In a world governed by norms and expectations, many of us find ourselves confined by unwritten rules—both societal and self-imposed. These rules dictate how we should behave, what we should pursue, and who we should become. However, there comes a point when breaking free from these invisible chains becomes imperative for personal growth and fulfillment.
In this article, we will explore the negative aspects of adhering to unwritten rules, discuss the importance of self-discovery, and provide practical steps to liberate yourself from these constraints.
Emma is one of my clients. When I started working with her, she would often say things like, “Oh, I can’t do that.” Then I would ask, “Why not?” And she would say things like, “It’s not allowed,” “A good mom doesn’t do that,” and “What would people think?”
She had a lot of ideas about who she was “supposed” to be and what was okay and not okay for her to do. Some of it was programmed into her brain by society, and some was self-imposed.
She came to me because even though she had a good life, she just wasn’t feeling satisfied or fulfilled in it. Every day was just blah, and she didn’t know how to find the joy and fulfillment she was craving.
I asked her to write something about herself, to paint a picture for all of you, and here is what she gave me. See if you can find some of yourself in her story.
“Emma is a 42-year-old wife and mother who is ensnared in the constricting web of unwritten rules. Her daily life unfolds like a weary script, where societal expectations and self-imposed standards collide, leaving her not knowing who she is or what she wants.
Each morning, Emma wakes to a symphony of responsibilities, a daunting overture to a day dictated by unspoken norms. The weight of societal expectations presses down on her like an invisible hand, shaping her actions before she even steps out of bed.
Motherhood, a role that she always thought would be a source of joy, feels like an intricate dance with expectations. The pressure to be the perfect mother, to balance career and family seamlessly, creates a constant undercurrent of stress. Emma’s sense of self becomes entangled in a web of shoulds and should-nots, drowning out the rhythm of her own desires.
Frustration becomes a silent companion as she endures the mundane tasks that define her day. Instead of being a source of comfort, her routine reminds her of dreams deferred and aspirations put on hold. The artist within her, once vibrant, now paints with muted strokes, overshadowed by the societal canvas that demands conformity.
The dissatisfaction spills into her relationships, leaving imprints on the connections she cherishes. The fear of judgment, both external and self-inflicted, stifles her authenticity, leaving her yearning for a sense of liberation.
The mirror reflects a woman she struggles to recognize—a wife and mother whose identity is blurred by the roles society has thrust upon her. Emma yearns to redefine herself, to shatter the unwritten rules that confine her, but the fear of disrupting the delicate balance keeps her bound.
Her frustration transforms into a silent scream, reverberating in the quiet moments when the world around her sleeps. The missed opportunities, the stifled creativity, and the unspoken desires claw at her heart, demanding acknowledgment.
In the shadows of the night, Emma grapples with the ghosts of unexplored passions and the echoes of dreams that seem to slip further away. The uncharted territories of her authenticity beckon, promising a life unburdened by societal expectations—a life where she is not defined solely by her roles as a wife and mother.
As the sun sets on another day, Emma stands at the intersection of conformity and authenticity, yearning for the courage to tear apart the script that dictates her life. The path towards liberation awaits, and in the quiet of the night, she contemplates the possibility of a life where her roles as a wife and mother coexist harmoniously with the authenticity she craves. The journey to rediscover herself is both daunting and exhilarating, and Emma holds the key to unlock the door to a life that is truly her own.”
The Weight of Unwritten Rules
Society’s unwritten rules often infiltrate our lives from an early age, shaping our beliefs, values, and aspirations. These rules can range from societal expectations about career paths and relationships to gender roles to what we should look like…creating a rigid framework that influences our decisions. Moreover, we often impose our own set of unwritten rules—personal standards and expectations that reflect a desire for acceptance or success.
Here is where it becomes a problem:
- The Struggle To Be Ourselves
One of the significant downsides of adhering to unwritten rules is the stifling of authenticity. When we conform to societal expectations or even our self-imposed standards, we risk losing touch with our true selves. This disconnect can lead to a sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction, as we may find ourselves living a life that doesn’t align with our genuine desires and passions.
This is where Emma found herself. She felt empty and dissatisfied because she was so busy following rules that she stopped listening to and connecting with herself – to the point that she no longer knew who that was.
- Fear of Judgment
Unwritten rules thrive on the fear of judgment. Society’s expectations and our own self-imposed standards often stem from a fear of not fitting in or being perceived as different. This fear can paralyze us, preventing us from pursuing unconventional paths and stifling our creativity and individuality.
Remember that question Emma asked, “What will people think?”
- Limiting Potential
By adhering strictly to unwritten rules, we limit our potential for personal and professional growth. These rules create invisible barriers that discourage risk-taking and experimentation, hindering our ability to explore new avenues and discover untapped talents and passions.
As Emma followed the rules of who she was supposed to be, she stopped growing.
Breaking free from unwritten rules requires a conscious effort to rediscover and embrace who you really are. It involves challenging societal norms and questioning the rules you’ve set for yourself. This doesn’t have to be a scary process. If you let it, this can actually be really fun. Here are a few steps to help you embark on this liberating journey:
- Self-Reflection: Begin by reflecting on your life and identifying areas where you feel constrained or unsatisfied. Consider the values and expectations that have been imposed on you, both externally and internally. Ask yourself if these beliefs align with your true desires and aspirations.
- Question Assumptions: Challenge societal norms and question assumptions about success, happiness, and fulfillment. Understand that the path to a meaningful life may deviate from conventional routes, and that’s perfectly okay. Explore different perspectives and question whether certain beliefs truly serve your best interests.
- Identify Limiting Beliefs: Examine the beliefs you hold about yourself and your capabilities. Identify any self-limiting beliefs that may be holding you back. These beliefs often stem from past experiences, societal conditioning, or comparison with others. Replace limiting beliefs with empowering ones that fuel your growth.
- Define Your Values: Clearly define your core values—those principles that are most important to you. Use these values as a compass to guide your decisions and actions. When your choices align with your values, you are more likely to lead a fulfilling and authentic life.
- Embrace Imperfection: Let go of the pursuit of perfection. Understand that making mistakes and facing failures are integral parts of the learning process. Embrace imperfection as a stepping stone to self-discovery and growth.
- Cultivate Courage: Liberating yourself from unwritten rules requires courage. Cultivate the courage to step outside your comfort zone, challenge societal expectations, and pursue your authentic desires. Remember that true growth often happens beyond the boundaries of familiarity.
Discovering Your Unwritten Rules – Questions to Consider
- What unwritten rules are you following?
- What do you wish you could do but don’t because you think it would be frowned upon or because of what you think it would mean about you?
- Where did these rules come from?
- Why are you choosing to follow these rules?
- What would it take to throw the rules out and do what you want to do instead?
In a world inundated with unwritten rules, the journey toward self-liberation is a courageous act of reclaiming your authenticity. Breaking free from societal expectations and personal constraints allows you to shape your own narrative and live a life aligned with your true self.
Embrace the uncertainty, challenge the status quo, and embark on a journey of self-discovery that leads to a more fulfilling and authentic existence. Remember, the path to true freedom begins with the decision to be unapologetically yourself.
Live Free. Love Life.