I have always been grateful for people’s help and caring (and extremely fortunate to have an abundance of it), but I have been realizing lately how much I have not allowed myself to need other people. Some part of me has always maintained a certain inner stiffness – a strong sense that I must go it alone. I couldn’t let myself crack open and really lean on other people. I couldn’t let myself need others deeply and surrender to their care and wisdom.
Think about that for a moment. That is vulnerable stuff. For all of us. To let yourself need other people, count on them, and be affected by them is to take a terrifying chance. It evokes our earliest experiences of relationship, our most deeply rooted, implicit memories of whether we can depend on others.
As we try to find our way in life and live authentically, believing that it isn’t safe to depend on others can cause us to inflict a painful and ultimately harmful solitude on ourselves. We end up imposing a self-isolating state that goes far beyond the actual necessary times of solitude. What keeps me and you from allowing ourselves to need others and depend on them? Below are just some of the automatic messages that come to mind. Any of these sound familiar?
– I’ll bother people. I’ll overwhelm them.
– I should be able to do it on my own. I shouldn’t need other people.
– I don’t want others to see how much I am struggling and how lost I feel.
– I don’t want to be influenced or tainted by others’ ideas or perceptions.
– I want to protect my ideas or inspirations from disrespect or harm.
Certainly there are times when we need to retreat from others or to protect some budding aspect of ourselves, but we ultimately need other people. In A General Theory of Love, three psychiatrists provide a beautiful explanation of how our brains are hard-wired to be in supportive, mutual relationship and the suffering we endure when we aren’t. From the more symbolic perspective of initiation, Micheal Meade, an author, mythologist, and storyteller, says:
The only way I can reveal myself to myself is if someone else is protecting, supporting, and challenging me. The person who’s undergoing the initiation has to feel safe enough to let go and challenged enough not to stay still. When the function of the ego, which is to protect the self, is taken over by others, we can go into a deep descent and find elements of our own soul. If I try to initiate myself, I’m either going to make the temperature too hot, so to speak, or too cold. Initiation needs caring others who know what temperature is right for me. This is a real problem in a culture that thinks, I’m going to do it all myself. (from an interview in The Sun, November 2011)
To become who we are, we need others who can help us feel safe enough to wonder into the dark and return with elements of our true self. We need others to help us see who that true self is and encourage us to find it. We need others to collaborate with us in our personal journey and inspire us with new ways of seeing. You and I can both intuitively recognize the people we can entrust with these crucial tasks when we encounter them.
So how often do you find yourself feeling an insistence or absolute rule that you must do it all yourself? How much do you let yourself lean on other people? Can you experience sustenance and inspiration in the care and wisdom of others?
© Amanda Norcross and Learning to Listen to Soul, 2012.