Who I am, what I like, what I want, what I don’t want call to us – sometimes softly, sometimes loudly. These inner voices lie deeply within the lifestyles we have woven for ourselves. Here reside our guides; here are our own cherished values, pulsating with the joys and sorrows of the past and present. They are our ever-present companions, held in our own living, patterned fabric. For further thoughts on this, on how you can make seemingly impossible things happen for you, Read on to discover how.
Complementary Pairs: Withholding ~ Letting go and Releasing, Qualified by Cherishing Values
Some of us are able to both withhold and also grant or release by letting go. These are both qualified by cherishing values, which underpin our lifestyles. Values serve as guiding principles of what we consider important in life, and lifestyle is a way of life or living that we choose, based on our values. But some of us are only able to withhold OR let go. The gripping hold our values and lifestyles have on us helps us to understand withholding versus letting go, releasing and granting.
Michael learned early in life that this world is not a safe place for him. His father was an alcoholic and he never knew what to expect when he got home from school. One moment his father was a quiet, soft-spoken man, but suddenly he’d fly into a rage, taking his anger out on his wife, she cowering and silent, shouting, throwing things against the wall, screaming at Michael. He’d run outside and hide in the garden. Life felt dangerous and uncertain. Safety and security became his greatest need. Now, as a head of department, one of his top values continues to be safety. As a result, departmental controversies are always dealt with by emails and discussions that leave him in a safe, secure position. He writes statements ending with question marks. Behaviors of staff are always described with their possible, opposite reasons for their behaviors – noted in brackets. His style makes all things, all behaviors in the protagonist possible such as, “the person might have done this (but perhaps she meant that).” He makes it impossible for anyone to pin him down to any single viewpoint. This makes it impossible for anyone to contradict him or enter into a counter argument. His value of “being safe” protects him.
People’s values are relative and subjective. Values are what you regard as desirable and serve as guiding principles of what you consider important in life, guiding selections and the evaluations of your actions. They are regarded as uncompromising, worthy, are highly esteemed by you and are beliefs in which you have an emotional investment – either for or against something. Their importance to each person includes concepts of what is right, serving as an ideal. As a result, people often attempt to influence others to accept their values. Adding to this complexity, Kenneth Fleischmann tells us that we in fact have a large range of values such as personal values, professional or work values, national values, environmental values, group values, and societal values. They all act as determinants with respect to aspects that are “material and physical, economic, moral, social, political, aesthetic, religious (spiritual), intellectual, professional, and sentimental”.
Rosemary was a happy child on the whole. She was talented and artistic and did well at school. But her parents were in constant conflict and her spendthrift father’s habits meant that money was always short. But Rosemary’s mother had a great approach to life. Her motto was “there’s always a way!” Over the years, Rosemary saw again and again how her mother’s creative view opened the doors and how she found solutions for Rosemary to pursue her interests – despite the shortage of money. She also saw how her mother was able to overcome her own financial constraints and how she found ways to create a lifestyle for herself, despite her marital problems – letting the conflicts go. Most of all, Rosemary saw how this value gave her mother satisfaction and how it always brought about positive feelings in her. Rosemary’s whole life has since been guided by her mother’s example and this value. Although her life has been much easier than her mother’s was, it has had a substantial, positive effect on her own lifestyle. No matter what difficulties or disappointments come her way, she “always finds a way.” She is able to creatively maintain and even remake her lifestyle in satisfying, enjoyable ways – again and again.
Lifestyle is the play of self-identity. One’s lifestyle is often seen as a way of life or living, but according to a paper by Mikael Jensen, lifestyle needs to be understood in terms of values and attitudes. For example, “how to eat and what to eat (and drink); how to move around (by car, by bus, by bicycle, by foot, by aircraft, by boat and so forth) and where to travel, what to wear and when and where to wear it; where to live (urban, rural or in a suburb) and how to furnish, what to watch and read, what to work with, choice of education, how to engage politically or religiously, who to associate with, how (where and with whom) to spend leisure time, whether one uses drugs, tobacco or alcohol, how to communicate, and health approaches.” As if this were not complex enough, lifestyle also includes the differences and similarities between countries, societies and cultures. It also includes which behaviour one might see as correct such as manners, styles, tastes and background and the different ways in which one sees reality.
