Did you know that a butterfly needs that struggle to break free of its cocoon so it can strengthen its wings? If you were to cut open the cocoon to release it, you’d rob it of the ability to fly. Our own adventure through the birth canal squeezes the fluid out of our lungs so we can breathe. Nature shows us again and again that it is through effort that we empower ourselves.
And yet, it’s heart-wrenching to watch those we love struggle, strain, or make a complete mess out of things. From the outside, it’s so easy to see when someone is trapped in a cycle that continuously brings them pain. Freud called it the “repetition compulsion”; Albert Einstein famously said, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Jung on this, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
Anything within us that is unhealed will run the show. Anything we’ve repressed, denied, run from or tried to numb out will push back four times harder. It’s my belief that we’re all longing to heal, to open, to uncover our gifts and share them freely, but sometimes in order to do that, we have to lean into our pain first. A fearful unwillingness to do that, an aversion to being with what is, leads to our suffering, so sometimes a person is struggling and straining and avoiding and acting out. Brilliant people do this; it’s not about intelligence. I say that because it’s so easy to throw our hands up and say, “S/he’s so smart!! Why does s/he keep picking unavailable people to date?” Or , “Why is she stuck on her career path when she has so much going for her?!”
This is especially difficult when we’re watching our parents, partners, siblings, grown children, or close friends. Of course when you love someone, you want to save them from pain, but sometimes in our efforts to love people, we rob them of experiences they need for their own growth. In an effort to “save” or help those we love, the tendency can be to step in and try to solve the current problem, try to diffuse the stress or end the struggle, but struggle is important. It’s not until a person has come to the conclusion that what they’re doing isn’t working, that change is possible. You can’t convince a person with logic. You can’t cajole someone into wanting to take better care of themselves, or you. You can’t make someone happy. You can’t convince another person to fall in love with you, or to be compassionate or kind or caring or patient. People are these things, or they are not. Sometimes the struggle is what gets them from a place of despair, to one of peace. There’s a saying attributed to Buddha, “The obstacle is the path.”
When you think back on your life, I’ll bet you’ve learned a lot more during those times when things were not going your way, when things did not turn out as you’d hoped, than you did when everything was rainbows and unicorns. Scaling the mountain makes us strong. It shows us where we’re scared, where we have strengthening to do. It shows us the way we’re showing up for ourselves, it sheds light on our limiting beliefs, it pushes us to be our best selves. So while it’s almost always motivated by love and good intentions, trying to save other people usually has the opposite effect. You can’t save anyone but yourself. You can love other people, that’s beautiful, but you can also unintentionally enable them to continue to do things the way they’ve been doing them. You can reinforce behavior that ends up hurting them and you, by sweeping in with your love and concern, when maybe, they’d be better off weeping through their anguish, frustration, confusion and loneliness, so that they could resolve to start doing things another way.
Sometimes the best way to love people is to believe in their own ability to realize how incredibly special they are, and to allow them their own process. You can also offer tools that have helped you, and in that way you might help them help themselves. For me, healing came through yoga and seated meditation. I hear from people every day who’ve found peace by learning to open to how things are, instead of clinging to how they’d like things to be, but you can’t manage another person’s path, and you can’t know what anyone else needs for their own growth and ultimate happiness. You sure can love them, though.
Sending love to you,
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