I used to be in awe of and even intimidated by rebels. They do everything “their way.”  They blaze their own trail, make their own rules. They’re so quick-witted that they usually dominate conversations and win any argument. I thought that they were really powerful and completely self-reliant, but I’ve come to see it differently.  In fact, I think they’re as dependent upon others as people who are constantly trying to get approval.

Most of the time when they say, “I’m doing this my way,” it’s actually just whatever is “not your way.”  Give them a rule and they’ll break it.  Their knee-jerk reaction is to do or say whatever is opposite the person around them in the moment.  You say it’s warm out, they say it’s cold.  You like a restaurant, they can give you five reasons why it’s horrible.  The thing is that they’re not operating in a vacuum.  In order to oppose, they need something or someone to rebel against.  And, it is the entity against which they are rebelling who actually holds the power, not the rebel.

I actually have a soft place in my heart for these folks, because this is just a way of coping with the feeling of not being good enough.  They actually store a conglomeration of negative feelings that make the “rebel” survival mechanism necessary.  These feelings include:

  1. In order to survive I have to be perfect and/or know everything.
  2. In order to survive, I have to win at everything.
  3. I am not capable of conforming to others’ rules or way of being.
  4. I am not capable of getting others’ approval.

Numbers one and two carry a lot of pressure with them.  It’s stressful to feel that survival depends on always being perfect and always winning.  Think of the kid who was always expected to have perfect grades or win first place in every race – always.

Most people’s response to numbers 3 and 4 is to say, “I don’t care about conforming or getting people to like me,” or, “I don’t have to do that” (often with the voice of someone who doth protest too much).  When someone starts a sentence with, “I don’t care about. . .,” I know that they actually do care deeply, but just feel that it’s impossible for them to fulfill whatever it is.  So, they cope by pretending that they don’t care and then demonstrating that by opposing those who won’t accept them.

The most interesting, and for me the saddest, thing is that the “I’m doing everything my own way,” mechanism actually cuts someone off from their truly unique way of being.  All of their energy is funneled into rebelling, so there’s no room for their real self to come through.  While most of us look at people like this as strong voices or even as leaders, they’re just as scared and feel under as much pressure as the rest of us.

But buried beneath all of the pressure and feelings of inadequacy is uniqueness.  It is the alternative to having to be perfect and to have to win all the time.  Uniqueness is one’s own place and purpose in the world, so there can be no competition around it, nor any such thing as (im)perfection.  Uniqueness just is someone’s natural way of being.

As my clients with this pattern start to change, who they really are starts to emerge.  They’re more able to collaborate with others and listen to other points of view.  The “volume gets turned down” on that intense need to react and oppose others.  And, as they begin to feel safe to be who they really are, others feel that and respond with more openness. . . the former rebels find that they can “fit” exactly as they are.

Does any of this ring a bell for you personally or does it sound like someone you know?  I hope you’ll share your experience and observations in the comments below.