I shaved my beard the other day and I went through a much stronger response than I had anticipated. Lidia had wanted to see me without a beard and I hesitated for a day or two, but then decided to shave it off, albeit temporarily. When I did, though, I actually felt emasculated. It was a very powerful feeling and the strength of it surprised me. I’m not sure fully what it was but it was definitely related to a feeling of losing my autonomy, and also related to masculinity (as I think a beard is a symbol and manifestation of testosterone), and losing one’s beard is akin in a way to Samson losing his strength through the cutting of his hair.
I had also written back in July about my beard and about it being a reflection of my being more comfortable being the age that I am. (See I Am 46) Shaving my beard thus also brought up issues for me of the struggle between valuing my inner experience versus valuing my external appearance – personality (external) versus something more true (inner). Shaving my beard had a flavor of sacrificing my inner world a little to appease a request for my external appearance, something that just doesn’t sit well with me as I am valuing my inner world much more and trying to move more and more in that direction.
Autonomy comes up a lot in relationship for me. Something as simple as a partner phrasing something like “you have to be ready at 4 o’clock” rather than “it would be great it you were ready at 4 o’clock” or “I’d really appreciate it if you were ready…” or even “it’s really important that you be ready…” can strike a dissonant chord on my autonomy strings. I don’t like being told what to do, what I have to do, what to wear, what to say, etc. It’s all stuff that naturally comes up in relationship, since two people often have strongly differing opinions about things. Thus, even shaving my beard, which is a symbol of choice, independence, even persona, if done at the request of another, can rattle my autonomy cage.
This is actually very old stuff for me and has often come up in previous relationships of mine. My earliest recollection of this goes as far back as when I was 2 or 3 years old. I remember having a fit because I wanted to put my own spoon in my cereal and resented my mother already having done so for me. I made her get me a whole new bowl of cereal!
I don’t like when autonomy issues arise, but they do, and they make me want to really dig in my heels and create my own strong and perhaps too inflexible posture in response. There are two ways through it as I see it, find a partner who is extra sensitive to this issue and who works with me to lessen it, or try to feel the feelings as they arise and better understand them and why they arise. The important part of healing this I believe is to identify the feelings as they arise and further recognize them as simply a personality driven thing that is not actually reflective of the truer me that is beyond my personality. Ideally a combination of the two would be best.
This autonomy issue also resides very near the heart of the push/pull issue that I wrote about recently as it is really my independence that fights for the breathing space, that pushes away. I just want to write here too that while lately I am exploring some of the issues that exist for me in relationship, that most aspects about relationship are actually wonderful and thus not as requiring of exploration as the more challenging places may be.