Self expression is vital to our happiness, yet it is not taught. We are expected to just know how to capture in words what we are feeling and thinking. Why we assume that just by learning to talk we can automatically know the complex process of self-expression is beyond me. We, who in a split second, are able to make associations with something that we experienced in the past or anticipate might happen in the future but that got triggered by something that’s happening in the present, are not simple to describe.
We live in three time periods: past, present and future. We have three dimensions: thoughts, feelings and imaginings, and we operate on three levels: the conscious, unconscious and sub-conscious. Yet, we speak and hear only one word at a time. We are a body and a spirit and experience life through the body informed by and informing the spirit. We are, by nature, paradoxical and we are forever trying to reconcile wanting and not wanting to say or do something. Add to that the fact that no one can see or hear our inner world with its communication network that receives and transmits our thoughts, feelings and imaginings and we have true complexity. We live in and communicate from this sophisticated invisible inner world with its complex communication system. How we express ourselves is our only way in, around or out of this invisible world and its system.
The primary purpose of learning self-expression with accountability is to maintain our integrity. Integrity is by definition truth and wholeness. For the self to maintain its integrity it must be truthful and whole. This is not as simple as it sounds, however, because the self is, by nature, paradoxical. Indeed, if we are to be true to our nature and ourselves we must learn to handle our own complexity.
To do this, we must allow ourselves to feel our own contradictions. We may be worried even as we are doing all right, excited even as we are somewhat afraid, unhappy even as we are glad. Self-expression with accountability must reflect our complexity. Vulnerability is an essential part of our paradoxical nature and to fear it is to fear ourselves. We can be both strong and vulnerable, courageous and overwhelmed, independent and in need of others, without risk. We are not only capable of handling the complexity, we are designed to in order to feel free.
Intimacy is, I believe, the most fundamental of human needs. It allows us to be connected and to have a place both with ourselves and with others. Without intimacy we are alienated from ourselves and others, and this alienation, this sense of estrangement, leads to a sense of hostility, of anger and belligerence, loneliness and purposelessness, or fear and anxiety. In its most intense form, it leads to rage and despair.
If we are not preoccupied with doing ourselves or someone else in, or protecting ourselves from being done in, we will be free to explore ourselves and others and be enriched. Discovery and growth allow us to far exceed our previous limitations that were based on distrust and fear. We must learn to look inside ourselves with our mind’s eye, using our imagination to help us search for our past experiences that are affecting our present ones.
We cannot just be shut off from ourselves or automatically overwhelmed by our past or just react to what gets triggered. We must seek to understand and care about what is going on for us, then we must learn to express what we’ve come to know.
Being accountable means looking inside ourselves and trying to discover what is going on for us. If we have hurt or offended ourselves or another, it means trying to discover how that happened, apologizing for the violation and then making a commitment to stop that abusive behavior. Self-discipline is required whenever we need to change a pattern of responding that has become both familiar and automatic.
Accountability requires that any abusive pattern, either of ourselves or another, be changed. It is fair that unwittingly we bring the abusive pattern of conquest and control with us, but it is not fair that we continue it. Growth and change is expected in an accountable environment. Conquering is not. We are committed to teaching you how to grow and change so that you will be free to be true to your own integrity and complexity.
If we can learn to be true to ourselves, we will be fair to and respectful of ourselves. Our complexity will be known to us and not feared by us. Relationships with others always reflect our relationship with ourself, so once fairness and respect governs our relationship with ourselves, it will govern our relationships with others as well.
Feelings of vulnerability must be matched by feelings of strength, or fear and anger will dictate our life choices. If we become only aware of our vulnerability we will be always fearful and afraid to risk. Once this occurs, anxiety accompanies any decision and we become prisoners of our fear. Dominated by the need to feel safe, we lose our ability to venture and our world gradually becomes smaller and smaller and so do we. Eventually we become a caricature of who we are and an exaggeration of what we fear. We lose the integrity of our paradoxical complexity and as that occurs we lose our freedom. We may even lose our voice, since fear often keeps us silent.
On the other hand, if we choose to deny our vulnerability and only focus on feeling strong, we will hide our vulnerable feelings beneath the intimidating expressions of anger. If we get upset, we react with anger. If we are disappointed, we get angry. If we are lonely or depressed, we are angry. If we feel hurt or rejected, we lash out with anger. Dominated by anger, we become alienated from every other feeling hidden underneath it and we prevent both ourselves and others from getting close to us. We become known only from our anger. Because it is loud and aggressive, anger appears to make our world bigger when it dominates our emotions. Actually, it serves only to reduce it and our world is as confined by anger as it is by fear.
