On being good

“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.”- from Wild Geese by Mary Oliver.

In the past, I have compromised myself, my values, my integrity, in order to “be good.”  I have often followed others’ instructions, opinions, and advice at a high cost.  While there have been times where I have spoken my truth, I rarely spoke of it as a strong desire or a need, or said “This is really important to me.”

While I’m currently thinking of a specific instance, I know that I have done this on multiple occasions throughout my life.  I realize now that trying to “be good” for the sake of other people does not benefit my self-esteem and my overall mental health.  Now, my regret adds more weight to a debilitating sense of heartbreak.  This sinking feeling can lead to hopelessness.  What if it will always be this way? I wonder.  And part of me responds, “It won’t be.  There will be opportunities to stand up and do something different.”

I do not need to walk through the desert repenting.  My own thoughts can be self-punishing, forms of mental, emotional, and spiritual flagellation.  While I am frustrated by how certain interactions and situations unfolded, I am actively working on my own issues.  I cannot go back and change what happened.  I can live in the present.  I can, as they say in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), “cope ahead”:  I can look at situations from my past and decide what I would do in similar circumstances in the future.  I cannot control the past, but I can control the power it has over me, at least to a certain extent.  I cannot will away my trauma, how situations have affected me, but I can work on it.  I can work through it.

Not standing up for myself has been damaging to my mental health and my sense of self.  I am setting the intention to put less effort into “being good.”  This form of being good has often been directed out to others for my own safety and their approval.  I set the intention to instead put more energy towards being good, kind, and true to myself.


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