I am not telling you to stop following the law or reject orders from your boss. The concept of disobeying I discuss here has to do with developing the power of choice and mindfulness. It is an art. The way you make decisions will impact every aspect of your wellbeing.

From birth, we are conditioned to fall into line and fit in within groups in a society. This is a natural process, and it happens whether we like it or not. It’s instinctual. We all go through it, and often times people get stuck there. Some go to extremes and either disobey every source of power, becoming antisocial, while others chronically do what they are told and become passive. What part of the spectrum do you fall on?

You say antisocial like it’s a bad thing.

Evolutionary biology explains the unconscious urge to want to fit it. Way back when we existed in hunter/gatherer societies, we learned specific behaviors that enabled us to survive in groups. As a mammalian species, we continue to survive in packs. Those groups are represented differently now.  Malcolm Owen Slavin and Daniel H. Kriegman‘s work explains this concept in depth.

There is a sharp contrast between fitting in and belonging. My favorite description of both came from elementary children I once gave a talk to once. Fitting in is the concept of being like everybody else with the inability to stand out for the fear of rejection; while belonging is being part of a group where you can be you without the fear of judgement. That fear of dissention triggers our evolutionary instinct to stay in the tribe, or be exiled. It feels like death when you are ostracized because way back when, we would die if we had no tribe. Predators would eat us, we would die from the elements, suffer disease, have accidents, and there would not be others around to protect or help us. This is also the only reason that keeps me from moving to the top of the mountain to that property we need to snowmobile 10 miles to get to. I wouldn’t come down for a year. I also need a Costco and sadly, they will not airdrop food. I checked.

To this day, we have those instincts to develop connection for this very same reason.

Because without connection to others, we will still die. Today, our isolative tendencies lead to suicide, lethal health conditions, mental health disorders that worsen health disorders, and causes dangerous behaviors like addictions. There is a solid link between the brain and body, as Bessel van der Kolk and Stephen Porges demonstrated.


Dr. Starla Fitch’s point of connect or die explains so much of human behavior. We will go to so many lengths to be accepted and loved. Some of us will never feel this, nor valued, due to past traumas. Some of us revolt against the urge to connect and become antisocial because they were deeply wounded. While yes, I may or may not belong to this particular subset of the population, I am also well aware of the need for some social interaction.

Belonging is the sense of being part of a group while also being able to express your individuality without fear of rejection. It is an effective tool for change, also. Take a look at the effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the civil rights movements, or having a close family whom you often have gatherings with.

These relationships are different than those with your coworkers. While coworking environments vary greatly, and people can present some filtered version of themself, they usually hold back quite a bit in order to remain “professional.” And, for good reason. Sally in the cubicle next door whose trying to get shit done has no interest in hearing about your opinion on the Kardashians. I will say, that it takes a tremendous amount of effort for me not to use my very dry, very dark humor while on the job. There are just so many opportunities.

We get into trouble when we confuse the concept of fitting in with belonging. When a person becomes so afraid to express themself in any form, and uses a mask while building walls to keep oneself emotionally safe, you stop that natural process of building emotional connections with other people. You build walls, and distance yourself from everyone else. You can be in a room full of people, but be the loneliest person there.

You can’t get hurt if you don’t get close, right?

The answer is: Yes, absolutely, you can. You hurt yourself in the end with the development of your adaptive behaviors that promote isolation. In a way, you kill yourself slowly. And, while this is a common trauma response from wounded people, this is also an extreme reaction that will end up more damaging than the actual event. Avoiding the problem won’t fix the problem. That pain, anger, and other negative feeling states won’t just go away by pretending they’re not there or stuffing them down. They will come back with a vengeance. Addiction or mood disorders are very common forms that these manifest in.

When you begin to build walls, you stop the process of empathy building, which directly affects your ability to understand other people. When you put on a mask for the public in order to be accepted, you pretend to be something you perceive they want to be, sometimes doing things you would rather not do or don’t particularly enjoy. You stop living your life, and let others control it. You become resentful, isolated, and miserable. You hide yourself, and stay locked away until some major event brings you back out of the box.

What does this have to do with disobeying? When we do what everyone else wants us to do just to be accepted or gain outer esteem, we lose our own identities. We develop imbalances in self esteem, boundaries, confidence, and intimacy. Our behaviors can become damaging to others in a relationship with us, and push them away. With isolation, we become depressed, anxious, and complete hot messes.

Would you jump off a cliff if your friends did?