To be true to our emotions without being abusive with them requires us to treat each and every emotion we have with the greatest care and respect. Just as honesty and fairness go together, so do care and respect. When the gentle tenderness of caring is coupled with the attentive firmness of respect, our paradoxical nature is at one with itself. Respect without caring becomes too stiff and formal, while caring without respect becomes too soft and indulgent. Together, caring and respect bring attentiveness and warmth. Our feelings must be both attentively cared for and respectfully addressed.
What does this actually mean? If we become afraid, we need to put our emotional arm around ourselves and in a caring way, ask ourselves why we feel afraid. If our fear is not honest and fair, it can spin out into hysterical out of control anxiety, and our hold on ourselves must be very firm to exact accountability before we give care and concern. Whatever honest and fair answer we give ourselves after that, we would then need to say how sorry we are that this fear has been triggered and then ask ourselves what we know about why it got triggered and what we need in order to calm it. Then we need to ask if there is anything we want done about it. If the answer is yes, we need to ask what and why.
If we become angry, we would need to firmly put our arm around ourselves so that we can contain the strength of our reaction until we check to see if it is honest and fair as this our greatest protection against being abusive with it. . Anger is not the only emotion that can lead to being out of control, any emotion can, and the self-indulgence that results from this pattern is destructive. We lose our freedom and our integrity when we are out of control. There is no justification for being out of control even though there may be very understandable reasons for why and how we became so self-indulgent.
Our hope lies not in out of control reactions, which only violate and imprison us, but in gaining control of our responses to our reactions, so that we can be free to be true to them, not abused by them.
Every emotion should have its rightful place and its turn, as the occasion arises that calls it forth. And when it takes its turn and we express how we feel, we should be fuller in stature and freer in expression and truer to ourselves than we were before we spoke. If we are an exaggerated caricature of ourselves, out of control and alienated from ourselves, something is terribly wrong. Our liberation is dependent on a complex relationship with ourselves. We must be self-disciplined, even as we are self-indulgent. We must be free to express ourselves even as we are self-contained. We must reflect as well as react. We must be honest, fair, respectful and caring with every emotion we feel.
What Is Self-Expression with Accountability
Self-expression with accountability describes a way of expressing with fairness and integrity how we think and feel, without being accusatory, judgmental, or abusive.
Accountability is an honest claiming of what is going on for us underneath the words or actions that we are confronting. It is not a defensive reaction, a counter attack, a manipulation, a lie, a withdrawal, or a denial. For self-expression to have accountability, it must first have a confrontation, either of ourselves confronting ourselves, of another confronting us, or of us confronting another.
Always, we must first confront ourselves to discover what’s going on for us before we can be accountable and before we can confront another. I will illustrate how accountability takes discipline, courage, commitment, and brains.
Having said this, we need to note that in our communication system, when a message is received, the first thing that happens to us once the message is registered, is that we have a reaction to it. This reaction is spontaneous and automatic. Reactions have emotional feelings attached to them that have been shaped by our past experiences, our present experience, our anticipated experiences, and our degree of investment in the information. In other words, messages that trigger reactions go through our system with a “charge”, positive, negative, or indifferent.
This charge is not ours to edit or control. Reactions are to be registered as the first source of personal data relative to the information. They “inform” us and it is for us to discover what they are telling us. We must ask , “What is our relationship to this message and why is it triggering this reaction?” Therefore, right here at this initial stage, the integrity of our system can be violated if we do not confront ourselves to reflect on our reaction and its “charge”.
Our first deliberate participation in the communication process, therefore, is reflecting on our reaction to a message. How we begin to deliberately participate in this process affects whether we are fair, respectful, and accountable to and for our reaction. If we are, we preserve the integrity of our system.
Automatic reactions are joined by deliberate self-reflection to allow us to be true to ourselves. If we just allow ourselves to react to our reactions, which means staying in an automatic mode, we will have no rules of fair play and the integrity of our system will be violated.
Reacting to reactions keeps us operating on the automatic response level. Reactions and reactions to them are not self-reflective. Accountability, on the other hand, is a deliberate, thoughtful claiming of what we discover is going on for us. To be accountable, we must be self-reflective and deliberate, and confront our reactions, thus the need for discipline.
We must discipline ourselves to search inside and try to discover, understand, and claim what our reaction is telling us about what we’re feeling and thinking. We must also claim what we’ve said and done and why, but we must never just react.
It takes discipline to be accountable. Reactions can be highly charged as they occur automatically, that is their nature. If not met with discipline their charge carries the energy and they just continue as chain reactions, automatically triggering themselves and ask nothing of us. Even infants can react. Only the disciplined can be self-reflective and accountable.
How does accountability takes courage? It takes courage to be accountable because we have to be honest and claim our part in whatever we said or did that we are being confronted about, either by ourselves or others. When confronted it is a natural tendency to want to duck the truth, either because we don’t want to get in trouble, we are embarrassed and don’t want to admit what we said or did, or we are angry at getting caught and feel trapped so we try to deflect, distract, defend or counterattack.
