Several years ago when I worked in an Eating Disorder Day Treatment Program one of my co-workers used the phrase Don’t let your garden go fallow as a way to redirect individuals to focus on their own work. She told a story about the importance of having a balanced relationship toward helping or you may forget to focus on your own garden. Without proper attention and nurturing a garden will go to seed and die.
It was a metaphor; it isn’t always that a person doesn’t have the skills to succeed but sometimes it is a matter of improper focus.
I have this friend. She is smart, and talented. She is supportive of her friends, and partners, and is great at seeing ways to help them move forward in their lives, while she seems stuck in hers. Even when she wants to make a change she always ties the change to someone else as if she can’t tolerate the role of standing on her own. And yet she has always been strong; weathering difficult times alone.
It isn’t that she hasn’t created success, she has; it’s that she hasn’t created her own happiness.
I think it’s because she is caught in one of my identified survivor scenarios. She helps others as a way to survive and so doesn’t put energy into her own real life.
In fact I see this with a number of women; they connect their success with that of another. They give support with an unspoken understanding that the other will return the gift in the future but often they end up catapulting the other into success and that other does not return the favor or give credit to them.
No it’s a survivor mentality – life requires this action or imminent death is the feared result. But how does an internal should action, an unconscious habit reaction pattern, get set up in an individual?
For the most part we act in ways to best support ourselves unless we have some sort of psychological illness that interferes with us doing so. That is human nature. Therefore individuals who are not ill, act in this way to benefit themselves.
These survivor scenarios are set up early in individuals as coping strategies, that’s why I choose to call them survivor rather than victim scenarios because for the most part they are coping strategies that really do help the individual survive a difficult event.
But the event gets survived and the pattern remains. It’s a short-circuit in our internal structure because it is so closely tied to a fear of death.
I am not suggesting that someone is threatening to kill all these individuals in their early childhood. I am suggesting that events are interpreted such to directly tie the success of the other to their own life and in response their first goal was to harness their forces to support that individual above their own self-needs.
The development of the coping strategy is a mindful present moment response to their environment which is healthy. The continued unconscious habit reaction pattern after the event has passed, is no longer a present moment mindful response; it is unhealthy.
Since it is unlikely that any of us have made it through to adulthood without some degree of adverse events, it is likely that we all have developed some unconscious habit reaction pattern, some internal should action equation that no longer serves us.
Figuring out what it is, how it served you and how it no longer serves you so that you can be free to act differently and create your own happiness is a great focus of internal work. My example above is more typical of women but men have these too and they have the same basic components of giving up self for survival.
Here’s how to begin the process. Be mindful. Use your senses to guide you. Use your feelings especially those of anger, defensiveness, depression, or an internal pressure to act in a certain way to help you focus in on the potential strategy that you developed that may no longer be of service to you.
One thing I have noticed is that when it’s happening I actually see myself doing things, or divulging information, or acting in ways that I feel pressured to do and say and I feel sick to my stomach afterward or really angry. Another thing to look for is an indecisiveness regarding what to do or trying to take back what you did do.
Once you increase your awareness and mindfulness regarding this you will begin to get an outline on what strategy you may want to change, let go and transform.
See you tomorrow.