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Does The Work Make You a Wimp?

apples fallen on the ground
Does questioning what you believe mean you must fall helplessly to the ground?

A Common Doubt When Starting The Work

Many people worry that The Work could be dangerous because they believe that it will make you give up what you believe, become a doormat, put up with abuse, blame yourself, give up your dreams, become complacent, and stop caring. 

This kind of worry paints a scary picture to anyone who has not experienced this subtle process and the balance of thinking that can come out of doing it. The doubting mind is looking for reasons not to do The Work and so it finds what it thinks are weaknesses and makes a story out of them. 

Let’s look at these stories one-by-one and see what is actually going on.

The Work Makes You Give Up What You Believe, Is It True?

This is a very common misperception about The Work of Byron Katie (4 Questions and Turnarounds). People somehow fear that The Work is some kind of powerful outside influence that is going to make them change their thinking. 

This would be like having some kind of pushy salesman at your door. The fear is that if you open the door a crack, he will barge in, never take no for an answer, and “make” you buy whatever he is selling. 

But this is not my experience of The Work at all. The Work does not make me do anything, nor make me believe anything. It is only a process that I can use with myself to explore all sides of a story.

When I believe something, I usually only see that side of things. The Work is like playing devil’s advocate with myself: could the opposite of what I believe also be true? This is meant to be a mind-opening experience, not some kind of forced conversion.

I Am Following My Experience When I Do The Work

Here’s what people don’t realize at first: The Work just shows me directions I can explore. If I was believing that “She should include me,” my turnaround may ask me to look at the opposite: “I should include her.”

Does this mean that I MUST include her? No, of course not. If I’m angry at her, then including her in that state would be a kind of lie. A turnaround is meant as nothing more than an option I can try on. 

Self-inquiry means that I test every option against my own inner intelligence. Does that option make sense to me? Does it resonate? How does it compare to the way I’m currently handling the situation? 

In other words, I’m not forced by The Work to follow any turnaround, I’m just invited to explore what each one has to offer. Sometimes, a turnaround can show me a way of seeing that works much better than my current view of a situation. If it feels like a fit so I adopt it. 

But Won’t I Become a Doormat?

If the turnaround is “I should include her,” aren’t I letting her off the hook? It’s not fair that I have to do all the hard work and she gets off easy. It could be setting up a bad relationship. This is the doubt.

But let’s look at this again. Where did I start with all this? I started with “She should include me.” This was a stressful thought for me because I can’t control her and I’m dependent on her to include me to be happy. So I’m dependent on something that is not reliable. That’s stressful!

When I do The Work and turn it around to “I should include her,” suddenly I get some of my power back. I don’t have to sit around all passive waiting for her to reach out, I can make the first contact. This is a novel idea for me in this situation, and it can be transformational. 

But let’s take it further. Let’s say you do try reaching out and she does not pick up your invitations. Am I going to keep reaching out to her? Probably not. Now that I found that I can be the one reaching out, I’m in the driver’s seat. So if she doesn’t respond, I’m moving on to look for someone who is a better match for me. I’m not a victim, I just keep exploring. 

This is freedom. It’s not my concern if she is “off the hook” because I see that it’s not my job to teach her how to be a friend. I may include her a few times, but if she’s not into it, I’m good. My life is not dependent on her at all. And if later she reaches out, I may still be open. I’ll only know at that time.  Once I do The Work, I find my independence. This not like being a doormat at all.

But What About Abuse?

Many situations that we do The Work on are abusive in some way. Someone does something mean and it triggers me, so I do The Work. Again, am I letting the person off the hook? Am I condoning abuse by doing The Work? 

No. I am not condoning anything by doing The Work. I am cleaning up my internal world. I’m strengthening the part of me that got triggered by the abuse. That was my weak point, the part of me that saw myself as a victim, powerless, and weak. 

