Magnetic Norths



I’m increasingly conscious of the impact of where people are coming from and how we approach life. We all have a few inherent base orientations, base assumptions, or defaults that affect everything we do, say, and think. After struggling to come up with a term for this, I’ve finally settled on one: our magnetic norths. Our internal compasses tell us that these “facts” are true north, but they’re not. They’re so automatic that we’re often unaware of them, but identifying and challenging them can be life-changing.

I have a few magnetic norths, but my primary one is inferiority. Left unchecked, I instinctively place myself at the bottom of most ladders. I am the lowest-ranking in the room. I don’t assume that people will like me – often, I just try not to do anything that will get me laughed at. I don’t expect to “win.” These were the social lessons of my childhood, and I’ve never completely gotten over them. Christian culture often labels inferior feelings as humility and encourages them, but I think they’re just as unhealthy as pride. When I’m pointed in this direction, I’m not free to truly connect with and love others. I can’t have a positive effect on anyone if I feel too inadequate to open my mouth. I can’t step out in faith if I assume I’m going to fail. I can’t have real relationships if I’m trying hard not to be a dork. I believe that what we are can be just as important and impactful as what we do. God made me this way on purpose, so I need to fight the urge to lie low. (Conceal, don’t feel.)

Inferiority also breeds defensiveness. Until my late 20s, I totally shut down in the face of any aggressive conflict or criticism. My knee-jerk reaction was They must be right, I must be wrong, I am a bad person. Basically, shame. But as I gained more confidence, I was finally able to see disagreements and even troll attacks more objectively. I learned to take them apart and sift out the truth from the trash, to say Okay, what’s really going on here? More importantly, What’s motivating this person? In inferior mode, I wouldn’t see any further than the walls of the shell I’d just fled into. Now I can not only apply criticism more healthily, but I can also look at the other person and notice where they might be hurting, and maybe do something to help. When my energy isn’t going toward defending myself, I have a lot more to give. I’m happier and more open and compassionate.

Some of my other magnetic norths are fear and scarcity. I might talk about them in a later post. If you struggle with these too, please read Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly, which I believe should be distributed to every household in America.

It’s not easy to think about your magnetic norths (and you might need help identifying them), but I encourage everyone to do so. I’m still far from mastering mine, but now I notice when my compass is drifting again, and I can adjust my course. It’s made a big difference.

About Brenda W.

Christian. Memphian. Reader. Writer. True blue Tiger fan. Lover of shoes, the ocean, adventure, and McAlister's iced tea. View all posts by Brenda W. →
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4 Responses to Magnetic Norths

  1. Katharine says:

    This is a great concept. My magnetic north definitely has something to do with people pleasing. I’m not sure how to encapsulate it neatly in a single word, but my default is to do things I don’t want to do because I think it will make people like me. And it’s definitely a long term struggle to reorient myself, yes.

  2. Carol says:

    You have been churning out so many thoughtful, heartfelt posts lately! I like your lighter ones, too, but I have been able to take so much away from these. Thank you for opening yourself here and sharing your thoughts.

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