Have you ever stopped for a minute to consider how much you do because of other people? Not for others, but because of them? There’s a difference, and it is a big one. Doing ‘for’ can have many motivations; love, duty, obligation, care, to name but a few… But what about the ‘because’? And how easy is it to separate the two? The lines between are often blurred and what we grumble that we have to do because of others, we may be doing for them… while things we think we do for others, or even for ourselves are often motivated by more subtle reasons.
I was discussing the question with Ani as I was tidying up today. She is an intelligent listener and a great leveller of ego. My housework always used to be done first thing in the morning… I’d get up early to make sure it was ready for the day before work, then tidy round before bed, plumping cushions and washing cups. These days it gets done… or it doesn’t… whenever I choose. Why should I bother if no-one is here and no-one is coming? Ani doesn’t care if I have polished today… in fact she would probably rather I didn’t because the polish makes her sneeze and as far as cushion plumping is concerned, there is little point as she immediately rearranges them to suit herself anyway.
But why did I do it? Was I always doing it for the family, to make them comfortable, or was it because I wanted it that way? Maybe I was motivated by the expectations or needs of others to live up to an accepted ideal … or maybe I wanted their tacit approval for being a good housewife. Maybe what I really wanted my own approval. Maybe I felt I was never good enough and had to make the outer show reflect and compensate for an inner need?
The same with getting dressed on a morning. If I am going from here, to my son’s and home again, do I need the hair and make-up immaculately done? Or if I am giving a presentation in public… would I turn up in my scruffs and unwashed? And who would really be behind the decision?
They are all such basic things, but serve as an everyday example of the way we are driven, coaxed and coerced by our own inner needs as much as the requirements of living and the needs of others. When we think we are doing things because of others, we may, in reality, have an underlying motive rooted in our own needs, insecurities or desires.
If I am having visitors I will clean, hoover and polish till the cows come home… I will cook and delight in the opportunity… I will dress better and the hair and make-up will be done. I even look different… oh yes, I made a point of checking that. When there is only me and the dog the masks come off, the barriers come down and the face I see in the mirror is not one many others will see. Only the very closest, the most trusted get to see our private face. Not through choice … it is an acquired habit of self-protection, a reaction to our experience of the world. And we are very good at hiding even from ourselves, whether we consciously want to or not. There is a part of us, the deepest part, however, that knows exactly who and what we are.
The public face we wear is seldom about who we really are, even when we are sincerely determined to be ourselves and have no barriers in place… they close in on us unawares and the presence of others makes us unconsciously assume a role; face, voice and demeanour adapt to how we want others to see us, how we think they want to see us… and critically how we want them to reflect our desired image of self back to us…and this is how we define the ‘rules’ of a relationship of any kind with others. We gravitate towards those who hold what we think is the ‘right’ mirror… until we have grown enough to see that sometimes the right one isn’t always comfortable and soothing. It is the one that does not lie to us.
Pretty much all we do is because of others, in some way, but we forget that we ourselves are ‘others’ also. We are multi-layered beings, from the innermost core to the faces we wear as masks to hide the inner child and all its fragile fears. ‘Not good enough’, ‘not worthy’, ‘could do better’, ‘you don’t deserve..’ the litany of fragility goes on in infinite variety, shaped by our individual and well camouflaged fears and this is the ‘other’ that motivates so much of what we do… The mirror of the soul does not lie, but it must cringe when it sees how many fears we succumb to, how many ways we find to barricade ourselves from the acceptance of the true self.
Fear is a paralysing emotion and stops us from doing so many things. Some fears are rooted in the need to avoid genuine dangers but most of the fears by which we live pertain only to a percieved threat to self.. to our image of self… and we guard ourselves in so many inventive ways that we end up being unable to express who we really are, or bring to life the gifts we have to share.
Yet, until we look, until we find the deep seated wound or canker that has shaped so much of how we try and project ourselves into the world how can we begin to heal it? Until we acknowledge what we already know is there on some level we will shy away from anything that may highlight it to consciousness… like a child with a grazed knee pulls away from the antiseptic that stings, avoiding the short, sharp pain that promotes healing.
We would not berate a child for being a child and afraid…we would teach it with love, understanding and patience, we would reassure it that though its fears were very real, the cause of them was not; the dark doesn’t hide vampires, and nothing lives under the bed that will bite its ankles and drag them under… But we still wouldn’t let a child indulge in destructive or cruel behaviour unchecked, knowing that some constraints are needed for healthy development. If we look for the child within perhaps we can begin to understand ourselves with similar love and compassion… and apply a similar discipline to our reactions and fears, accepting that while we may fail sometimes, the ‘other’ within is worth everything we can give to help it grow.