A time ago in my life, I felt that the work I was doing with my then therapist had changed in such a way that I wasn’t getting the benefit from it I once had. But I continued to go to sessions because I was concerned about disappointing him. I don’t know when my sense of emotional responsibility switched, but it had.
When I heard more recently of a therapist who, worryingly, asks her clients at the end of a session “Did you find it helpful today?” it made me think about how easily we accept the burden of others happiness when we are vulnerable, and how compelling it is to look away from ourselves and our own needs to the paradoxical relief and encumbrance provided by someone else’s.
It’s not just because you are a good person that you think so much about other peoples needs. It is also because you find it uncomfortable to look at yourself.
I grew up neglecting the answer to the question “what do I want?” and instead transposed it into “what do you want?” All the time I answered the second I thought I was, by definition, answering the first, because to keep people of significance in my life happy was bound to help me. But I was wrong. In the end, an inability to draw a line between our needs and responsibilities brings us to our knees.
The biggest problem with unrestricted giving is when it is done in an attempt to feel better about ourselves, because rarely, in these circumstances, does anything much come back the other way. Only when we give because we want to are we able to enjoy the rich reward of our genuine philanthropy.
“When you have reached the point where you no longer expect a response, you will, at last, be able to give in such a way that the other is able to receive and be grateful. When Love has matured and, through a dissolution of the self into light, become a radiance, then shall the Lover be liberated from dependence upon the Beloved, and the Beloved also be made perfect by being liberated from the Lover.”
It is separation from needs and demands that enables us to give freely and not the reverse.
Only later, after the end of my work with that therapist was I able to see that my insistence upon staying when I needed to leave was a manifest perpetuation of the problem I had sought his help to solve.
Putting other people first is a wonderful and healthy way to live. But it is destructive, debilitating and self-defeating when it comes at the expense of taking proper care of ourselves.