something higher and better. Yet sometimes the people defining that higher and better goal may have their own interests at heart. Once we are made to feel bad about our desires, goals, or will, we become so confused that we are easily led.
We may start feeling guilty for wanting what we want or worry that we should want what other people want for us. We may come to the conclusion that the only way to fit in is to live under the control of other people’s ideas about us. But experiencing and applying our own will is one of the most exhilarating and fulfilling experiences in life. Besides, one person’s passionate pursuits can end up helping many other people in unexpected ways.
You become a full individual when you are comfortable knowing what you want and are willing to use your will to get it. Without the willingness to make our dreams real, we float and demur through life, letting others tell us what is worthwhile and never feeling deeply happy.
You might find yourself discovering delightful aspects of yourself as you apply your will toward something you truly want. To freely choose your own direction is literally a self-defining act, and the increased energy it brings is the confirmation of the healthiness of it. Hesitating to apply your own will sets you up to fall under the control of someone who wants to make you into what they desire. This can be as small as eating something when not hungry just to make someone happy or as big as giving up an important life goal because someone disapproves. Unless you use your will to steer toward the kind of life you want, your life will be about conformity instead of fulfillment.
The willful directing of your life is a deeply human instinct, something that sets our species apart from the other animals. We all feel the urge to create our unique identities, and our will is the fuel that powers that quest. Don’t be fooled into living your life from the outside in. Let yourself dream about what you really want in your life, and then use your will to create it.
Lindsay Gibson, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist. For information, call 757-490-7811. Meet Dr. Gibson July 25 at 3 p.m.at Prince Books in Norfolk for a talk & booksigning.