This week the energy of helping, caring, shielding, our loved ones has shown up all over the grid.
A woman preparing for the long awaited first marriage counseling session afraid to say too much. She doesn’t want to dump and catch her husband off guard or overwhelm him.
A partner walking on egg shells and pushing her wife to talk about what’s wrong.
The reflexive offers to help.
Society grooms us to help. We are taught to be helpful children. To be helpful equals fitting in and being looked upon favorably. The feminine energy of nurturing and caretaking at it’s best supports others to grow, be who they are and find their way. Masculine energy of provider can lay a foundation of stability. A tether for family that manifests confidence for venturing into the world. On the flip side the need to “help” has dysfunctional tendrils that wind around our well meaning efforts.
Years ago while attending a week long immersion coach training I was triggered by another participant’s attachment to her provider identity. She had high levels of anxiety. At the root was her need to validate herself by providing solutions for everyone. She even stressed about giving a restaurant recommendation to friends if they did not have the same wonderful experience she had dining there. As the facilitator coached her she would get close to releasing the identity only to pivot and protect it. I burst and interjected, quite loudly, that believing we can or should be the guardian of everyone’s experience was not only a foolish burden to carry it crippled those we think we are “helping”. The sabotaging tendril, the unintentional message we transmit states “You can not handle this.” We box people in, stuff them in a well with ourselves as the only light at the top.
We are serving up judgement (you are not capable) as a side dish with the support. This steals self confidence, self belief and denies growth opportunities to the person we are “helping” .
Is this intentional? No. Most of the time we are acting from our own desire to care for those we love. Sometimes we are acting to shore up our own self worth. Seeking validation by “being helpful”. Sometimes the want to “fix” others stems from our own discomfort with whatever they are dealing with. In the case of the partner not accepting her wife’s declaration that she’s “Fine.” the partner wants her wife to be happy. She also is uncomfortable with her wife’s mood. To the point that it seems necessary to push the wife into admitting there is something wrong. The unintended underlying message “What you are feeling is unacceptable.”
We also confine ourselves in striving to make others happy, recognized, secure. The woman at long last getting into marriage counseling is still instinctively protecting her husband from knowing the depth of her unhappiness with their relationship. A mode of operating she has employed for years. A stuffing of her own feelings and truth so as to not rock the boat. It has built resentment so large she is going into counseling with the notion that it will end the relationship.
There are times when we make conscious choices to hold back our own desires or feelings. We can choose to give someone space, not call them on their stuff. This is a crucial aspect of parenting. If you want your child to be truthful with you and the child shares something you don’t want to hear it is imperative you do not show anger. To react in any negative way to the truth being shared breaks the covenant. The adult must shallow their feelings to keep the relationship intact.
So how do we care and help without undermining those we love? How do we not shortchange our identity as we support? It is healthy to look at your come from. When you understand your own motives it clears the path between options. Also, there are two concepts to guide you. Both are simple ideas that can be challenging to employ.
First, believe that everyone can learn and grow. Understand they are capable. Express faith in others. Be okay with it if they decline your assistance. To not undermine them state clearly a belief in their capabilities when sharing what it means to you to help out.
Second, you are not responsible for the burden, challenge, or happiness of anyone. You are not expected to coddle, rescue, or save anyone. Your own worth is secure. You are not required to help, take care, support, do for, in order to validate your existence. Choose your actions and efforts from a place of wholeness. Care from your strength, give from your heart.
A lyric from the album “Free To Be You and Me” Marlo Thomas and Friends goes “Some kinds of help are the kinds of help that helping’s all about. And some kinds of help is the kind of help we all could do without.”
For Your Best Possible Self
Coach Christine Clark
Photo credit: Austin Kehmeier on Unsplash