For as long as I can remember, I have used the Bad Guy – Villain view of others to solidify my role of Good Guy. My goal has always been to serve as a harbinger of peace and harmony. It has taken me many years to understand how my Good Guy – Bad Guy approach actually fosters the exact opposite result in and around me. By seeing another through a Bad Guy filter, I blocked the potential for curiosity, compassion and the valuable learning in realizing how their behavior is a reflection of me. It is a close-hearted, protective, defensive approach that blocks the flow of authentic connection. This black and white way of seeing things creates separation rather than connection, putting up a massive brick wall between the two, which I am finally knocking down brick by brick.
I have noticed that this Good Guy – Bad Guy filter has been a survival method of mine since I was young. It was mild when I was younger, not really impacting my close relationships, as I didn’t perceive any real villains in my inner circle. As I got older and opened myself to more experiences, moving into the more challenging and vulnerable experiences of adulthood – getting married, having five children – the practice intensified. It would rear its head when I came up against personalities and perspectives that were very different from my own; that is to say their fundamental focus wasn’t the same as mine. Peace and harmony, above all, ruled my world. “Let’s all just get along.” was my motto.
As I moved through my adult life, I didn’t understand how people around me, people I loved dearly, didn’t see life the same way. Peace and Harmony wasn’t their goal. They had a different agenda rooted in their needs and the way they made sense of the world. When I found my view of things challenged, especially if I was being criticized for my view/approach, I would lose my footing, forget what I thought, lose my perspective, forget what I wanted. The only way I knew to recapture some stability was to position my challengers as The Bad Guy. That way I could re-orient and settle back into my role of The Good Guy – Harbinger of Peace and Harmony. It took me a long, long, long time to realize that that simple mind game actually prevented what I wanted most.
True peace and harmony does not exist in the presence of the Good Guy – Bad Guy polarity. It just can’t, because the dynamic does not allow for either person to be truly seen, heard or accepted. There is no room for authentic connection and peaceful resolution.
The funny thing is, all along, even before I could see my pattern, I experienced the difference between engaging from polarity and engaging with an open heart. My nature is to engage with an open heart. However, when my openhearted approach was challenged, I tended to crumble. For a long time, I didn’t see how detrimental my survival technique was to my overall sense of peace and harmony within myself. My survival technique actually went against my nature. It prevented me from seeing the other person’s pain and feeling compassion for them. It showed up many places, but most intensely in my marriage and even in interactions with some of my children.
In my mind, it was bad not to be all about getting along with others. And, if you didn’t have that objective, you must be a Bad Guy. In doing that during difficult, often painful interactions, I blocked myself from the full experience available to me. I blocked myself from the opportunity to transmute the pain into learning and understanding about myself and my challenger. I blocked the flow of peace and harmony, because peace and harmony can only exist when all parties are allowed to be themselves and are accepted as they and appreciated for who they are. When I pinned on the Bad Guy badge, I wasn’t allowing or accepting. And, I DEFINITELY wasn’t appreciating. Not so surprising, I also was not allowing, accepting and appreciating the Bad Guy in me. In playing the Good Guy, I didn’t allow my true anger and judgement see the light of day. I denied it, pushed it away. Good Guy – Bad Guy blocks full expression and acceptance to all parties involved.
So in my world, if you express big anger by yelling at me – you are a Bad Guy. If you judge and criticize me, you are a Bad Guy. If you threaten me, you are a Bad Guy. You get the idea… Would most people generally agree that yelling at, criticizing and judging, or intimidating another person is “bad”? Maybe, but placing the label of Bad Guy blocks the potential for seeing the truth. If I label you as the Bad Guy, then I don’t get to look underneath and see your pain. I don’t get to see how you are just like me, trying to get your needs met. I don’t get to see your fear and how you are letting it drive your actions. I don’t get to be curious and ask what is really happening for you. I don’t get to ask you what you really want. I don’t get to see myself in you. I don’t get to wonder what about your behavior is a reflection of how I feel inside. I don’t get to truly see you or me in this moment of conflict. I don’t get to focus on the one thing I can control – myself – because I am busy blaming you. I don’t get to experience what I want most – peace and harmony internally or externally.
Bad Guy – Good Guy is just one giant brick wall.
Once I became aware of this polarizing pattern of mine and was able to see it clearly showing up in my interactions, I began to drop it. It didn’t altogether disappear, as it was a strongly entrenched survival technique after practicing it for so long. I had simply decided to let it go when I saw it making an appearance.
My practice now is:
- I notice and acknowledge that I am triggered. (If I hear myself thinking things like, “she shouldn’t be doing that” or “he is bad for acting that way,” these are signs that I am triggered.)
- I drop the thought. Turn my attention inward and tune into what I am feeling in my body and what emotion is present.
- I feel my feelings by breathing into the sensation in my body where I feel the emotion.
- With a more spacious heart, I wonder “How is their behavior just like me?” This is where the learning begins.
And just like that, with each step, I take the Good Guy – Bad Guy wall down brick by brick.
If you’d like to hear an audio snippet from my conversation with Diana Chapman of the Conscious Leadership group on the intelligence of our emotions, click below.