Lifestyle is about choices we make over a long time, not about a single choice. It is about our own style of how to act, who to be, how to handle the problems and difficulties in relationships with others, and how to overcome inferiority. In doing this we continually make and remake our identities. The term “lifestyle” was introduced by Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler with the meaning of “a person’s basic character as established early in childhood.” A lifestyle is a means of forging a sense of self and to create cultural symbols that resonate with personal identity. This all gives an indication of how deeply rooted your values and lifestyles are, and why you and others hold onto them so vigorously!
“Letting go” and “withholding” are both inseparable from your value system, your lifestyle and your identity. The one is about considering the important values of other people, the other is about cherishing your own values.
Letting go is generally about conceding or agreeing to the value systems of others. Letting go, is a value defined by belief and trust in others, where we grant and accept or credit another person or situation as true, real, conforming to fact and accurate. This does not mean that you change your own value system for others; it suggests that one of your values is the ability to trust and believe. Based on this, you may then concede, and agree with a request, with someone else’s needs, and allow them to have or to do what they want to do. Yielding, we consent and grant permission. For example, your teenage daughter wants to go to a party and stay out later than usual, but you feel she’s still too young. But, her arguments sound solid and safe so, you trust she will conform to her line of reasoning and promises and you yield, relaxing your rules, allowing her to go. Doing this, you have trustingly accepted your daughter’s promises as real. The reward for you is happiness when you see her smiling face. Letting go can include releasing yourself on the odd occasion from a good value that promotes healthy eating. For example, you’re at a restaurant that only offers certain kinds of food and you choose an item on the menu that’s tasty but not very healthy. You allow yourself to eat that food and you apply the value that breaking your rule about food once in a while doesn’t mean that you have harmed yourself. It’s only when you have a vital health condition that you need to remain rigid with your food choice. Letting go, or granting is also being able to forgive and stop blaming. When you do this, feelings of relief and peace reward you as you stop carrying your on-going negative feelings and thoughts. You have recognized and allowed for the other person’s different value system, but maintain your trust in your own values. Your identity remains intact.
Granting also includes having a firm belief and confidence in the integrity, ability, strength and surety or character of a person or thing. Just as you endeavour to be the best at what you do, you trust and believe that others can also do this – although, sometimes naively. Consequently, when others repay your confidence in them, your reward is the great, positive feeling about the general goodness of people and the world, and a lifestyle that allows you to relate and function with trust. Letting go is also consent. For example, you choose to fulfil what you have been asked to do. Even though someone else is miserly, withholding money, withholding praise, or a promotion, you feel honour-bound to fulfill your obligations. This may be an important value to you and the reward is a feeling of satisfaction that despite everything, you are sticking to our own values. Although you have also allowed the negative value system of the “other” to prevail over our own, it results in a better feeling for you to let go. But, perhaps even more important to you, you love to cook, or at work, you really enjoy solving problems so that, letting the “petty” behaviors and views of others go and instead, going ahead and doing what you really enjoy, brings in the added reward of enjoyment, happiness or flow, so that it all feels worth it in the end!
One of the enjoyable attributes of being able to let go includes being helpful and supportive. This can function by being able to release people from certain commitments or obligations or debt. For example, someone on a committee has taken on a complex task but then you discover that she is going through a really tough time at home and you take on the task because you are doing well, and you feel that you have the time and energy to do it. You feel good because the other person will have some relief from their suffering and you don’t mind the extra burden – even though you are overwhelmed with your own commitments. For you, the reward of releasing someone else feels greater, feels noble, you feel happy. The appreciation and thankfulness of the other person also rewards you with good feelings. This all exceeds your suffering from being overworked.