Accountability leaves us unprotected, exposed, and having to deal truthfully with the effects and consequences of our actions. That takes courage. Hiding does not. However, we can be intimate only if we are accountable. Hiding may seem safer, but it is lonely and empty, say nothing of being a source of anxiety as we fear being exposed. Teaching accountability means teaching courage.
Accountability also takes commitment. Without commitment to fairness and integrity, we will never be accountable. We must ” value” fairness if we are to” be” fair, and accountability is the fairest thing going. No one is ever in jeopardy when fairness is the governing principle. The same is true of integrity (honesty). If there is fairness, then honesty is not dangerous. It is, instead, a protection and a relief. Even though there will be consequences when we are accountable for what we’ve said or done, the integrity of the process will provide its own protection.
The understanding and resolution that follow will bring an intimacy and a lessening of tension that provides a sense of peace and well-being, as well as a sense of being known and being connected. If we are committed to fairness and honesty, we can find the discipline and courage to be accountable.
If we are accountable, the fairness and honesty bring us a sense of intimacy and connectedness, of personal stature and well-being. It is a powerful and rewarding process. Teaching accountability means teaching commitment to fairness.
Finally, accountability takes brains. Accountability takes brains because it is not just an automatic process. It is a deliberative and complex one. We need to be self reflective, ponder what is going on for us, search around in our past, present, and anticipated future experiences, and make the appropriate associations and selections of what is relevant to the particular confrontation. Then we need to draw on the discipline and courage it takes to express what we discover with fairness, honesty and accountability. This is a complicated thought process involving strong feelings that could easily just turn into automatic reactions.
It takes no particular brain power to react and bully, or react and deny, or react and manipulate and lie. It is easy. Initially it is much easier than being accountable. The problem is after … there is no relief, no peace, no understanding, no resolution … just reactions.
Accountability always provides an opportunity for intimacy with the truth and with that comes understanding of ourselves and of each other, which in turn provide a sense of well-being. Trust is the wonderful byproduct of accountability. However, accountability is the outgrowth of confrontation, so we must also become skilled at confronting if we are to set the stage for accountability to occur.
The primary way to teach confrontation with accountability is to live it. Instead of swallowing your feelings and building resentment, learn how to express those feelings, thus being accountable yourself. Then ask the relevant person why they said or did what they did, asking them to be accountable. Instead of reacting defensively when someone confronts you, stop yourself, ask yourself to go inside and discuss why you said or did what you did, thus being accountable to yourself and to another. Instead of reacting angrily and attacking another, blaming them for whatever occurred and verbally assaulting them for it, stop and listen to your angry feelings and ask yourself why you are so angry, then express your anger with honesty and fairness, being accountable and also confrontive.
In each of these instances, we are in a position to demonstrate both the integrity and fairness of confrontation with accountability. We can also demonstrate its effectiveness and its power. Instead of hostility and estrangement or abuse, there will be growing understanding and a chance to care and be intimate and known. A far more desirable state and a far less stressful or hostile one.
No one ever gets abused by honest confrontation and accountability, instead, someone gets to be understood better and treated better. The climate is not hostile or intimidating and life can be lived without fear of being mistreated or bullied and without the need to mistreat and bully. Respect quiets and allows us to concentrate, to listen and be heard. That is a very good feeling that we all deserve to have and appreciate.
We who are so impressed with the technological advances of these last decades of the 20th century would do well to be impressed by the evolutionary advances of philosophical thought. Our technology need not outdistance our psychology. The complexity of our inner world is awesome in its own right. We are not meant to be mere consumers of ideas. We are creators as well. Creative thinking is highly underrated. We have in liberation psychology an inner and outer world view that cultivates intimacy and creativity, as it provides a framework for reconciling cosmic order and autonomy. It would seem we need to explore it not ignore or merely argue against it. Liberation psychology is an invitation not a threat, and an opportunity not a call to arms.
Communication within ourselves and between ourselves and others becomes a discovery process for understanding and clarity leading to intimacy and oneness. Communication is key. Integrity is preserved by communicating with honesty and fairness, caring and respect. Discovery and understanding are the purpose for communicating and intimacy is the desired outcome.
Liberation psychology holds that life is a journey, not a test, and words are to be used as tools not weapons. Verbal abuse is considered a violation of the integrity of our system and using words as weapons is abusive. Living guided by integrity, with truth and fairness, we are living at one with ourselves and others. Liberation psychology teaches how to live guided by this integrity, providing a wonderful opportunity for those who choose to learn how to live with fairness, caring and respect both within themselves and with others.
Liberated theology adds the dimension of God as Life Force, the Initiating Force, and Oneness as God, offering that when we are at One we are at God. Integrity not morality is the governing principle for liberated theology, and living with integrity, honesty and wholeness, fairness and respect, is considered living with God.