When I do the work on “He shouldn’t yell at me,” I find turnarounds like, “I shouldn’t yell at me” and “I shouldn’t yell at him.” When I explore these, I find that it was what I did with his words to myself that hurt me the most. With awareness, I see that I don’t want to hurt myself so why hold onto his words like that and keep working myself up into a rage? 

I see options through The Work to take care of my inner world and sometimes my outer world too. If someone really is abusive, why would I continue to hang around that person, continually exposing myself to something I can’t handle? That’s not the purpose of The Work. I might just prefer to hang around other people. I’m free as soon as I see that I am.

I don’t need to change the person to be okay: I can become stronger at not getting triggered by the attempted abuse, or I can remove myself from the situation. And if someone is breaking the law, I can report them to the police. This could be a service to others who might end up being abused by the same person and service to the abuser who may not really want to abuse people. 

All The Work does is show me options. It shows me ways of looking at a situation so that I can act more intelligently to maintain my own peace, instead of waiting for the abuser to miraculously figure out how to act differently.

But Can’t The Work Become a Way to Blame Oneself?

If the abuser is really being abusive, isn’t it irresponsible to find just my part? After all, the other person is in the wrong. 

Yes, the other person is very often in the wrong when I do The Work. I’m not turning a blind eye to that. But I’m more interested in my own inner experience. When I attach to the thought that the other person is in the wrong, I focus only on them and I can’t see what I was doing to hurt myself and them.

Finding my part is very different from self-blame. The Work is not about blame at all. It is simply about unhooking from stress. When I find that I was abusing myself as much or more, than someone was abusing me, it softens me. If I find that I was abusing them in some way, even small, it levels the playing field. 

Now, I see an abuser as another human being like me. They may be more confused than me. I may decide to put some distance between myself and them, but inside I see their humanness, and my blame lifts. This frees my heart. This feels like understanding and forgiveness.

Will The Work Make Me Give Up My Dreams?

One type of stressful thought that I like to question is a want. I remember questioning, “I want to make a living as a facilitator,” some years ago. This was a genuine want, a dream for me.

The fear of questioning this desire is that I would remain desireless and directionless. I would stop caring and become complacent or fatalistic. But that didn’t happen to me. When I did The Work on this, the only thing that left me was the neediness. It didn’t cause me to give up my job and go begging on the streets. 

Today, I do make a living as a facilitator, but I don’t care much about it anymore. It is what I love to do, but if it ends, I’m fine with that. When I did The Work, my attachment left me but my action continued in the same direction as before—only with less stress.

I describe my job now as purely a volunteer job which sometimes pays me. That is the freedom that can come from questioning a dream. It turns out that the neediness to fulfill the dream was the only thing that was off. Once that is gone, I’m free to follow my heart without restriction and without pressure.

Join Us a Weekend Zoom Retreat June 26-27

If you’d like to spend a weekend doing The Work with me, join us for a virtual retreat. Over two days, we’ll meet for 20 hours covering almost all time zones. Join us for as many of the two-hour sessions as you like.

We will do group work, partner work, and there will always be the option for individual written work as well. I look forward to diving into The Work as always with you during this virtual retreat.

Have a great week,

“For people who enter this inner world, the world of inquiry, jobs become secondary. Freedom is everything. Jobs come, jobs go, companies rise and fall, and you’re not dependent on that. Freedom is what we all want, and it’s what we already are. And once you have inquiry, you can be as ambitious as you want in your job, you can shoot for the moon, because you can no longer fail. You realize that the worst that can happen is a concept.” Byron Katie, Question Your Thinking, Change The World

Further reading: Peace Is a Double Standard

Todd Smith has been doing The Work of Byron Katie on an almost daily basis since 2007. He is just as excited about this simple process of self-inquiry today as he was when he first came across it. He also enjoys writing about The Work, and training others in the subtleties of this meditative process. Join Todd for The Work 101 online course, private sessions, virtual retreats, and his ongoing Inquiry Circle group.