You may release a person by excusing them. For example, someone may have been thoughtless and said something that hurt you, but you reflect that if they’d known better, they would not have said those nasty things. You excuse their behaviour and let it go, which results in a good feeling for you. You might also relieve a child from punishment because, after all, you think, it could have been on the harsh side and he’s usually a good, responsible boy, so you give him a talk, let it go and allow him to go to that movie after all. Altogether, by being able to let go, to grant and to release, you experience a feeling of being unfettered, you don’t feel unimpeded and don’t feel controlled by others – instead, you experience a sense of liberty and freedom – you get to think and behave according to your value system and you are rewarded by positive feelings. Promoting others, being helpful and supporting the values and lifestyles of others is great and satisfying – unless this drives you. Unless this way of functioning is one of the only ways in which you can experience happiness. Or, unless your values and your lifestyle are often, and even radically compromised. Living excessively like this, your own identity may then remain concealed from others – and parts of it, even from yourself.
Withholding, on the other hand, has been a very hurtful experience for some of us – during childhood and even into the present day. In the past, it was all about lack of acknowledgement, hardness, being made to feel invisible, and excessive strictness. For example, parents may have often withheld permission for fun outings and visiting friends. Either it was a flat no, with no explanation or, they always engaged you with their views of what they think is good for you, what they thought you should do, or study, dismissed your ideas – never listening to what you like or want. Never noticing your unique nature, talents and strengths in fact, showing little interest. Usually, they were engaged in trying to make you a carbon copy of themselves or, of what they thought you should be. For example, a parent or teacher may have required you to give quick, off-the-cuff answers or explanations but, because you are introverted, you needed to reflect a bit before you were able to give a coherent response. Perhaps a parent or teacher frequently didn’t believe you, didn’t show trust and belief in you, even though you were telling the truth – you were often doubted, discredited and faced with suspicion – just because you were unable to articulate yourself in the way they imagined you should. Whatever it was, it was always, a rigid, immovable encounter. In this negative sense, parents and other significant adults got to maintain and sustain their own value systems and sought to impose their lifestyle, values and attitudes on you.
As adults, many of you continue being subject to others’ withholding. This is qualified by them maintaining and sustaining their own cherished values and lifestyles, and their reward is the positive emotions of feeling right and that feeling of ease, whereby no effort to think, reflect or to see the “other” is required of them. They refuse to give or grant. For example, a boss might withhold praise for your really great work or, might prefer to look at profits rather than rewarding you with a promotion or a good increase. The reward for your boss is the good feeling experienced as his company’s profits climb – together with his own increases. And, by sticking to his value that “people should do their best and work well, because they’re being paid to do that and … after all, why praise someone whose doing what they’re paid for,” he might also be rewarded by a positive self-supportive feeling – feeling that his behaviour towards you supports his value.
People might sometimes withhold information, keeping it to themselves. The reward could then be the delight or security or feeling of superiority of knowing more. Or, they might vigorously keep you in check with their rules and own desires and needs, restrain you, and refuse to share. For example, your partner might withhold all their money; yet force you to contribute to the lifestyle they want to enjoy. This might be seen when your partner is buying all the toys and devices they want, while you are required to provide “gourmet” meals (perhaps you do this in order to prevent criticism or a sulk), even though your salary is smaller. Another example is when they spend all their money on themselves and then claim they are unable to contribute to expenses that month (or month after month) because of all the “expenses” they’ve had. Their value system could then be that they “deserve the best” and can thus get everything that they want or desire. Not only have your values of the principle of sharing and of living economically been overridden, but also your choice of lifestyle, your sense of identity and the self you have constructed over many years, is compromised.
