Here’s the scenario for this month’s discussion:
You are in a conversation with someone who is sharing their current life challenges. As they are telling you their story, the picture of how to solve it is very clear to you. In order to move out of their current conundrum all they have to do is X, Y and Z. Perhaps, you have even shared your answers to their “life test” questions…. Sound familiar?
I know this is a situation I have found myself in time and time again. It is one that continues even now. I know that I have many deep seeded habits when it comes to this scenario, habits that I am working to change.
When I share that I am trying to change this habit pattern I am often asked “Well, what is so wrong with wanting to help? Doesn’t helping others make me a better person? Isn’t helping others yogic (ie: karma yoga)?”.
While I was in therapy, I learned a lot of interesting things (thank you Christina <3). I learned that everyone in my life is a mirror of the different facets of my being. Those who I find easy to be with mirror parts of me that I have integrated well into my “whole” Self. Those who drive me crazy (yes, I have folks who drive me crazy – bless them for being such good mirrors and showing me where my work is) mirror parts of me that I have not integrated as well – facets of my being that I am not as connected with or appreciative of. I also learned that we play roles in our lives and lives of others. We tend to land in groups or with people where we can continue to re-enact the roles of our childhood. This continues until we become aware of it, and perhaps chose to change. One of the roles that is deeply engrained in me is referred to as “the rescuer”. What my “rescuer” facet does really well is save people. From what you ask? I save people from other people, from themselves, from the world, from the elements - from anything and everything! Who am I saving you ask? People who want to be rescued - those who have what is referred to as a “victim” facet. In order for me to be a rescuer, I need someone who wants to enact the role of the victim. Note: For the purpose of this discussion “victim” is not necessarily referring to the “victim of crime or abuse”. Sub-personalities (in this newsletter I refer to them as “facets" of my being) are psychological satellites, coexisting as a multitude of lives within the overall medium of our personality. Each sub-personality has a style and a motivation of its own, often strikingly dissimilar from those of the others. Each of us is a crowd. Often they are far from being at peace with one another. We must remember that there are no good or bad sub-personalities. All sub-personalities are expressions of vital elements of our being – each will have traits that will serve us, and traits that will not. For example, the "judge" may have a strong sense of humor, and the "Mystic" may at times only a boring moralist. Sub-personalities become harmful only when they control us. The ultimate aim in sub-personality work is to increase the sense of self or center of Being by deepening our awareness and acquaintance with our own sub-personalities, so that instead of dis-integrating into a myriad of sub-selves at war with each other, we can again be one. The details on sub-personalities described above was found at http://www.plotinus.com/what_are_subpersonalities_copy.htm Why not? Why shouldn’t I save people? This is where it gets interesting. I always thought that by “helping” people I was doing the “right” and “good” thing – isn’t it good to help people? It is good to help people, however if I do all the work for someone else am I really helping? What am I teaching them? It turns out that a lot of us rescuers are actually enabling victims to stay victims… we are teaching them that they cannot help themselves and so they need other people to do it for them. We are dis-empowering them from recognizing and connecting with their own strength, ability and potential. Rescuers teach victims to stay victims. Not only are we teaching victims to stay victims, rescuers get overwhelmed and over tired from being overly responsible for other people. Victims continue to need rescuing, rescuers continue to save them and over the course of enacting this cycle again and again, rescuers become resentful, frustrated and burnt out. Plus, rescuers are so busy being in other peoples’ business, they don’t spend much time minding their own business (doing their own work). Frequently victims recognize this enabling pattern and then perceive the rescuer as the one who is causing their problems because they are not helping to change the roles/cycle, the rescuer then becomes the perpetrator! Now things have gotten very mucky and blurry. What to do? Well, in the Bhagavad Gita Krishna tells Arjuna “it is better to do one’s own work imperfectly, than to do another’s work perfectly” (Chapter 3 verse 35). Rescuers need to focus their energies on themselves and their own work. When rescuers stops rescuing, victims learn to solve, change, evolve and grow on their own. The key is to empower everyone! When a victim realizes they have choices and therefore can change their circumstances, their lives change. When a rescuer realizes that they are not responsible for rescuing everyone, it is actually a HUGE relief! With more time to focus on their own work they become more skillful in their own lives AND have time for tea at David’s. One of the most challenging and necessary skills is learning to be OK with another’s discomfort. If we dive deep into the psyche of a rescuer, it’s likely that we will find someone who is not OK when others are not OK. This is a huge motivator to rescue others - trying to rescue yourself from feeling uncomfortable. If you have rescuing tendencies, one of the practices that will serve you well is meditation – the blending of mindfulness and concentration into a state of relaxed alertness where you can be with what is without needing to change (or fix) it. I have been practicing being OK with my own and other peoples’ discomfort for a few years now. We become more skillful at it, yet is still a challenging practice. I do not imagine seeing those I love in pain and hurt will ever be “easy” for me (at least I hope not… as that would mean I have turned into a robot). What this skill allows me to do is be there for those who need/want to share with me, and know that to the best of my ability I am not going to “take on their stuff” – which is respectful to everyone. I am going to allow them to express themselves, and allow them to heal themselves too. Because really, there isn’t any other way. We are responsible for our choices, our condition, and our healing - this co-creative potential is in each of us. One of the boundaries my therapist set out for me was not helping until I was asked for my help. This idea blew my mind! I was so conditioned to help that I never even thought of asking. I did it automatically. It was a challenge in some of my relationships as the boundaries got re-established, however we all benefited. Those who played the victim role in my life started to realize this was the case when they heard themselves asking for help all the time. Being asked gave me the opportunity to think about it which created choice - i could answer answer yes or no. Sometimes it is helpful to be helping, sometimes it is more helpful to let people figure it out themselves. Needing to be asked does something else for me; it helps me clarify the intentions behind my “helpful” actions. I now realize that I did a lot of rescuing not because someone else needed rescuing, but because I was not comfortable with them as they were. I was more comfortable when they felt steady, happy, healthy, and calm - back to the mirroring - because those were the facets of myself I was most comfortable with. When someone mirrored something I did not feel comfortable with (ie: insecurity, sadness hurt, grief, shame, anger), then I wanted to rescue them so I did not have to connect to that facet of my own being. Although helping can appear “good” on the outside, in our practices we must constantly refer inside and ask ourselves “what is the intention behind my action?”. In my case, often I was not helping for the other person’s benefit, I was helping to ease my own discomfort. It does not mean I’m a selfish person. In all honesty I was not aware of this intention and my ego was sooooo good at reminding me how helpful I was being... The mind and ego are sneaky sometimes. Some people have responsibilities where this is the role (ie: police, fire fighters, doctors, lifeguards, first aiders, parents, etc). Being mindful of our tendencies (do I need to rescue all the time?) can help you teach those around you healthy boundaries (no matter what anyone tells you – boundaries are a very important part of healthy relationships. Where there are no boundaries, there are issues!), awareness, and good communication skills. The questions become – When I think I am helping, what is the intention behind my actions? Do I have the strength to witness another in their discomfort? Can I be in my own discomfort? How can I empower myself to live the life of my dreams? Once I figure this out, how can I share this without taking over, instead supporting those around me to empower themselves? Through all of this, can I remember to breathe? Enjoy the practice! Om Shantih and Prema (universal peace & love), m xo Mona L. Warner, ERYT500 Janati Yoga, RYS500