Spoiler: It might be the Protestant Work Ethic
The other day I was explaining to my 3 year old why I’m not spending quite as much time outside as I’d like to. I explained to her that there’s a lot of pollen this year and that the pollen can make my nose itchy, and my eyes watery, and it’s not very much fun. “I have allergies,” I told her, “you know, just like how Grandpa gets.” I further explained that’s why I wasn’t using my lawnmower as much this year, and why her dad was doing the lawn instead. Without missing a beat, she asked, “so who mows grandpa’s lawn?”
The answer? Grandpa does. He mows his own lawn, despite how bad it makes his allergies. This made me laugh a little, and it made me see the huge difference between us. Because grandpa believes in just getting things done and suffering through them, whereas I don’t believe in unnecessary suffering. At least, not anymore. In the past, I would have done the same thing (because, you know, “it needs to be done”). I’ve worked really hard to get away from the idea that I should just push through until I actually physically can’t anymore. I used to believe that there was almost no excuse for rest. Now, for many reasons, I see things differently.
I understand that sometimes what needs to be done just doesn’t get done. I understand that sometimes I will stop before everyone else thinks it’s time. I understand that sometimes I will go home or go inside while everyone else is still enjoying outside. Here’s a simple reason. Allergies aren’t enjoyable to deal with. Even though my suffering isn’t extreme, I’d rather be inside not suffering it all. I’d rather be inside enjoying normal amounts of energy than outside working hard just to exist.
I’ve written and talked extensively about the push-through mentality in our culture but I had a client put it in different terms recently that really blew me away. They called it the Protestant Work Ethic. And I had to look this up because – you guessed it – I’m not actually a practicing Protestant. It turns out The Protestant Work Ethic is part of a belief system that emphasizes hard work, discipline, and frugality (thanks google).
The idea of unnecessary suffering comes up a lot in session. When people ask, in various forms, “Is it really bad enough to get help?” what I really hear them saying is, “Do you think I should just keep suffering?”. My answer is of course no. And I also like to break it down a bit. So I’ve been asking all my clients “hey, did you know this might be influenced by the Protestant Work Ethic? And…. are you Protestant?”
Usually the answer to both is no. So here’s something to think about: why is it that so many of us are still hanging on to a set of values rooted in a religion we’re not even a part of?
I want to be super clear that I see people of all faiths and cultures in my practice, and really welcome and honor that. I just notice that sometimes we end up holding onto beliefs we’ve been taught directly and indirectly by others without truly understanding the roots of those beliefs. When we know what it is we’re holding onto, we can make better decisions about what to keep holding onto, and what to let go of.
One more time for the people in the back:
No, I do not think you should just keep suffering.
Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash
Nicole Perry is a Registered Psychologist and writer with a private practice in Edmonton. Her approach is collaborative and feminist at its heart. She specializes in healing
About the Blog
This space will provide information, stories, and answers to big questions about some of my favorite topics - boundaries, burnout, trauma, self compassion, and shame resilience - all from a feminist counselling perspective. It's also a space I'm exploring and refining new ideas.