What if your authentic self is not welcomed?
In recent months, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have made headlines for stepping down as senior royals. I don’t read celebrity gossip, and I can’t claim to judge their character. But the act itself struck me as brave. Markle has been under intense media scrutiny, and there’s speculation that racism and elitism have made life difficult for her behind closed doors.
Ostensibly, the couple has chosen to walk away from financial and societal privilege in order to distance themselves from a toxic situation—a scenario that was responsible for the untimely death of Harry’s mother, Princess Diana.
A twitter user, Ryan Carter, verbified their actions. “To Meghan Markle: to value yourself and your mental health enough to up and leave a situation in which your authentic self is not welcomed or wanted.”
And reading that was when it suddenly felt relevant for me.
There (hopefully) comes a time in your adult life when you are confronted to give up things because the toxicity, dysfunction, and stress they bring isn’t healthy. Whatever goodness they also offer, whatever duty you feel toward them, cannot ultimately outweigh the toll they take.
After being diagnosed with toxic mold exposure, I had to leave my dream job, my beloved home, and most of my belongings in order to recover. It was an epiphany: life itself and the people I love are a greater treasure than any position or possession.
I also had to end an unhealthy relationship that had caused emotional distress for years. Going through the hardest season of my life suddenly made very clear who was supportive and who wasn’t. This person tried to make me feel that I was a burden to my husband and children and that my illness was either made up or my own fault, or illogically both. And when you are giving up everything to overcome toxicity and stress, it’s suddenly not a difficult decision to separate from a toxic relationship.
What turns these decisions into dilemmas for me is the model of heroism I grew up with. I admire reformers: Dr. King, the founding fathers, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc. Our culture loves these kind of heroes—the example that injustice can be righted, and people can be liberated from oppression and corruption.
Internalizing that value, I have an idealist tendency to want to stay and fight for reconciliation and justice.
But in recent years, I’ve realized something: some people don’t want to be honest about their patterns of harm. Some systems are irreparably broken. Some organizations will always care about dogma more than people. And while forcing them to change is a noble goal, sometimes it’s not your personal calling.
Sometimes maybe the revolution is just for you.
I think of the Exodus story. Moses didn’t reform Egypt; he left it, liberating many with him.
The great peacemaker Francis of Assisi’s father, a wealthy and prestigious man, had him beaten and imprisoned to try to force him to leave the church and remain with the family, but Francis escaped and began his life of servitude. Which in turn transformed his time and the world today. Francis didn’t convert his family to piety and poverty; he renounced them so that he could embrace his calling.
A friend of mine was in Al Anon, an AA support program for relatives of alcoholics. Step one in both AA and in Al Anon is the admission of powerlessness over alcohol. When she was on the step, my friend had to admit that all the things she did to make her ex stop drinking were just an illusion of control over his addiction. She had to realize the only person she had control over was herself. And that was the beginning of her recovery as a codependent.
I had spent years contorting myself in every direction to try to find a healthy path with the difficult relationship in my life. As my friend shared her Al Anon journey with me, I realized our similarity. Like her, I needed to recognize the scope and limitations of my influence. I needed to accept what can’t or won’t change.
Or, as Maya Angelou said so eloquently: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
I admire Meghan and Harry’s acceptance that the entire British royal system and tabloids were not worth taking on from within. That they would live happier, fuller, more selfless lives if they walked away. That they would be giving a better life to their child. Sometimes standing up is stepping down.
If you’re bleeding over and over again for the cause of justice, but you’re the only captive who needs to be set free, isn’t it better just to lay down your arms and go where you’re safe? Are you not a precious human worth having safety, peace, and a full life? Reader, you are.
Exodus might mean departure, but it also means liberation. Sometimes it is only there, in that desert of the unknown, where we can begin to welcome the authentic self and become who we were fully meant to be.
J.M. RODDY is a writer, voice actor, and pursuer of whole-hearted living.