How (not) to help – Love is the only option

I am thinking a lot about self-care. About what it can mean and how I know exactly the difference between escapism and self-care, between numbing myself and taking care of what my body, mind and emotions need at the moment.

But I also know that this can look different for everyone. It’s hard enough to find out what works for yourself. But even harder, if not more or less impossible, to find the right self-care practices for others. I think it has to be that everyone finds their own way of doing that. They hold the key, like each and every one of us. But standing on the outside, having gone down that path of exploring myself and my needs, I can give suggestions. But nothing more.

The other day I found myself in a tricky situation, meaning well, suggesting more self-care for a person I deeply love. It ended feeling like pressure to her. That might be the case because it is the wrong practices I suggested, or the wrong time for her or just not at all in her mind space even possible to think about that at the moment.

I felt confused, that something that was meant so well and had been suggested quite frankly but also gently in its way, can backfire into the person I wanted to help feeling under more pressure and maybe even more unsatisfied with their life in total. That was not my intention at all. I apologized and we even came up with a little challenge for a self-care routine for January (I will tell you in a second how that was possible). But it still feels like have been going about this the wrong way. As if I have been pushing through some boundaries, that were not ready to be penetrated with new information.

In a way, this is always a slippery slope. When you want to reach out to someone, who struggles with something you seem to have an answer to or can give a helping hand, it can be supportive and perfectly fitting the one moment, and then, in the blink of an eye already too much. A very clear sign of things going wrong is that whoever you wanted to support starts being defensive. At that point, no new suggestions, information or help can reach through, because defense means the castle walls have been put up high, the message is clear: the person and its system feel threatened. This is the counterintuitive side of help: it can be damaging, it can actually stop someone from progressing because they tightened up so much in their defense. And another thing, which really blew my mind, the first time I realized it: Helping others can prevent them from having their own break-throughs and their own self-knowledge and self-confidence growing from a success like that.

So how did we come to some sort of opening again? How did we decide to do a little self-care challenge in January? Well, first of all, when I noticed that she got defensive I started trying to take care of that expression of emotion first. I addressed her with my heart directly, said how much I cared about her, loved her and that it is really important for me to see her be well. I made sure she knows I didn’t want to pressure her or make it seem as if she is not good enough, which is something she seemed to have picked up on somewhere along our conversation. She thought I was not okay with her the way she is. Making clear what my actual intentions are and also what sometimes can get in the way of communication (our different patterns and psychological backstories) seemed to open her up again and I suggested something very small scaled: 10 minutes of meditation as a challenge. She corrected me and said: 5! Well, of course, 5 it is then. You can even do 2. Or less. Just sit down daily and try. That’s all this needs to be.

In the state of fear, we can’t learn because learning means expanding and fear means tightening up into tension. You feel that in your body as well as in your mind. The doors are closed. Nothing new, nothing different can come in and support a learning process or a developmental step. – Love is the only state that we are truly capable to learn and grow and expand in. Everything else is a waste of time and can even worsen the state of mind, body and emotions long term. So no matter if you work with yourself or with others – always opt for love!

What have your experiences with helping others been so far? Did you run into resistance, defense or even anger? Have you maybe been focused on what you wanted the other person to learn rather than how to transmit this new insight?

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