Some partners might withhold their money, forcing you to cover all your own expenses or, going 50/50 on expenses, on dining out, and requiring you to pay for your own holidays, holding onto their own large bank balance, perhaps holding the value that they are “not responsible for another adult.” In this way, as you watch your own bank balance getting smaller, they keep you from obtaining what you want, like or need – restraining you. In all of these ways, they immobilize, freeze, block, deny and refuse you, often holding you back, depriving you, but keeping what they have, keeping to their own value systems and maintaining their own chosen lifestyles. You are kept in a state of subjection, controlled by the rules and values of another, while they are rewarded again and again by the feelings of satisfaction and enjoyment because they are able to maintain their attitudes, beliefs, values and lifestyles. Their sense of constructed self and identity is maintained. It’s no wonder that many of you despise the very word “withhold!”
But, withholding is not only about lack of acknowledgement, hardness, feeling invisible and excessive strictness. It is not only about refusing to give or to grant, or about the rules, desires and needs of others keeping you in check. It is not only about restraining you, and refusing to share, denying you, disallowing, and turning you down, or about keeping you in a state of subjection. This is only the negative side of withholding but this is often the only side we have been exposed to. For this reason, many of us don’t know the benefits of healthy withholding. NOT knowing how to apply the function of positive withholding means that being driven to always “let go” is often accompanied by betrayal of many of your own values and lifestyles. But, just as letting go, granting and releasing in terms of your own cherished values, such that you experience the positive, rewarding feelings of happiness, peace, relief, hope, satisfaction and enjoyment is a great function, SO CAN withholding be a complementary positive function, maintaining and sustaining your cherished values and lifestyles, where you are also rewarded by positive emotions.
The magic is found in turning towards yourself and withholding yourself. It is not in withholding others and not in trying to change others. Withholding is when we restrain ourselves and keep ourselves in check. For example, you refrain from having an unhealthy chocolate binge. You keep yourself in check. But, this MUST be qualified by a cherished value such as valuing a feeling of physical well being in your body as opposed to indigestion and it MUST be accompanied by the reward of experiencing a positive feeling, such as feeling satisfied. Failing this, you will merely feel deprived and restrained all over again! You’ll be ready for your next chocolate binge. Your value system – for example, not being unnecessarily wasteful or, not pushing yourself towards illness (especially if you’re teetering on the edge of diabetes) will thus not be betrayed and your reward will be the feelings of power, satisfaction and perhaps safety. If you have noticed that one of your boss’ values is safety and security, you could refrain from merely keeping quiet when his response affects your situation negatively. Instead (without telling him explicitly what his value is) you could reflect on what he needs you to provide in terms of information and details in your report that will make him feel safe – to make his company safe and reply to his email with that information. Doing this could in turn help you to discover some vital facts you yourself may have overlooked. This could be based on a value you hold that that “the views of others could help me to develop – even when theirs are different.” Your reward could be a feeling satisfaction and power.
Positive withholding is also when you keep back – you hold back, or set aside something, especially for the future. For example, you hold back spending your money on inessentials, or yet another kitchen appliance, or that third television that you don’t actually want or need so that you don’t have to borrow from the bank for that holiday. Your value of “not incurring debt” is thus not betrayed. This must NOT feel like deprivation, NOT feel like being held back and NOT feel as if you’re restrained. It MUST be qualified by cherishing your values and MUST be accompanied by a reward such as feeling empowered, satisfied and coloured by positive anticipation. Withholding is also when you have information & keep it to yourself. For example, you might know something about another person, but then you withhold judgment and unnecessary criticism of others because you consider that you might not know the whole story. Or, when you feel upset with someone, you might refrain from speaking your mind unkindly or angrily, choosing to reflect first and then say something in a civilized way – if at all. This form of withholding would reflect a value where you “regard yourself sufficiently by not letting yourself down” by speaking or behaving badly.
