Obeying the rules

???????????????Let me share one of my myths. It is a memory with part in sharp focus, from which I have theorised about who I am and why.

I went to the christening of my younger niece. I was in my mid-twenties. Her sister was around 24 months. At some point, I think after the ceremony, Siobhan wanted to toddle in one direction, and I wanted to move on- to the party after, probably. I told Siobhan off, firmly. No, come this way. My sister’s friends whom I did not know told her she could go where she wanted, which irritated me; I don’t think I replied.

Primo Levi says somewhere about people in the camps who tried to obey the rules, and thereby survive, and were doomed because the rules were designed to kill slowly. I have it on codex, so the search function is limited to riffling through the pages to see if anything reminds me of it, but I would like to find it, because I may have distorted my memory of it to fit this idea as well-

that my seeking to obey rules is the mark of the low-status primate in the pecking order, and that I naturally enforced it on Siobhan as I had had it enforced on myself, perpetuating the pattern. That is, my upbringing unconsciously fitted me for low status, deferring to others. This produced anger in me which I could never express because expressing anger was impossibly Bad.

In the medical centre, there was a little boy whose parents were teaching him to talk back. When we get home, we’ll bake cookies.
-You’ll bake cookies, Daddy.
-I’ll bake cookies to eat them all myself says Daddy, joke-triumphantly.
-Say “Whatever, Daddy” instructs Mummy. I caught a whiff of power games between the adults, which would only improve the child’s learning of this dynamic.
-Whatever, Daddy, said the child, exaggeratedly, mockingly, giggling.

Deference, submissiveness, whatever. I grope towards understanding, go off on odd directions, have a model which is not internally consistent, try to untangle the mixture of my trauma and anger. My mother did not want me as a baby, and now I feel tolerated rather than accepted as a woman. “God will not test me beyond what I can bear”? I don’t believe that, actually. I am an evolved being: we will not each overcome the world. All that is necessary is that enough of us can breed to sustain the population over time.

I knew I ought to meditate, and I did not: perhaps because I expected to feel all Spiritual and lovely while meditating and feel good afterwards, and was always disappointed. Now I kneel in my ritual space, and feel my anger or my fear, and get up confused. One gloss I could put on this is that I feel my anger, and its energy, or my fear, and its vulnerability and increased perception, so that if I can sit with it rather than blocking it out, it will benefit me. But that is to predict where this process might end, which is futile. Better to just go with it, which is my old way- head down, obey the rules.

This is my 900th post.

16 thoughts on “Obeying the rules

  1. For a 900th post this is deep … and wonderful. I’ve always been naturally rebellious and irked by authority, while at the same time I’ve always been a believer in generally following the rules. Now … well, I’m not sure which side of my Jekyll and Hyde I’ll let loose !


    • It has always seemed to make things safer, being obedient. Of course it doesn’t, always- no tactic does, always. It also seemed so natural that noticing it has been difficult, as there is little in me with which to contrast it. I “wanted to be a good person” and realised that while I wanted to behave morally, “being good” also meant that safety. In that Quaker battle I had, when I actually did something mean-spirited and destructive, I felt proud of myself.


  2. From when I was very young I realized I had to make my own way. People weren’t giving me what I needed. I’d get dressed to go out, then I’d do an ‘entrance’ to the kitchen and say: “ta-dum” and twirl around. Then my nanny and whomever else was there would clap. They probably thought it was funny, or felt sorry for me, or a bit of each.
    My family tried to train me into submission too, but my reaction was different from yours. I was bellicose.


    • Well, how were they about submission? They might want an obedient son, but not want to be obedient themselves. They train you subconsciously to be like them. In this rebelliousness do you resemble your father or other relatives?

      For your nanny, at least, the clapping might have been encouragement. Mothers have told me how they get into the world of their children, and see through their eyes: a good nanny would, too, seeing what pleased and amused you and sharing your pleasure.


  3. Such an interesting post! We obey rules, probably in part because they tell us what to do, so we don’t have to think so hard. I am getting some counselling. The counsellor tells me to put a hand on my chest and a hand on my solar plexus. Where is the breath? In the throat = a panic, unhappiness, emotion… In the solar plexus = relaxed, calmer and in control.

    When we are emotional, apparently our brain knocks down our thinking ability to about 50%… so when we are fearful, we probably look for guidance in rules that other people have thought for us. But calming our breathing, we can think again for ourselves. So it is no wonder that, feeling fear, you have taken comfort in following rules.

    I don’t see that you have done anything except what you have had to do. All that stuff about pecking orders….weeeell, yes, but it isn’t really you now, is it?

    To be calm, breathe long breaths out.

    Congrats on the 900 milestone!! xxx :-))


    • Thank you for that feedback. To see oursels as ithers see us…

      I see patterns in my actions, and seek alternatives: increasing my options, becoming less automatic, conscious incompetence- and, the pecking order thing, that is part of me. Centre-stage, performing, loving attention; a dog expecting a kick; trying to find some place between those extremes.


  4. Congrats on your 900th post, Clare. You’re amazing prolific and a very good writer. I agree with Ina – maybe a book is in order! I, too, struggle with rules but have created my own version – one that tries to follow most rules, but also attempts not to hurt others when I break the rules from time-to-time.


  5. CAPD has given me a healthy contempt for authority. All to often people are telling me to do things that are impossible for me, and the “wrong” way is a way I have a chance of actually succeeding.


    • Welcome, Diane, and thank you for commenting. I am very pleased to find your blog. Your latest post expresses beautifully what I have been wrestling with.

      Fascinating. “Central Auditory Processing Disorder”- I had not heard of it. Not a deficit of attention, language or other cognitive processes but it might initially appear to others, and to you, that it was. So you get the idea that Diane is weird, and persuading others otherwise may be too much like hard work. Is coping with others’ reactions as difficult as coping with any symptoms?

      Fuck. What I am doing is generalising from my own experience, which is roughly equivalent to someone asking me if I have had the operation? Oh well. I mean it in a friendly manner.


      • Don’t mind! One of the side effects, for me at least, is that I have no boundaries. I struggle to understand where everyone else’s boundaries are. I respect them when people tell me where they are, but I often have to be told.

        I appreciate direct questions.

        I don’t know that I can separate the disability from other’s reactions. What they are reacting to is seemingly bizarre and sometimes insensitive behavior caused by my disability. As I wasn’t diagnosed until six moths ago, we all just thought I was weird. If I followed the rules that people (my parents and peers) laid out for me I’d be silent and scared and miserable. Because I was rebellious and asked questions and admitted when I was confused, and stopped caring when I was made fun of, people thought I was weird, but I was loved and happy. And they love me, not a painstakingly crafted image. I *am* weird. I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

        If I’d been diagnosed as a kid then I might have an answer for you. Sure people’s lack of patience and accommodation literally drove me crazy at one point, but I don’t know how accommodating they’d be if they knew it was a disability and not just me being a stubborn selfish person.

        So if it’s not violating your boundaries, when did you know you were trans? I can


        • I don’t go much for boundaries either. I think it has to do with explaining myself ad nauseam to psychiatrists. Eventually, I made a virtue of it. “Tell me who you are. Tell me what you love” are my favourite questions.

          Wow. What difference did the diagnosis make?

          I decided I was transsexual in my early thirties. Before, I had shameful desires, and the very strong countervailing desire to be Manly.


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