Tuesday, April 9, 2013


I've been exploring ideas around the concept of commitment over the last few weeks. Questions about commitment have been mounting for a few years, and since a few things are bringing that confusion to the surface I've decided to investigate it more. So this post feels a little like a sharing, but also a little like a processing exercise for myself...enjoy :)!

While my questions around commitment include commitment within the context of a variety of areas, there are two areas I was taught commitment was esp. important. One was commitment to the "mormon" God, including commitment to the leaders of the church, to the promises made in ritual work, and to the values of "the church" doctrine & organization. The other was commitment to marriage. As a young woman, marriage was often emphasized as being the "most" important thing I could do in this life, and commitment to this relationship was of utmost importance.

Like I said, while these were "priority" commitments in my family, the principle of commitment was one that was stressed as being important across the board. Commitment to my word, to what I'd said I was going to do...at work, at home, at school, etc.

When I began doing therapy I sometimes felt torn between my semi-tightly held belief that it was best to do whatever one could to keep an original commitment, in the original way, versus, in what ways might the structure of the commitment actually be contributing to problems, and what needed to change. Part of the fear was related to my belief that commitment was like a safety net. It bound someone into something. So...if someone promised me something it meant they would need to keep that promise even if they began having doubts, wanting something else, etc. This esp. seemed to add some kind of a "security" to the idea of marriage.

I noticed when I left church last year, and began thinking about dating people outside of the church, one of my fears was, "how do I know they'll be loyal to me?" At some level I knew the question came from a fear not based in reality (as many non-religious people are loyal and loving to their partners/spouses, and many religious people unloyal), but since I'd been TAUGHT that the church teachings, and the commitment the church facilitated, made it more likely that my spouse would never leave me or cheat on me I found myself carrying this background sense of fear, even amidst the experience of seeing a different reality.

Messages I've received about commitment

-If you make a commitment you do WHATEVER you need to do to keep that commitment
-Honoring a commitment means "keeping" it. Following through with it as originally agreed to
-Commitment means making a promise and not changing any of the conditions, until the originally agreed upon time to end it or change it. If there was no agreement to an ending it's meant to last "forever."

What I've learned about commitment from my own personal experiences:

-Just because someone says something, or speaks a "promise," does not make it so.
-Just because I say something, or speak a "promise," does not make it so.
-Sometimes what I feel or believe I'm committed to one moment, I feel uncommited to another. Emotions and beliefs are changable, and when I commit with either it seems there's a possibility of change. When we commit with changable parts of ourselves, it is possible the commitment may change.
-When someone has made a commitment to me, and then bails on that commitment I may be...angry, relieved, happy, neutral, sad....it seems that my reaction to a commitment breach from the other party has only to do with my emotional stance, beliefs and expectations around the experience.
-We tend to make the idea of commitment a moral issue, "keeping a commitment is good." "breaking a commitment is bad." or we may even make it a character value. "One of his strengths is he commits to things, and always keeps his commitments," "one of her flaws is she doesn't commit, or doesn't keep her commitments." From my experience, there are times that committing is wise (congruent with our truest desires) & times it is unwise. There are times committing creates more awareness of love and times it breaks down the awareness.
-I have experienced myself and others making commitments, or promises, that were never mine/theirs to make in the first place. (i.e. a literal emphasis on "I will never hurt you again" can be problematic. If somehow we magically had full control of our subconscious stuff, control of the world around us, and control over how someone else feels in response to certain things...maybe we could offer this, but to speak a promise of sorts, is speaking a promise that isn't fully within our control to keep. It's something that was never ours to give).

So...In what ways is commitment helpful, in what ways is it unhelpful? and how can I use the principle of commitment to benefit my life and relationships?

I'm still leaving lots of room for development within myself here. I feel like I'm just learning to walk with this. It feels a little scary and unsure and shakey, but I do have some thoughts and personal experiments I've been playing with. While I do NOT have regrets about "commitments" I have made in the past, as they have all been a part of my own learning, I also realize that some of these commitments have not stood up to reality. When a perspective changed (based on my experience with reality), eventually so did the commitment. It didn't have to. I could have pretended I was still "in it" (in regards to a relationship, the church, a goal...etc), but to do that I would have had to give up commitment to my own self, to my own understandings & experiences and I guess that shows above all else what I commit to. I penned a little something to myself a couple weeks ago...

"I have often misused the reality of the principle of commitment. I have used it as a false security believing that commitment would mean someone can't change their mind and hurt me. At the same time, I have sometimes found commitment scary. I suppose because I've believed it's a way to bind someone into something, on the flip side I've also been scared, scared i will be trapped, because when I begin to commit my heart to someone/something, it means I'm "bound" into something...and that the commitment is higher than all things...including my own intuitive self. If I see red flags or even a clear reality that what I've committed to is no longer healthy (as I gain more learning and experience), or is even harmful or dangerous I've wondered whether I'm supposed to stay. Maybe it's okay to WORK on things, but I've believed I HAVE to do that...and for how long? I've believed I have to use ALL the time and energy I have to change me, the person I'm committed to, or the institute or project I'm committed to...so that I don't have to break the commitment. I've often found myself ignoring the red flags, or cues from myself when something isn't going okay. There was a fear in me that facing the rising dissonance or conflict would destroy the relationship to someone/something, so in order to keep the commitment bonded, I have to ignore me. "If I face the reality of this problem, they'll choose to leave me...or even worse, I'd need to leave them." So, maybe I ignore the cues, but then the commitment becomes false. It's no longer ME that's commited...it's my fears. My fears are commited to the person, to the institution, to the goals, to the situation. Why am I so afraid to change the conditions of commitment when needed, or change the form of the commitment all together?