When you find yourself with a partner who requires a 50/50 contribution unfairly and requires you to pay for your own holidays, even though you earn much less, you can withhold yourself from overspending. Keeping yourself in check, you choose a budget that matches your salary. For example, if you enjoy cooking, you can still cook great meals but not by spending unreasonable amounts of money on the ingredients – you could make them simpler, but exactly to your taste, keeping in mind that this must not feel like a restraint or punishment. It needs to feel good. If you usually make very large portions of food which results in everyone overeating because it tastes so good, you might restrain this habit and instead, make smaller, but still generous portions. This could address both your economic and health values, which would enable a lifestyle you might prefer. If your budget does not allow for that holiday, you can reflect on it – no need to make it an either/or situation – and choose to withhold a portion of your money (which you should rightfully be saving) or, which you need in order to cover other expenses. Your value could be, “it’s responsible to live within one’s means”. The conversation with your partner might then be for example, “If we go on this holiday together, I am able to pay for my airfare and share the cost of meals, but you would need to pay for our accommodation as this will fall out of my budget as I am obliged to also meet other expenses.” Your reward for remaining with this value could be peace of mind and a relaxed body. And you might be surprised by your partner’s response.
You might also withhold a repetitive compulsion to take over meetings to rescue them when others have not prepared for them – especially when this meeting is not your responsibility to carry. And you might be able to refrain from your usual drivenness to voluntarily take on someone else’s project when they are doing it badly, because one of your values holds that “all projects must be very well done.” When you take on other people’s work, they are withholding their time, effort and labour and you merely fulfill and allow their values to prevail, held in their attitude, “the less effort I expend, the better.” This is a great approach to have when people go on holiday, but not for work, or when people study. Taking on someone else’s work and responsibilities might violate and replace your value that “responsibility is required by all involved.” You will have betrayed your value but fostered theirs. You will have excused them and released them from responsibility, which doesn’t belong in this context. When you apply withholding to yourself – by withholding yourself, you MUST experience a feeling of satisfaction, regard for self, and happiness with your decisions – sense that you are staying with your cherished, important values, which in turn enables you to live the lifestyle you choose and enables you to stay in integrity with your identity. You MUST experience withholding as a reward. And then, something magical starts to happen! As you change in these ways – as your thoughts, feelings, attitudes, behaviors and beliefs about withholding change, you will experience an entire inner shift in the pattern and the processes that make up the capacity to positively withhold. You will begin to think, feel, behave and speak differently. This will positively and powerfully change the way you interact with others and as a result, other people will begin to interact differently with you!
When withholding starts giving you rewards in terms of generating good feelings, in the same way that letting go, granting and releasing does, you’ll be able to choose EITHER of these options, depending on the context. Both withholding AND letting go MUST be qualified by cherishing values if we are to be rewarded by a feeling of happiness and want to live a happy, richly filled and successful life.
Bring some magic into your life! Ideas developed by Leslie Zimmermann.
MA in Research Psychology, Cum Laude (Witwatersrand University, South Africa),
Post-graduate Diplomate, Accredited Analytical Psychologist (Switzerland)
Member: SAPC (South African Psychoanalytic Confederation)
Member: IAAP (International Association for Analytical Psychology
Member: SAAJA South Africa
Leslie Zimmermann is an accredited Jungian Analyst trained in the philosophy and psychology of C.G. Jung in Zürich and is based in Johannesburg. She offers a range of services, which she integrates, to meet the needs and aspirations of people. In a word, her work is in the service of wholeness. Wholeness includes both our vulnerabilities and our strengths, becoming conscious of our own unique mix of these, honoring our own unique way of functioning and with this knowledge and confidence, contributing as only we each can in our own way, to this evolving world we find ourselves to be a part of.
Besides having a Diplomate qualification in Analytical psychology, which qualifies me to write about the theory and practice of dream interpretation, I also have an Honours degree in Applied Psychology and a Masters degree in Research psychology, which qualify me to write about theories of human development, personality, abnormal psychology, social psychology, neuropsychology, sociology and ethics. Also, theories and knowledge pertaining to sleep and dreams from a symbolic perspective including neuropsychological and biological systems.