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Shaving My Beard and the Struggle for Autonomy

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.


3 replies on “Shaving My Beard and the Struggle for Autonomy”

The post today hit on areas where I consistently see people become defensive…

Why does it matter if there is a spoon inside the cereal or beside it? To my mind inside or beside is a moot point – I'm just happy you remembered to include the spoon 🙂

and yes, I realize you were quite young when the spoon became a point of contention for you, but it speaks to the rigidity many people exhibit over areas that one might possibly see as fairly benign. Many people when asked about this rigidity, get very distraught… almost helpless perhaps, to access WHY they must have things a certain way.

More than frustration with this person, my heart tends to hurt for them because of the degree of emotion/need attached to whatever ritual holds importance for them.

On the other hand, I am sort of a serial offender on the “way things are worded” issue…

Because I don't always conciously key into people's sensitivity in this area, I may phrase things as a question or merely say “hey, be here at 4” without either phrasing being meant as an afront. Even though both comments are meant with love and friendship, the imperative can draw a reaction.

Perhaps you could expand on this:
IF we as people, are in loving, healthy relationships with the friends, family, and loved ones who are making the comments, wouldn't it be safe to assume they just want to spend time with us not control us? What is it that draws the reaction?

I have to say I am very funny about having my space and doing everything the way I want as well. Compromise is a forsure thing in a reltionship – count on it. But having to look a certain way for someone is really not acceptable in my opinion. It means trouble down the line. Women do tend to lead the way and expect men to dress in a way that is appealing to them and that could be good for both, however, a person should NOT WANT TO CHANGE YOU. Yes there is a lot to TRYING to live among others and share with them. I am finding it difficult to be very close to other people's circumstances. I feel crowded. As an artist, I love being inspired but NOT distracted by those close by. I do not want to be constantly giving in to make others happy as it does not promote my lifestyle as I have gone to the otherside of the world to live. I find that loving people NOT SO CLOSE UP is actually better and does not crowd your mind with all the stories and lives being played out by others. I want to do my thing, around others but not really with them. Better to walk alone especially when people start making rules for you. Look out! I get the rules from women friends which surprises me at this point in life but they often can be real preachy and lack a sense of humor and especially lack imagination. I find it takes away from my experience. It is asking a lot to ask that you cut your hair, shave a beard or any of those very personal choices we choose as they reflect who we feel we are. No one else can say how it should be. It's like I have heard “you'd look so pretty if you would cut that hair” which is a sure thing I would never want to please that person. But for you I am most sure that women will want to dress you up and the whole thing. They must see great potential in you as you could look nice in the clothes and things they can imagine you in, right out of GQ. But why look like GQ if that is not what you are promoting. Don't people get it. No. Love the people who promote you being yourself whatever you say that is or become. UNLESS you are looking for a big change and it is necessary and you see it as a good thing. Sandy

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