I was so tired of hearing this as a child. This was a common message people would say to me in conversations about social dilemmas. The way my brain works, I had a difficult time with the abstractness of these phrases, and it took me a while to understand the point behind the message. I also had an incredibly difficult time in my childhood connecting with others because I wanted to be just like them. I could never be unique, as my peers would reject me when I was genuine. So, I masked. I tried to fit in.

I also could not decipher what the other kids’ intentions were, never processed their facial expressions or nonverbal cues, and I made up my own reality of what I thought would get me into the more popular groups. I masked for a very long time, until I became antisocial and swung into the complete opposite direction later on. This is just one example of the extremes people modulate between when trying to figure out the right balance of such concepts in life. And, it is here that many people get stuck. This is a very common conversation I have with the people I see in my practice.

Fortunately, society is turning a corner. The population exhibits more anti-mainstream behaviors and less tolerance for abuse. Though anti-mainstream is now becoming main-stream, these social patterns also fluctuate between the extremes. Ie. The 1970’s hippy movement, then the conservativism of the 1980’s. We’re back and forth.

Disobeying at the level of changing one’s shopping habits, practicing different values, tolerating specific treatment, or staying in damaging relationships is beginning to change because kids are more aware of the negative repercussions these have on their lives. The great debate between the Boomers and Zoomers, the inability to hire workers in America though there are millions of available jobs. These are all tied to this one very basic concept.

It’s just not worth it.

Toxic company cultures that implement abuse of its workers with an overload of responsibility, hostile environments that include gossiping, sexual harassment, low pay, no vacation, prolonged hours, no maternal leave, and the tolerance of damaging employees, have pushed people away.

All this talk about how people don’t want to work is horseshit. I would like to see people who say that go fill those retail positions. People are tired of being disrespected, being the emotional dumping grounds for angry customers, exploited, and dismissed. We are in the midst of a great rearrangement of societal perspective of service in America.

Take customer service, for example. The customer is always right, right? For those of you who have ever served others in retail, you know. And, the worst come out in people in these jobs towards customer service workers when they don’t get their way.

I used to waitress. I could perfectly serve an entire meal to someone and get a $0.10 tip. In Arizona, I made $2.15/hour at the time. The Right to Work state has the restaurant make up the difference in your paycheck, which is subsequently gets taken by taxes. I worked grueling hours, until 4 am sometimes. 12 hour shifts left me exhausted and little left for school. This wouldn’t cover one month’s rent without several roommates. The intensely physical work involved constant cleaning, carrying of heavy trays full of dishes that weight up to 80 pounds, and being summoned by people snapping their fingers at me. I was not worthy of them knowing my name. I had people scream and curse because their potatoes were too hot, too cold, too salty, not salty enough, mushy, overcooked, not potatoes, or any other reason they found to be upset. Customers would demand solo attention in a restaurant with a hundred other tables. They demanded service that didn’t exist and was not possible to give. This, the downside of serving. All while making $4.00 per hour. I earned a degree so I never had to go back to retail.

I hope you can see where I am headed.

Others are doing the same. It was just not worth it to pour your life into a shitty job, just to be let go of during a mass layoff, and treated like a number. The public is tired of being used, abused, and undervalued. So, they dissent and disobey. They are figuring out how to live through other means.

Civil rights movements are also based on this principle. They disobey when dangerous people or masses are put into positions of power and create horrifying laws. A 1669 law allowed slaves to be killed for resisting authority. Hitler ostracized then mass murdered those who were Jewish. Extreme levels of dissention can model this same behavior. Society will have those that rebellion and revolt, and if it is large enough, reform.

Again, these are natural processes of human behavior in large societies. Patterns repeat themselves. What this means for you is that you have the power of choice. You can chose to buy exactly what that commercial is telling you to. You can treat that foreigner like a subhuman, or you can look at them with empathy. You can vote how that candidate wants you to for the biased reasons he presents, or you can choose to work 80 hours a week and not give any time to your family if your boss tells you to. These are all choice points that you have the power to control.

Helping people realize their power of choice is the best part of my job.

We can disobey what people tell us to do if it is not healthy for us or will harm us or another person somehow. People unconsciously follow the masses, as so famously depicted by Stanley Milgram’s controversial experiments. Waking up to this power to make choices that better yourself is this exact concept that will improve your life. You will stop feeling helpless and begin to take control of your future.

As a reminder:

You are free to make your own decisions, but you are not free from experiencing the consequences.

Be cautious of who and how you disobey, also. Make wise choices. Learn from your mistakes.

Consider the consequences of your actions, as you will get them whether you like it or not. Laws do exist for a reason. We have to have some way to live close to people without killing each other. So, a certain level of obeying is necessary to live in these communities that keep us alive.

You are free to make your choices, but not free to break other people’s boundaries without repercussions.

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