What do I want commitment to be about? I choose first to be committed to me. To be aware of my feelings, to have my back, to never belittle myself, to be understanding and compassionate, even when I've made a mistake. I know that at my core I desire to experience real love, one that's not afraid. And so, when I am afraid, and I forget myself, and act out of my fears, I commit to notice it as soon as possible and to forgive myself, and to then allow myself to come back into loving, even if that means making a change in myself or my situation. I commit to be honest with myself and others about my needs. I commit to listening to myself, in both the good and the bad, with understanding and non-judgment. I commit to allow myself the "offerings" of reality, And from that place of honesty, compassion, & commitment to myself, I offer what commitment flows from there."

It seems to me, that commitment is most helpful when it originates from an honest desire, moment to moment. I've experienced that there are parts of me that sometimes feel tired, confused, and annoyed with a situation or person. I've found that I don't have to automatically react to these moments (just like I don't have to automatically react to the "positive" feelings of high energy, attraction, or an aluring proposition). I find that I am a changeable, sometimes fickle human being, but I trust that if I'm working on commitment to my own self honesty, I'll continue to build trust that the deepest, most knowing part of myself is aware when to stay and when to leave...that I've always known.

So...I commit to REALITY (as best I know it)...

Monday, April 8, 2013

But if You're Married You Don't...

But if you're married you don't...leave the church...

I've been thinking about something that came up in the first conversation I had with my parents about leaving the church. One of the questions they asked me was something to the effect of... "if you had married do you think you'd be stepping back from the church?" (I'm in my EARLY :) thirties and have never married). My reply: "I don't know, there's no way to really know, but I don't think so."

I've thought a lot about their question since then and a lot about my answer. When they asked it I purposely went back in my mind and tracked out what life would have been like, in my imagination, if I had married younger. I envisioned that I wouldn't have gone to grad school, I wouldn't have become a therapist, and I wouldn't have seen what I saw in my work...or faced my own stuff, I wouldn't have asked questions I'd been too afraid to ask before (or not even thought about asking before), and I wouldn't have ended up walking the path of study and learning that I did. So, no, I probably wouldn't have ever even thought to leave the church (unless life would have brought the same questions in a different way).

I remember something being said a little later in the conversation from one of my parents that if I was married this would be different, it wouldn't be okay to do this (step away from church activity), if I had a spouse that was active and I'd "committed" to. I remember not replying. I didn't resonate with this opinion, but didn't have the courage at the time to state otherwise. I think because I wasn't sure what I would have done. It scared me that if I were married this would have had added layers of pressure and confusion. What would I have done? What if my past had been different? What if I had married young, only somehow I ended up coming across the same questions that led me into the same line of study and questioning (or something similar)? Would I have just pretended? Or would I have never even allowed myself to really ask the questions? and really do the research? I've had this fear, since that conversation, that I wouldn't have allowed for myself as a married woman what I've allowed for myself as a single woman...the right to ask the questions that were most scary, the right to form my own opinion about things I'd believed I was supposed to "just obey", and the right for that opinion to be different from those I love most. (hmmm...maybe I really have been a little afraid of committment....as more than one person has suggested, and no wonder: I haven't yet fully been able to hold the trust that I can be me, and still be in a loving, committed relationship)

I've been thinking a lot about those that are married and going through this. While changing my relationship to the church hasn't always been easy, esp. as far as its effects on some of my relationships (even if it's just my own fear of being misunderstood or scaring people), I think if I had been married there would have been an added layer of pressure for me, pressure to hide what I was experiencing...to not be as honest with myself, or with my spouse. I remember meeting a couple last summer. He had left the church first, she was devasted, but eventually had her own experiences of things and left. When they related their story to me it felt really nice to know that there are some people out there who would dare to be honest with themselves & their spouse even at the risk of what that COULD mean for a marriage. I expressed my self-doubt to them, "That's amazing you were able to be true to what you needed to, for you, even though she was in a different place. I don't know that I could have done it if I were married." They couldn't have replied in a more helpful way..."don't give yourself so little credit. If you'd really gotten to where you are now, even with a spouse, you could have done it." I hoped they were right. I hope that if somehow I'd experienced with a spouse what I've experienced alone, I would have dared to be honest...at some point, even if that meant risking my marriage.

I've received so many messages about what "commitment" means, and in some ways I've just begun to realize that I understand very little about what "commitment" means to me, and what it's always meant to me (I'm currently working on some writings around it). I've never really dared to explore it. My parents were so loving to me in so many ways, and so committed to each other (in their way of commitment). However, one thing I think I feel is that in order to experience the depth of honesty I want to experience in a relationship, I need to be okay knowing that I have a right to my own experiences, however similar or different they may be, and to trust that if I'm honest (I can be compassionate with myself about when I'm ready to share things and in what ways), than I can really love from the space that is "me." And from there I can allow my partner/spouse their own experiences and we can make our decisions along the way about how we work with our own personal changes, and how we work with changes of the relationship.

Maybe I begin to trust that commitment doesn't mean losing me. rather I can stay with me, and from there can stay with another.