Part Five - You, are not Bob....
When I was young, my mum would to try to help us understand other people’s actions that needed ‘explaining’. She told us,
“In life there are no problem people, just people with problems", or something to that effect. That’s the phrase I remembered and one that I truly loved and held dear to for a very long time.
I loved the empathy it evoked, the awareness it brought. That not everything in the world is how it first seems or that it's truth is only how you have chosen to see it. Whenever I encountered someone being difficult or ‘misbehaving’ I would remember this, and pause, just for a moment, and consider the “Why?”…... Even with hardened criminals, I would find compassion in that phrase. They weren’t raised well, tough childhoods, lack of support, I would find a reason behind every poor behaviour or action. It categorically helped me see the good in everyone and keep perspective.
I remember watching Louis Theroux’s documentary ‘Among the Sex Offenders’. One of the most powerful and upsetting documentaries I think he has ever done. My heart was breaking for these people. Labelled and branded for their horrible crimes, but here Louis was showing us that there was indeed a personal story behind their behaviour. https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b040qrxw/louis-therouxs-la-stories-3-among-the-sex-offenders
“There is no excuse” some people say, “It’s because of their upbringing”, say others…. The truth is, who really knows? Louis has a wonderful way of showing the facts without getting drawn into the emotions. Or so it seems to us.
I am not Louis. Somewhere deep in my psyche I would think;
“If I can help them maybe they could be ‘fixed’, then they’d not treat people badly any longer, and so we all win”. Don't get me wrong I have never tried to reform sex offenders or hardened criminals, they do need fixing, just not by me. I also do thoroughly believe that there are some completely inhumane creatures that have infiltrated society, who are completely ‘unfixable‘ (another someone who claimed he would “fix it” comes to mind). However, this belief definitely fuelled a need of mine to fix people and it has certainly appeared more than a few times in my life, and in my relationships.
In one module on our coaching training we explored values and beliefs. Learning how to work with clients on their own beliefs, allowing them the space to grasp how they might have served them in the past, and to consider if they are still serving them well now. As the tutor spoke however, I was going deeper and deeper into my own thoughts…. Very, very deep! Pennies were dropping in my head like a ‘coin pusher’, one after the other, popping and bouncing around my brain….
“I have a belief that people are broken and I can fix them, it came from that thing mum told me”
“Oh god do I seek out people who need fixing?”
“Have I tried to fix all my friends?”
“Are my friends, even friends or just people I have tried to fix?” Oh my…..(I said it was deep!)
Waves of self-reflection crashing over me, the more I thought about this ‘belief’ the more I recognised how it featured throughout my whole adult life. It was no longer a simple phrase I liked, more the front page headline to my entire life story.
Then came the bombshell…..
“Do I continuously try to fix people to serve and feed my own ego?”
Crikey I’m an arsehole!
I’d now opened Pandora’s box, and whilst I was pleased with this awakening, it was also very, very uncomfortable. I felt the need to reassess every relationship I had ever had. Every interaction with people in my life. The thought that all this time, when I believed I was ‘helping’ people and doing ‘good’, I may have actually been ‘saving’ them for my own egotistical gratification, to be the saviour (!!), wow -that was tough!
Could I really be this shallow? Am I nothing at all like the person I thought I was? Can I even be just a friend to someone?
I needed to take a break, pause and do nothing, certainly not anything rash. The thoughts were exhausting and upsetting and very, very draining.
Thankfully, after I had slept on it a few restless nights, I began to have a fresh assortment of musings trickle into my head. This time, unlike the lightning bolts of severe discomfort from the first day, these were much gentler, kinder and felt more like a cool breeze, calmly moving on those darker clouds.
“No. I have not tried to rescue every friend I have”
“I do have real friends, and we have equal relationships”
“People do not need me to fix them, they are happy just to talk”
‘People are not broken, and deep down I know that….”
Some of you may relate to some of this, and if fixing is your thing, you’ll know how exhausting it can be always trying to save the day. Well, the good, no simply fabulous news is, we don’t have to! People don’t need or want it. People don’t expect you to fix them, you assume they do - give yourself a break….. and also note that by attempting to fix people you are making them feel broken…. Ouch!!!
Ahhh, the ease…..I cannot promise you that I’m completely over that box being ripped open, I was certainly unprepared for the emotion of the experience. But I have learnt so much from it. Almost immediately I would notice myself on the oh-so-familiar starting block of attempting to ‘fix’ someone. But now, I find myself just creating a pause, taking a breath and reminding myself of my latest lesson in becoming a ‘real’ coach.
“They are just telling you their story. You are not Bob the Builder, they are not asking you to fix it, just listen”
Miraculously, overnight life has become easier and a lighter. Interactions with people are gentler and sunnier, and my friendships are doing just fine. The beauty of becoming a ‘real‘ coach doesn’t just lie in learning how to coach well, but in reflecting on yourself and your own beliefs and to check in if they are still serving you as well as they once did.
Found this and thought it rather apt.