In fact, you may have been told that some of your actions were unacceptable. As a consequence, instead of developing courage and originality in your behavior, your actions may have become repetitive and unoriginal. In order to gain approval, to receive the love you thought you couldn't live without, you may have learned to draw your world of actions very small. Instead of being an expansive adventurer, ever on the journey of discovering the expressions that could define you to yourself (and in time become the vehicle though which you can give yourself to the world), you limit yourself to the actions that are known to gain acceptance.
So rather than wearing the chartreuse high heels and practicing singing in your bedroom, you learned to dress down and shut up. Or rather than becoming an actress, you became a secretary. Rather than taking a trip to India, you went to the mall. Rather than being a passionate lover, you lived in a passionless marriage for twenty-five years. One way or another, because of the content of your life theme, you learned to play safe, to contract, to limit your wholeness by living small, by living, "according to the rules."
Given all this, it's hard to act out, and sometimes, rather than being inspired by expansiveness or a dream, the acting out that changes our lives is inspired by the constriction around us. This is true either when we do something our parents would never think of, or when our acting out takes a subdued direction because our parents made the world so unsafe and chaotic that, in reaction, we make our own worlds structured and calm.
Stephanie, whose socialite mother conducted numerous affairs in Stephanie's presence and right under her father's nose, acted out by not marrying the corporate lawyer of her mother's dreams, but rather a steady, good-hearted carpenter her mother would never approve of. When his parents insisted that Hank become a minister, he became a rock musician instead. When her mother said she's better settle down and stay in her hometown, Sharon, the star of her high school drama department, took off for New York. One way or another, the atmosphere our parents create around us defines the nature of our actions. We're afraid to act, we react, or we act in a different way because of the role that action played in our relationships with them.
When I was in college, I used to ride the bus every day for an hour on my way to my job at the hospital. Day after day I'd see the same older women riding on my bus. As time went by we gradually had an opportunity to speak.
One day when we were sitting next to each other, a person sitting across from us was reading Life magazine and on the cover was a photograph of several famous mountain climbers. The woman noticed the picture and remarked that it reminded her of her son. "When he was a teenager he just loved to climb mountains," she told me. Then she went on to tell me a lot of other unusual things he'd done when he was a boy and young man. I remarked that with all those experiences, he must be having a very interesting life. When I said that, the woman paused for a moment, and her face grew still. Then she told me that her son had died in a mountain climbing accident. I told her I was so sorry. When she turned to thank me, she said, "Well, that was his way; I wasn't surprised. He died being himself." Then she told me she's always found peace with his death because he'd died doing something he loved.
Despite her own loss, this mother had a great enough heart to encompass that it was in her son's nature to climb mountains. She didn't stifle him; she even had the expansiveness of spirit to recognize that even in his death he was being exactly who he was meant to be. She was that extraordinary parent who in fact supported her son's "acting out." How can you be that "parent" to yourself?