For some people, I think rules can often be the calm in the storm of chaos in life, and in many ways they can help them feel safe - like having a secure place to rely on where A + B always equals C - and so they may become very fond of rules and increasingly indignant, panicked or upset when rules are not followed. For others, rules can feel oppressive because there may be too much structure and rigidity in their lives, and too little freedom, so that it no longer seems like an issue of safety, but one of being controlled and dominated. For other people rules are simply “optional” or contextual - they are to be used to accomplish a desired end…but if they aren’t working in a given situation, then the rules will be bent or circumvented so that a particular goal can be reached. Then again, some people reflexively reject rules, choosing the opposite response in a conformism to non-conformism, out of a sense of rebelliousness or a feeling of being outside of society or social norms, or because of a desire to depart from the status quo as a matter of conscience or conviction. I could go on…but as you can see there are many variations of how people react to rules. In fact, all of the reactions I described could be experienced by the same person over time.
So then, what is happening here? In my view nearly all of these responses are about “finding our place in the world.” We want to understand where we fit in, what power and influence we have, how to navigate our relationships, the tools available to us to achieve certain ends, and so forth. Rules - whether legal, familial, cultural, or linguistic - are the arena within which we define our place, role, purpose and power. So when we have intense feelings around rules, I think we are most often actually having intense feelings about those dynamics: the efficacy and limits of our personal agency, the strength and depth of our connection and trust with other people, the extent of our freedom, and our understanding of meaning and purpose. Rules are just representations, just the surface, symbolic of these underlying dynamics. Thus our relationship with rules is a fair indicator of our relationship with ourselves, and of how we see ourselves in the world.
I hope this was helpful.
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