Dr. Nadine’s Thoughts:
I was recently talking with a friend of mine about our long friendship, and how we’ve learned from one another through the years. She is a wonderful combination of social and business savvy. She loves people; she embraces the excitement of life; she’s a skilled business woman, unafraid to take risks; she’s psychologically astute. These combinations have propelled her into a full life that has ebbed and flowed with both pain and joy.
We talked together at length about our families, friends and romantic relationships, and how we’ve cultivated unique bonds with each member of our tribes. As we traded perspectives on how we approach our Dear Ones, we acknowledged that we have complementary styles. She is firm and clear about what she wants and needs from her family and friends. It is with respect and resolve that she explains what she expects, not shrinking away from a gentle confrontation if necessary. In contrast, I start by looking for what my Dear Ones need. I assess where they are, what they can hear, how much they can tolerate, and I don’t expect any more from them than what I think they can manage. Then I make my decision about what would be the appropriate connection, conversation, or course of action.
We openly admired the other’s style. And we talked frankly about the consequences of each. She wondered how her relationships might have unfolded if she’d been more pliable and less spontaneous. I pondered how mine might have looked if I’d been less pliable and more spontaneous. We concluded that we are continuing to learn from one another, and that the goal for each of us is to move toward the middle, to find the right balance between attending to ourselves and caring for others at the same time.
As I thought about our conversation, I had the vague awareness of feeling encumbered by some of my relationships. I felt burdened by always trying to give others what they’re asking of me, and putting their needs first. Let me be clear about this—I’m not burdened by wanting to serve others. In fact, service to others is a fundamental focus for Dr. Zan and me. We believe it is healthy to help one another, and it fosters connection, caring, and community. It feels GREAT to help someone! The difference, it struck me, is that I wasn’t freely offering my service. It was being demanded of me (albeit unconsciously). When service isn’t a gift, it’s servitude. It’s subjection and subordination. It’s not the beautiful offering, and the grateful acceptance, of a gift that’s been freely given.
So my challenge to you is to assess where you are on that continuum between “self and other”. Are you spotlighting the needs of others while ignoring your own, leaving yours hidden, unattended or neglected? Are you pursuing your own needs to the exclusion of others’? You will build satisfying and fulfilling relationships with your Dear Ones if you find the balance that your authentic self requires.
Move toward the middle.
Dr. Zan’s Reflections:
Indeed, finding that delicate balance between offering love and service to others while genuinely honoring ourselves is an ongoing task that requires tending. Many of the people that I hear from share a common experience of having been raised to value self-sacrifice. Being willing to put oneself aside for the sake of another can indeed be a noble act. However, the continual sacrificing of one’s own needs, without benefit of moments that replenish the soul, will ultimately result in a martyr persona. And if anyone has ever tried to forge a genuine connection with someone invested in being a martyr, I suspect they would agree that such relationships are trying at best. While I have never observed Dr. Nadine to slide into the martyr role, I have indeed observed her willingness to give. Embracing a move to the middle feels appropriate and timely.
The much asserted quote about being “the change that you wish to see in the world” (attributed to Gandhi but of questionable origins) is at the very least great inspiration for a bumper sticker or a t-shirt. It is also applicable to ourselves in relation. Perhaps we can strive to “be the person that you wish to connect with in this world.” Do you really want to connect with someone who does not care to know or value their own needs? I believe that we all want to be in relation with others who are loving and at home in their own skin. It can actually make those who would love us feel quite badly when we demonstrate to them that we are not worthy of love. Therefore, if it is hard for you to love yourself fully, just consider it an act of kindness for others in your life. By honoring your own needs and embracing yourself, you approach all other relationships from a place of fullness and not lack. You go through the world filled with love that can easily spill over onto others.
Perhaps this is easier for me to assert as a youngest child. I did not experience the same burdens of responsibility that characterize the experience of many first borns. I did not feel the push and pull or neglect that I have heard described by many middle children. It was my job in the family to entertain and to love. From this vantage point, I can admit that there were certain freedoms inherent in my family position. I was much younger than my siblings and therefore free from the need to be “the best.” As the little kid in the house, I was never going to show up favorably in competitions, despite my best efforts. I was free to express my feelings when others had learned to restrain theirs. I was free to explore my passions and my dreams. I was free to say, “Yes,” but also to say, “No.” Freedom is, perhaps, a gift that I have taken for granted in my own life. However, I suspect that it is a gift that is more available to most of us than we even realize. So go ahead--try acting like an uninhibited youngest child. We are always free to love--ourselves and others. And what a gift that is!