Most every year at the end of December or in early January, I write an article about commitment, since making and breaking New Year’s Resolutions is such a hot topic at that time. We’ve just had news, though, of one of our country’s esteemed and powerful leaders having broken his marriage commitment. So it seems to me, now is the perfect time to write about commitment.
Friday, November 9th 2012, CIA Director David Petraeus (and former four-star General of the U.S. Army) resigned his position, based on his having had an extra-marital affair. It has become a scandal with threads and perhaps webs way beyond Petraeus’ affair (as, of course, breaking a commitment will do). While people are focusing on many difference aspects of the situation, I’m going to focus on the core aspect. Commitment.
It seems important as I begin, to talk about how our society holds commitment. If you listen to the media’s response to the Petraeus affair, it will be obvious. I’ve heard media pundits – mostly men but some women, too – say things like: “It’s human nature”; “Many powerful leaders have done the same thing before him and kept their positions”; “Thomas Jefferson and Dwight Eisenhower had affairs, too”; “They were just ‘randy buggers’”; “Men just like sex”; “It doesn’t affect his judgment in his military position, or his presidential position, or whatever high position he holds”; “It’s just between him and his wife, a family matter.”
Could they normalize the breaking of commitment any more? Could they accept the abuse of power that breaking a commitment actually is any more than they have by what they’ve been saying?
The task of leaders, among others, is to help us evolve into more matured, more developed beings – individually and communally. The response of our media to Petraeus’ affair is totally the opposite. They’ve been passing down myths of . . . “Boys will be boys;” and breaches of trust in one area don’t affect breaches of trust in another; and it’s none of our business, a private matter; and more. That’s how slavery was sustained; that’s how domestic violence has been sustained; that’s how the abuse of power has been supported and sustained for far too long. And if we accept that, we are part of sustaining some of the worst of what goes on in our leaders, our communities, our families, and ourselves. And we collude in keeping ourselves small, unempowered, and unmatured. Are we going to collude? Or are we going to make the choice to support, help, and take part in the growth that is possible here?
My intention is to help with our growth. So let’s talk deeply about commitment. When we make a commitment, we pledge our word and our trustworthiness to fulfill the vow we are making. We accept as our responsibility the fulfillment of that commitment. If we commit in a marriage to love, cherish, and be faithful to our spouse . . . we are giving our word that we will fulfill that commitment.
If we do not make a full commitment, we will not keep a full commitment. In other words, we will end up breaking our commitment in some way. Perhaps we will break it externally, as with having an affair. Or perhaps we will break it internally, as with feeling anger toward our spouse and not exploring the anger and what is causing it – in our relationship or within ourselves alone. Instead we will take our anger into our sexual relationship with our spouse and instead of being in connection with our partner . . . fantasize about other partners. Either way we break the commitment, we break it. In thought, feeling, or action.
It is broken. And so is our word. And so is our trustworthiness. There is a rupture not only between us and the one or ones with whom we have made the commitment, but also within us. Most people don’t really understand commitment. Most people don’t really understand what happens once we make a commitment. Most people don’t really get what happens that leads us down the path to breaking our commitments . . . or what could happen to prevent the breaking of our commitments.
Let’s look at commitment – the breadth and depth of it. First, if we don’t make a full commitment, we definitely won’t keep the commitment fully. Something will inevitably emerge that will either “lead” us to break the commitment or that we will use to justify breaking the commitment. And the outcome will not be all it could be. Making a full commitment means committing 100% of yourself to that to which you are committing. That could be, among other things, to a marriage, a child, a career, your own healing, growth, and development. It means committing your mind, heart, body, and soul…every aspect of your being.
Here’s an example of making only a partial commitment. You marry your spouse. You commit to love, honor, and cherish your spouse “till death do us part.” If you don’t really love your spouse, but have just settled for a companion, you have already broken your commitment. If you love your spouse, but when the honeymoon phase of the relationship is over, the underlying issues surface, and you start to have uncomfortable feelings come up – which they always do – you take some of your energy away from your spouse and start giving that portion of your energy to a co-worker who interests you, and with whom you can feel the new, honeymoon-like feelings again. With a partial commitment, this kind of thing will occur again and again. You will create, find, or stumble upon all sorts of excuses for breaking your commitment. You’ll basically be saying, whether you put it into words or not . . . “This is happening, and it is a reason not to keep my commitment,” or perhaps, “This is happening, and it is a reason not to keep my commitment fully.”
