Losing Oneself to Fit In – The Procrustean Bed


I came across the term “Procrustean Bed” last night, a term that I was not familiar with. I have come to learn that “Procrustean Bed” or Procrustean method are terms that are used to illustrate the relentless attempt to shape a person, an argument or an idea into an arbitrary or predetermined pattern (depending on who’s definition one uses). Procrustes was the ancient champion of enforced conformity. In Greek antiquity he was a legendary highwayman who lived in Attica. He had an iron bed which he regarded as the standard of length. Because it just fit him, he concluded that everyone should fit it. He stopped every traveler and tied him to the bed. If the person happened to be too short, Procrustes stretched him until he attained the correct length; if he happened to be too long, his legs were cut off until he met the proper requirement. Thus was everyone made identical in size.

The mythology of Procrustean paints a pretty gruesome scene. What I find fascinating about the story and analogy of the Procrustean Bed is that even after centuries have passed not much has changed. Today we are still placing each other and ourselves on the proverbial Procrustean Bed as we work at trying to make ourselves and others fit in to arbitrary sized boxes while sacrificing the authenticity of our true being.

It is not unusual for a person to feel lost or feeling as though they have loss something in the process of their journey. When we are children our parents and the adults in our life guide us in a way that encourages us to “fit” in the world in the way that they think is best for us. Inadvertently the loving guidance of parents and other adults in our life as we mature sometimes represses or squashes our authentic being. It may be our authentic being that wants to be loud or inquisitive yet the adults in our life shut these traits down because they don’t make us a good “fit” in their world. We may have other authentic aspirations and talents which are suppressed because they are not valued by the society in which we were born and therefore we adjust who we are to fit the proverbial Procrustean Bed.

As we grow older we strive to “fit in” to social circles, to work circles, etc in order to build the life that we are expected to build. Many of the expectations of who we become are driven by external sources, parents, teachers, love interests, employers, media and society at large. We stretch and shrink to fit in as appropriate.

It is through this continuous stretching and shrinking that we lose our sense of self. We become like a confused chameleon on a multi colored piece of plaid fabric, that is we change so much and so often we lose sense of who we authentically are and thus we feel loss in a sea of our own change.

One of the key awakenings in our journey is to understand that we can’t possibly always fit in nor should we attempt to do so. Once we understand that it is permissible and desirable to be our authentic self and let go of the futile effort to fit into everyone else’s expectations we then can truly begin to shed the layers of false change and find who we truly are.

Of course this is easy to say and is a process to do. Sometimes we feel so lost we don’t remember who we really are, we simply have a gnawing feeling that who we are today is distant from our authentic self. The key to remember our authentic self is to be aware of our feelings and to trust our instincts. It is also helpful to remember ourselves as a child and to recall how we felt about certain things then as to how we feel about them today.

Deep inside, you know what rings true to you and what you are doing or who you have become to meet the expectations of others or to fit in. Look inside, listen to your soul and you will begin to remember that which you have taken on to fit in and that which is your authentic being. Follow your soul! Follow your heart! Be you! Let go of the need to “fit in” and you will come to know a bliss that you may have long forgotten.