The Irony of Rebellion (Part II)

Simple pendulum by Ethan Hein (CC BY)

Simple pendulum by Ethan Hein (CC BY)

When I was twelve I realized my parents were crazy, and that anything they did, I should do the opposite.
—Abuse survivor, quoted by Laura Davis
Like many animals, dogs reflexively oppose restraint. . . . when the leash tightens . . . her natural tendency is to pull harder. —Jolanta Benal
Both [conformity and rebellion] are only for people who cannot cope with contradiction and ambiguity.
―Neal Stephenson
Originality is the best form of rebellion. ―Mike Sasso


Click here to read Part I of this article.


So what do you do with the time your rebellion has bought?

Consult yourself.

What exactly troubles you? Threats are a small part of the scenes in which you face them. Having an abusive teacher doesn’t mean all teachers are dangerous. An alcoholic sibling who steals from you doesn’t make your whole family untrustworthy. Someone’s harmful choices also don’t invalidate all their choices; you can follow in your mom’s footsteps without repeating her missteps.

Separating problems from their original settings is tricky, and when you’re overwhelmed sometimes all you can manage is blanket rejection. But misreading your headaches can create new ones.

Moreover, escaping others’ unwanted influence isn’t the same thing as thriving. You can’t plant or build or explore when you choose paths as exits instead of interests. Once you’ve faced toxic authority, rebelled long enough to regroup, and considered exactly what your problems are—and aren’t—you need to figure out what you do want.

Like happiness, freedom is participatory. To thrive, you must purposefully envision a positively satisfying future, set your own compelling goals, and make independent choices that help you achieve them. If you want to stop living at the mercy of circumstance (read: others’ choices), you need a direction of your own.

Use your imagination. Set aside any obstacles like time, money, skill, and training. Envision your best day.

• What do you notice upon waking? What colors and textures do you see? Are you in a house? Outdoors?
• Do you hear music? Traffic? Children? Can you smell the ocean? Coffee? Baking bread?
• Are you alone or are there others nearby?
• When you dress, do you wear a uniform? Cutoffs? A tailored suit?
• Do you begin your day in a studio? An office? A farmer’s market? School?
• Which activities engage you so completely that time passes unnoticed?
• Which environments do you thrive in? What do you do for fun?

Wresting your freedom, safety, and health from others’ control takes reflection, subtlety, creativity, and self-confidence. As you begin relying on yourself for direction, your point of reference will slowly shift from old threats to new goals. You’ll approach joy instead of fleeing unhappiness. You’ll even make choices despite any resemblance to old issues, knowing that only psychological ties harm you.

Rebellion can be a valuable tool, bringing temporary relief and an opportunity to take longer-lasting action. But resistance—whether fleeing or fighting—is only a first step to freedom. Defying others’ authority is not the same as heeding your own.


  1. Very insightful. Would be great if we all had exposure to these words along our own early lives… Keep em coming!

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