The Posture Police Blotter was on hiatus for awhile and I've revived it with a blog that is running from June 20 through September 22. This daily edition has a different focus to it and the gem in all of this is that what I'm going to be writing and what I've written about posture and the Alexander Technique are all related. Follow along and learn how!
Helping others, Helping Yourself
Most of us have heard, probably more than once, that the only way to help someone else is to help yourself or to first help yourself. I believe this, but I think that it's a complex and nuanced philosophy and can work in a way that may at first glance appear to be exactly the opposite.
I've often felt stuck in terms of how I can help my partner when he's struggling and it's become clearer and clearer to me that there are two key reasons for this. The first reason is that I take what's going on with him personally. I immediately reflect it back to myself and feel less secure because he's feeling unstable or I interpret what he's feeling as negative feelings about me, which is a self-fulfilling prophecy because my reactions based on those assumptions tend to lead him to feel frustrated with me because he feels that I'm not genuinely listening and understanding his problem. I'm making it all about me. The second factor is that I have a tendency to feel helpless and wonder what the heck I can do for him. This response reflects a lack of confidence in myself to be a stable support and to be able to offer reassuring or helpful feedback.
I've been working diligently on being aware of and changing as much as possible how I take in and respond to challenges that he is going through. I sometimes allow myself to get caught up in my old habits, but more and more I am able to break free, to receive him clearly, and to not make it all about me.
I am finding that what may look from the outside as me helping him, is equally me helping myself and that my focus on being present with him even when it feels uncomfortable and I feel tempted to slip back into habits. So, it turns out that productively helping him is a great way to, in turn, help myself. If cabin pressure drops, it's probably a good idea to put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else with theirs, but if we make this a metaphor for other situations, sometimes the demand of a challenging interaction can force a person to put on their oxygen mask when they wouldn't have in the first place, that in helping someone else put on theirs their own must go on as well.
So then, how do we differentiate between when we are helping someone else at the expense of helping ourselves and when helping someone else helps us to help ourselves. If you are in a situation like this and you are unsure, think about how you feel. And by feel, I mean how do you feel in your body. Do you feel like you are opening up and becoming more receptive, not only to that person, but to yourself and the world around you or do you feel that you are trying to fix the other person based on how you think they should be and you feel frustrated and angry if they don't do what you want or expect? If it's the later, you are likely stuck in a rigid pattern mentally and physically (and I can certainly relate to this). I've learned that in opening up my receptive field to others, that I open up my receptive field to myself. I feel globally more expanded, curious, and forgiving. If you're not sure how you're reacting and interacting, listen to your body. If you are truely receptive, you'll feel open. If you're not, you'll likely feel closed off. You might find that you are somewhere in-between or that you intellectually want to be receptive, but that your body takes over and does otherwise. I think that this is to be expected. I can take time to change habits. In drama school, part of our speech warm-up was saying the phrase "It takes time to untangle twenty-two tutus." Give yourself time and focus to untangle your habits and they will likely begin to unravel, even if the process goes slowly.