The Truth in Hierarchies

purple flowersWhat is your position in some of the hierarchies of your life? Are you a manager, do you have a boss, are you an employer, an employee, a parent, somebody of wealth, somebody with little means, do you see yourself at the fringes of society or among the movers and shakers? Hierarchies are everywhere. They structure our life on this planet in so many ways that we tend to lose track on how they impact our sense of self and well being. We create practical and more or less innocent hierarchies such as among our favorite foods or colors, but we also attach our worth as human beings to the hierarchies we find ourselves in. Hierarchies are arrangements of power and whether we experience being at the top, the bottom or somewhere in the middle of a human hierarchy we tend to internalize the level of power (or powerlessness) that comes with this position.

While it is always worthwhile to question the nature and usefulness of hierarchies, my interest is more focused on how they impact our relationship with ourselves. How much do we believe what our rank in a hierarchy tries to tell us about our capabilities and inherent worth?  Does the fact that we have to answer to somebody on the job tell us that we must be less knowledgeable or competent than this person? And if we have administrative or any other kind of professional or societal power over somebody, do we eventually start to believe that we deserve this advantage because we are inherently better than the people we oversee?

I am not trying to call into question the utility of all kinds of hierarchies, but I am interested in bringing to consciousness that they are products of societal structures and that they can confuse us on the level of self experience. We may not take our own inner voice as seriously as the stated opinion of a person in power. Or we may realize that our way of approaching things is more viable than that of a superior in the hierarchy but we cannot express this if we do not want to endanger our livelihood. In this case we begin to feel that we have to hide and silence our true ability and competence. These dynamics can inhibit the development of a good sense of self and erode the experience of self worth that we deserve. Even in therapy we are unfortunately not always safe from these dynamics. Our tendency to structure human connections in hierarchical ways is something to constantly be aware of. It is the job of a therapist to create a space where you can feel free to explore your relationship with yourself and the people around you in a way that allows you to feel and experience your true self and potential. A wonderful thing to develop or rediscover in therapy is a relationship with yourself that feels safe, fulfilling, right, true, and able to withstand the pressures and power games of those hierarchies we cannot avoid.

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