For folks in the healing arts in any capacity, there is this interesting dynamic that can play out with others: People expect you to be the Less Messed-Up One in any situation, and to be nearly perfect in the way you handle all your interactions and your own self-care. (And like we always feel like this woman pictured here!) When we can just come out and name that, it is so obviously ridiculous. We are all just people on our journeys! Generally healers, counselors, etc., are attracted to healing because they need it themselves, and are learning to give themselves that healing as they work with others. The patient and the practitioner are mirrors to each other, and when this relationship goes well, they both learn and grow together, integrating more and more of their wounded material and living in greater and greater harmony. The shadow aspect of this is when healers ignore their own pain, challenges and needs because it is easier to focus on and help others than help themselves, all the while hiding behind a mask of being already healed and having things figured out for themselves. This can even play out as having relationships with people who are actively addicted to drugs or alcohol, so the dynamic of being the Less Messed-Up One and The Compassionate Helper, is happening at home, at work, and socially.
There is real value to helping others when we ourselves are hurting sometimes – it is only when it becomes habitual and unconscious that it is negative. I have a profound memory of two different friends calling me up a week or so after my mom died in 2009, each with their own problems they needed support with. One had just been rebuffed by a potential love interest and the other was facing felony charges for having been caught with a bag of hallucinogenic mushrooms in his pocket, and they both felt pretty awful. I had been so enmeshed in my own pain and my mother’s pain in the last days of her life, as well as my responsibilities caring for her as she took her passage, and helping to organize the funeral and do the paperwork and so on, that to have the focus placed elsewhere for a while and get to nurture loved ones who were struggling with something completely different felt like a much-needed breath of fresh air. I was able to return to my own life and my own grief fortified and nourished by those interactions, feeling myself more deeply a part of an interconnected web of life, death, love and support – tasting the sweet, bitter complexity of life and not turning away.
That is a positive expression of getting to play the healer in our other relationships. It is when we over-identify with being a healer and being the Less Messed-Up One that a multitude of challenge can arise. A big challenge is that we can be too nice. Waaay too nice! It is not actually nice to be too nice – to do elaborate favors for people, allow debts to go unpaid, to be overly flexible and accommodating with one’s schedule, to let people walk all over you. It should go without saying that quickly leads to resentment. The resentment we feel in such situations is really towards ourselves, though, not the other person, since it is our own responsibility to stand up for ourselves. You have needs too, healers. You deserve to get paid, to get paid on time, to take days off and do nothing useful or helpful to others at all. And, it doesn’t hurt to be a little irresponsible every once in a while. You can set time aside for this, and set it up so no one needs you during that time and no one expects to hear from you. (I personally make a practice of this on a weekly basis – but I had to learn the habit from other small business owners who insist on the necessity of this for the sake of increased productivity, not from healers, who often tell their patients to take time out but don’t do it themselves(!))
Of course it is inappropriate for healers to talk about their own problems with patients during an appointment (the focus is on the patient; they are paying for this time), but healers can be real with themselves, and acknowledge their own humanness openly.
Somewhat on this theme, I went to see some great music in San Francisco last night and was up until the early morning. Do I do this regularly? Hell no – I’d be an absolute wreck! There is nothing like an erratic sleep schedule to quickly turn me into an emotional basket-case who cries over every small thing and feels overwhelmed by ordinary circumstances. Supporting folks to create regular routines for sleeping and eating is something I do in my practice all the time, and it REALLY works. Am I a hypocrite for breaking my routine last night? I don’t think so. I see it like this: I would be a hollow shell of a person, and a fool, if I never shook up my routine and stayed up late to see awesome music. If our focus is on our health at all, we must strike a dynamic balance between firmness/adherence to our regular healing practices and spontaneity/fun/special times that feed our soul.
Often we skip right to self-judgement when we see ourselves doing something that feels contradictory. I would suggest repeating nineteenth-century poet Walt Whitman’s famous words, “Do I contradict myself?….I am large, I contain multitudes.”
by Mollie Moorhead