Security vs insecurity – the antidote to our ‘fix it’ mentality

by Katie, iheart facilitator 

Recently I have been reflecting on a strong inner desire that I witness – not only in myself, but also in my friends and family. The desire to ‘make it better’ or ‘fix it’ for the people we care about.

There’s my mother with her 90-year-old sister in California who is gradually losing her mental capacity: My aunt phones my mum to ‘off load’ telling her how horrible life is and how she wishes she could just not wake up tomorrow. When my mum puts the phone down, she is full of angst and big feelings that she finds hard to manage.

There’s my friend whose daughter is struggling with an eating disorder: She listens endlessly, reassures, give her daughter’s worries and anguish airtime, consoles and tries to tell her it will all get better. In the meantime, she inwardly wants to scream ‘enough!’, and have a break from the endless issues.

There’s my sister who is struggling with incontinence following cancer treatment: As if a stoma wasn’t bad enough, radiotherapy has left her with bladder damage that cannot be repaired. As she says herself, ‘I expected that maybe I’d experience incontinence by the age of 80 but did not anticipate wearing nappies as a 50-year-old.’ She phones me after the consultant has told her nothing more can be done and then dives headlong into a 3-week depression, a bleak outlook momentarily filled with tears and grief at the loss of something she had previously taken for granted. I find myself struggling to know how to help her and rocked by her suffering.

But I know there’s a deeper truth. If what I know is true, then not even ‘incontinence at 50 years old’ can dictate how you feel, so I tell myself. Yet it doesn’t wash with me. Not this time. There is no relief from my feelings of sadness for my sister having to experience something that I know I wouldn’t want myself. Sometimes you can more easily see how someone’s worries are thought created, but not this… how could incontinence not eat away at your wellbeing?

I reflected gently for a while, as I am wont to do. In these situations where I am drawing a blank, I usually default to the visual image of ‘wellbeing rules’. What is it that is written on this rule?

My go-to standard phrase for wellbeing rules is: ‘I’m ok if….’ Sometimes, when I play around with words, I hit on the right thing and in those moments, insecurity gives way to security. I know I have found the key that has unlocked my confusion. I tried ‘I’m ok if my sister is incontinent…’ That didn’t work. This was simply not true. I was not ok. It upset me. I gently persisted in trying out other phrases. And then it suddenly came to me.

My sister was suffering because of the incontinence. I had been focusing on her suffering and had overlooked the fact that I was suffering too, because of her suffering. It all fell away. I’m ok if my sister is not suffering because of incontinence – I don’t want that for her. I’ve attached my wellbeing to her being ok, to her not having to experience this. But neither of us have any control over the circumstances. And naturally enough she is going through a period of grief and deep upset. Why wouldn’t she? What had previously been unseen was that HER SUFFERING couldn’t steal my peace of mind! I turned the phrase around, a helpful extension I have recently started to try out. ‘I’m ok if my sister isn’t suffering because of incontinence. And I’m STILL ok if she is’.

Here is the truth. My sister is suffering. Her wellbeing is hidden right now and that really cannot be helped. But my wellbeing is an independent entity. The only psychological system I can do anything about is my own. She has enough suffering to deal with right now. When I don’t suffer, my insecurity falls away. I have a deep sense of security and okayness and with that comes a well of compassion for my sister in this moment. I can be ok with this situation; I can give her the space and time to go through her own experience and emotional process. I don’t need her to be any other way. I am no longer trying to ‘make it better’ for her. There is no need for consolation, suggestion, distraction. Everything is perfectly ok as it is. My sister with her suffering and me seeing the bigger picture that all is exactly as it is meant to be in this moment. What a human experience this is!

When my mum hears her sister’s suffering, she understandably wants to ‘fix’ it and make it better. She typically says that if it would be easier if she could jump on a plane, give her sister a hug and a cup of tea. But my mum is making the same mistake that I was. Her sister’s suffering cannot diminish her wellbeing anymore than my sister’s suffering can diminish mine. My mum’s anguish is coming from her need for her sister to be ok. Effectively we have the same ‘rule’. I’m ok if the people I care about are ok. How many people have this one?!

My mum made the observation during my sister’s cancer treatment that she felt sorry for the lady in the bed five spaces down, but it didn’t ‘rock her world’. I could not explain that at the time. But now I can. She doesn’t have an attachment to the wellbeing of the lady five beds down, but she has a huge umbilical attachment to the wellbeing of her own daughter. However, when we respond from our own attachments, we bring a sense of insecurity into the picture. We are not our true authentic selves. We get busy trying to make it better, instead of sitting with the humanness of the situation in front of us.

And as for my friend – the same rule applies. ‘I’m ok if my daughter is doing ok’ is equal to: ‘I can’t experience my own wellbeing when my daughter is suffering’. But that is simply not true. We all know that. Wellbeing is a given no matter what. Which means that our wellbeing is available to us even when our loved ones are suffering. Without the insecurity of our own shaken snow globe, we are free to fill the space with compassionate understanding, and that, in turn, frees up our loved ones to wholeheartedly go through their momentary experience. No fixing necessary.

If thought creates feeling, then when our loved ones are in their own thought-created emotional storms, there are only two options available to us: We can join them with our own storm (which in my experience never really helps); or we can see that our own wellbeing is a completely separate entity. Another person’s emotion can never, in truth, remove our capacity for peace of mind and presence.

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