Sunday, February 15, 2009

Look Deeper for Understanding

I work with a lot of wonderful people--people I admire and learn from. People who teach me about themselves and about life, and as I tell them about what they have taught me, they also learn.

Often people come to me asking with curiosity--actually, by the time they are talking to me about it, is isn't curiosity, but frustration at a level that is about to blow up big time--but they talk to me about their pattern of taking care of others. They find themselves doing almost anything not to hurt anyone--which may include of hiding a mountain of their own feelings, or going to a lot of extra work to pretend to enjoy something which they don't want to do, or any number of other difficult things. Or they help others--being "helicopter parents"--hovering over their children in exhausting ways (and then bitter when the children aren't as appreciative as desired). Or they bake a cake for everyone's birthday at the office, or bring casseroles to anybody who's lost a family member, or ____(maybe you can fill in the blank).

Now, I'm all about making a positive difference in the world, but this kind of taking care of others is a sort of compulsion, an exhausting routine that feels rather like a hamster on a wheel that can't stop. This isn't sustainable--except somehow it has been.

Almost invariably, behavior that is very "other focused" in an exhausting, life-sucking way, is done to protect and preserve looks like it is for others, but it works to help a part of you that needs something from helping others.

-Like making sure that nobody is ever angry with you, because you can't stand disapproval from others in a way that makes you go to enormous lengths to ensure you never hurt anybody's feelings. (Imagine how tricky that is when you have people who can misinterpret and be hurt despite your best intentions!)

-Like helping others lots and lots, so that they will give you lots of messages that you are special and loved--because you need a regular current infusion of them to assure the ugly parts that feel unlovable inside of you that they can make it another day without being crushed.

-Like letting others take advantage of you and "walk all over" you, because to stand up for yourself means that you might lose the people in your life who are there because of all the benefits of taking advantage of you...and the rejected and lost and ugly parts inside of you would have all the reinforcement that you are an unlovable person.

Hit a little close to home? I think there is some of the above in all of us. Brings up the question of, "If a good thing is done for an unhealthy reason, then is it a really good thing?"

But that question is for another day.

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