When Being Good Turns Bad: Stress & 'Goodism' (Part 2)

Last issue we discussed how stress is not merely triggered by ‘bad’ things such as work, relationship issues or challenging events, but also from us and our internal demands to do things right or perfectly. Perfectionism is a great example of how internal  demands to be good can turn bad. This is because the Inner Policeman in your head, who is constantly demanding perfection, is (despite his best intentions) actually turning on a stress response in your body. He is turning on a stress response because he is more interested in motivating you out of fear – what will or won’t happen if you don’t try harder, do it good enough or get it all done. When the body is fearful, the stress response is activated and it can’t or won’t relax. This is even more of a problem when you consider that we regard this Inner Policeman to be part of our normal mode of functioning, after all, we’ve been relying on him to pass exams, do housework, go to the gym and stay on diets for a long, long time.

It is because he has helped us get results and become part of ‘who we are’ that stops us from noticing that perhaps he’s not always right, perhaps he doesn’t need to be so fearful or harsh and that perhaps he is actually the root cause of imbalance in our bodies. So where does that leave us? In the last issue we identified that there is nothing wrong with doing things perfectly, or putting in your best effort, or going the ‘extra mile’ – it is the degree to which this process causes you stress that is the problem. The key is to operate feeling relaxed,  content and calm whilst you’re ‘being good’ and ‘doing good things. ’ To achieve this I am afraid we have to terminate the services of our Inner Policeman and start working with our Inner Child, who motivates you out of love,  support and encouragement rather than fear.

So let’s say you’ve started to master the art of perfectionism with love, you’re feeling more relaxed about meeting your own expectations and being kinder to yourself and it’s feeling much better. What happens next? Perhaps you start to notice how stressed you feel in relation to meeting the expectations of other people. Uh Oh. The Inner Policeman arrives with sirens blazing. Being a ‘good person’ is yet another example of how seemingly innocuous behaviours can create internal demands which in turn create a stress response in our bodies. What’s perhaps more scary about this ‘goodism’ is that we don’t even realise it’s happening.

  We’re brought up to be ‘good’. This means using your manners, being polite and considerate, obeying orders, being kind to others, helpful and ‘unselfish’...the list goes on. The Inner Policeman loves to police this stuff, often using an imitation of your mother or father’s voice. Again, he’s using fear and is often working with the deeply ingrained subconscious fear patterns you created as a child. It’s absurd to think that our motivation to ‘not be selfish’ might be based on are pressed fear of being banned from playing outside or watching Gilligan’s Island, but that’s exactly what’s happening.

However, with ‘goodism’ it’s not just the fear of being a bad person and being punished that is the problem. We also get angry. A few years ago, you may remember an ad campaign that McDonald’s ran in which little kids crawled out of compartments in adult bodies to go forth and gorge on sundaes or cheeseburgers. The theme was about‘feeding your inner child’. Well, I mention this so you can get a visual (in no way is it product placement for the golden arches). For a moment, imagine you have this Inner Child living inside you that still wants to get his/her own way, who just wants to have fun and feels suffocated, restrained and ‘ripped off’ when controlled or told what he or she can or can’t do. How does this Inner Child react? It gets angry and upset, “What about ME?!” it screams. This child (sorry to break it to you) is still in operation today. It is still in a compartment in your mind being totally self-absorbed, spontaneous, fun-loving and self-indulgent– and it is the bane of the Inner Policeman’s life.

So, while on the surface we perceive standards for social etiquette, being nice and polite, giving to charities,  doing nice things for others as ‘good’ and the ‘right thing to do’ and we congratulate ourselves for such behaviour, we have usually done all of these things because we ‘should’ according to our Inner Policeman for fear of being a ‘bad person’. Then, unknowing to us, because it’s unconscious, we get really angry about it because the Inner Child sees that these things have been done at the expense of meeting our own needs or pleasing ourselves. As a result there’s a little Macca’s kid inside who is mightily pissed off and ready to throw a tantrum. The Inner Policeman, who would not tolerate such outrageous behaviour (it would be ‘wrong’ to get angry, especially when all you’re doing is being so ‘good’) ensures that the Inner Child keeps a lid on it and represses the ‘inappropriate’ anger further. Blimey – what an effort! Just to keep us ‘good’!

By now, if you’ve been having Kinesiology or reading these newsletters for a while you’ll know where this is heading and what the problem with repressed anger might be. Where does it show up? In your body. The body must find a way of expressing this anger and if the Inner Policeman in your mind won’t let it out the body will be happy to oblige with an ‘angry’ rash, ‘raging’ hormones, ‘grinding’ teeth, an‘irritable’ bowel, a food ‘intolerance’, an ‘inflamed’ throat or a ‘pain’ in the neck or back. Your body is pretty clever to be able come up with so many ailments related to the emotion of anger and its variations.

So what is the solution? Must I be a bad person? Do I have to stop caring about people? Can I be selfish? I’d be a terrible person if I just did what I wanted all the time!! Your first instinct might be to work out how you can discipline the Inner Child to stop it’s unreasonable and illogical anger. But the solution is actually to unleash your Inner Child! Yes, your Inner Policeman just put his head in his hands, he will not want to release control for fear of what might happen(a diet of Wizz Fizz and Fish Fingers, for example). But that’s OK because we need to release the Inner Policeman of his duties too. 

Releasing the Inner Policeman and unleashing the Inner Child does not mean that all hell is going to break loose. You can still be a good person, you’re just giving up the stress around being a good person. Remember the real reasons we feel stressed, guilty or angry:

1) It is the fear of being judged (as selfish, a bad person, not good enough etc) that triggers our stress and causes the Inner Policeman to step in and force us to act ‘good.’

2) It is the feeling of having to answer to a fear instead of acting out of love and spontaneity that frustrates and angers the Inner Child.

3) Resistance to the Inner Child’s natural instinct (that lies within all of us) to prioritise and desire fun and happiness for self will inevitably cause putting someone else first or sacrificing one’s own needs to feel unfair and irritating.

The best way to release the Inner Policeman and unleash the Inner Child is simply by asking yourself – what would happen if I trusted myself to act from the heart? What if I looked after myself and met my own needs and this made me feel so good I felt energised to be good to others. Do you remember being a child and picking a flower for your mum? Perhaps you made a daisy chain and gave it to her. You did this with love, because you wanted to – not because you had to, not because you’d feel terrible if you didn’t, not because you were fearful of her reaction – because the flowers were beautiful to you and your mum was beautiful to you. That was it. Then you got the most amazing reaction of joy when you gave it to her, which also filled you with joy. That’s what releasing the Inner Policeman and unleashing the Inner Child feels like, kind of nice, huh?