If, on the other hand, you have made a full commitment, when the honeymoon phase of the marriage comes to an end, and issues and feelings come to the foreground . . . you will see clearly what is happening: that the part of you who made the full commitment is showing you right out in the open, this is the next thing in you that needs to be healed in order to take the next steps in following through with and fulfilling your commitment. This is a more matured way to understand commitment. That once we make a commitment, whatever exists in our psyche and soul that needs to be healed in order for us to fulfill that commitment will definitely surface for healing. And it is up to us to see that and utilize that for the purpose of healing . . . not for the breaking of the commitment.
So let’s say you have been married for a year and things have settled down from the excitement and the high of the courtship, the marriage, and the start of your life together. And now you are finding you’re hurt by certain things your spouse does. Maybe he’s not spending all his spare time with you anymore, but starting to do some of the writing he’s always wanted to do instead of taking dancing lessons with you. Or maybe she’s not spending all her spare time with you anymore, but beginning to meditate early every morning, just the time you like to cuddle and be intimate. If you haven’t made a full commitment, you could use this to justify doing more things on your own, drawing further away from your spouse, investing some of your energy in someone else, or eventually, even having an affair. If you have made a full commitment and you understand the process of step by step following through on and fulfilling your commitment . . . you will first explore within you what is getting stirred up.
If your husband is spending time writing that you want him to spend with you, maybe it’s triggering a memory – even if you’re not conscious of it yet – when you were a year old and your mother got pregnant again, giving a chunk of her attention to her pregnancy that had been going to you. And maybe if your wife is spending early morning time meditating when you want to be close to her, it’s triggering when you were a year old and your father was working the night shift. He would come home early in the morning and want to be cuddly and intimate with your mommy, when you wanted her to sit and rock you back to sleep after you awakened too early to get up for the day. These are things that, with a full commitment, you would, of course, find a way to work with and work through – not just on the level of understanding, but on the feeling level, too. Perhaps you would find a good therapist who would help you heal these early places of hurt to the root.
I hope you get the essence of the difference between making a full commitment and only a partial one. The difference between breaking your partial commitment or having made a full commitment, finding a way to heal what comes up inside you that needs to be healed. This difference is crucial.
Further, if you break a commitment in the face of something in your life – inside or out – bringing up uncomfortable or painful feelings within you . . . that isn’t just contained in one area of your life. You can have uncomfortable feelings that you aren’t aware of triggered by anything in any arena in your life. What is triggered could cause you to exercise poor or distorted judgment in any arena in your life, even to break a commitment in any arena of your life. Any arena, personal or public.
The other important thing to be aware of, when you break a commitment: you have an effect not only on yourself, but also on the person to whom you made the commitment . . . and even to others, as well. In the example of a partner in a marriage having an affair and breaking a commitment to the spouse, not only will the spouse be affected, but also the children, the extended family, the person with whom the affair is taking place, that person’s family, and perhaps many more. If the affair is with someone at the office, the whole office can be affected. If the affair is at the office and the office is a country’s government, who knows how many people will be affected…people not only in the country but all over the world?
I teach all of this to my clients over the course of their working with me. I help my clients step by step in the process of learning about and working with their commitments. I assist them in seeing what is coming up that tempts them or leads them to break a commitment, and to see it as something within them calling to be healed . . . so they can return to their commitment and continue with it to fulfillment. And I have the privilege and honor of watching them grow and develop as a result. This is what our leaders need to be modeling for us. This is what our media needs to be helping us to learn just in the way they present the news to us. This is what we need to be insisting on from our leaders, from our media, and both from and for ourselves. Otherwise, we stay undeveloped, unmatured beings who don’t expect any more of ourselves today than we did yesterday or tomorrow than we do today. Is that what we want for ourselves and our children?
© Judith Barr, 2012.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
TO HELP MAKE YOUR WORLD SAFE . . .
FROM THE INSIDE OUT
As we near the end of the year, and the beginning of a new year, instead of making a resolution this year, commit to explore your own relationship with commitment, and the impact it’s made on your life and the lives of those around you.
Ponder the commitments you’ve made in your life . . . commitments to your relationships, to your children, to your career, to others, to yourself . . . What did you feel when you prepared to make that commitment? When you actually did make the commitment? Was it a full commitment, or were you only partially committed? Were you aware of the partial or full nature of the commitment you were making? And after you made that commitment . . . did feelings arise in you that led you to want to break your commitment?
Before, during, and after you make a commitment, explore the feelings that arise in you, things that may lead you to break your commitment. Have you felt this way before? When? And when before that? Trace those feelings back as far as you can in your life. And, of course, if you need help exploring and healings those feelings, rather than acting out on them, seek the help of a good therapist to untangle your present feelings from your ancient wounds, and truly heal your feelings about your commitment to the root.
One of the most important commitments we can make is to the healing of our relationship with commitment. Imagine the effect on our lives, the life of our country, and the life of our world . . . if everyone healed this to the root, and could make full, real, lasting commitments!