Last week I watched the interview Oprah Winfrey conducted with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. I hadn’t intended to see it, but when a friend who didn’t have cable asked to watch it on our TV, I happily agreed so we could enjoy some time together.
Turns out, the interview stayed with me all week. While there are a variety of thoughts and opinions about Prince Harry, Meghan, and the Royal Family, I choose to mind my own business. Having lived a portion of my life in the public eye, I know better than to make assumptions about anyone I see on television or social media because you never know the full story (or the truth).
What struck me about the interview was its symbolic quality, the way it provided a cosmic view of what it means to exist within a tribe and what happens when you leave.
When I say tribe, I’m talking about a group or system that has rules or guidelines that must be followed in order to remain in good standing. This might be a family, a workplace, an educational institution, a political party, a club, or a religious organization, for instance.
The rules might be overt – show up every month, pay your dues, meet certain deadlines, follow ethical guidelines, etc. Or they may be covert – don’t talk about the abuse, never question the boss, do what has to be done to keep the peace at all costs.
As we grow and mature psychologically, it’s not uncommon to question our involvement in some of our tribes. Our values may have shifted, for instance, and we may no longer feel comfortable hanging out with the same group of friends. Or, our investment in therapy may have given us the courage and self-esteem needed to realize that it’s time to leave our workplace with an abusive boss because we know we deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
When we’re in a system that doesn’t support our growth, that doesn’t allow us to think for ourselves or to question authority and norms, we hopefully reach a point when we need to say goodbye in order to be true to who we’ve become. That’s when the next stage of growth begins.
As I watched the interview with Meghan and Prince Harry unfold, I took note of the evolutionary process. The recognition that the rules no longer work; the attempt to talk openly to authority about changes in the hopes of remaining in the tribe; the decision to face the fear of bucking the system; and the ultimate yielding to the inner pressure to move in a new direction even though we know it spells danger.
Leaving “the family” can feel life-threatening. But at some point, silence can no longer be tolerated as the elephant in the room grows larger and unavoidable. It’s here that we find ourselves at a crossroads between truth and myth and if we’re awake and aware enough, we know which path must be taken.
This is when we need to dig deep for courage and to lean on the support of those willing to champion our personal growth. After all, there can be immense force placed on someone who decides to exit a tribe (which is why so many of us stay longer than we know we should). On some level, we realize our decision will invite the inevitable revolt from existing members: Finger-pointing, shaming, name-calling, and ultimately outright banishment.
So what does this have to do with you and me? The pandemic removed many of us from the tribes that defined our lives – schools, jobs, families, churches, groups of friends, and even some family members we couldn’t be with. And while it’s been painful, for some it’s provided an opportunity to reevaluate our involvement in certain groups. Time out from a system that may no longer give us the same energy it once did or that might be hampering our growth, gives us the space we need for healing and courage-making.
As the world opens up, it’s a wise act of self-care to look carefully at the tribes you belong to and to assess whether or not they serve who you’ve become. As you do, you might discover that it’s time to leave your job, your volunteer activities, your church, or even your marriage. Be honest with yourself and get the support you need to plan your exit. This might be the escape you’ve been waiting for.