By Robin Corak
I am like water. I touch and am touched by or feel in some way, shape, or form, everything and everyone I come into contact with. I run deep and I can be unpredictable. Sometimes I am still and silent, with an energy that nurtures and accepts. I move slowly in that I take the time to go within and to explore feelings, situations, and/or perspectives in depth. Other times, I move rapidly, a wave filled with energy that feels as if it will move or shake up everything in my path. This can be enacted in a positive way, through my unbridled enthusiasm for something or someone or a strongly held belief. It can also be less than desirable when it is something such as my frustration getting the better of me or my tendency to feel deeply overtaking me to a point that is uncomfortable. There are also times when I encounter resistance wherein I shift gears and stay strong and firm, knowing that my slow but steady tenaciousness will eventually wear away the obstacle(s) I have encountered.
It is true that I am not aligned with just one element, I am not comprised of just one force. It’s never quite that simple, is it? Sometimes, I am passionate or inspired and full of fire. There are times when I am absorbed in my thoughts and dreams as they roam through my mind like clouds in a sky. While I am less inclined to mirror the Earth, I do find at times that abundant, mothering energy taking hold. Some might even say that my persistence (or stubbornness, depending on how you look at it) is analogous to a mountain that refuses to move. All of these elements work within me from time to time, but always, always water.
They say our greatest gifts contain our greatest challenges and vice versa. I have found this to be true many times throughout my life. It has also been said that feeling things deeply is both a blessing and a curse. At some point in my life I learned to just accept that this is a part of who I am. My ability to be empathetic has helped me to relate to others, to develop strong relationships, and to be of service and assistance to the people that I care about as well as the people that I serve through my vocation. At times I have been able to be a source of strength, love, and light for those I care about who may have been going through a challenging, painful time. Being able to see things from many different angles has helped me to build connections, to consider the impacts of a decision on all involved, and to tailor my communication to my audience. In those instances where I have had to share bad or difficult news, this ability has helped me to do so in a way that demonstrated compassion and/or allowed the recipient to maintain a sense of integrity and pride. But there is a dark side.
When I let this gift run rampant I find myself falling back on some unhealthy “people pleasing” ways from my childhood. I think you know the behaviors I am talking about because I believe we have all done it at some point in our life. Women in particular I find struggle or have struggled with this issue. We withhold speaking our truth, asserting our beliefs, or possessing a contradictory opinion because we don’t want to rock the boat. We want someone’s approval and we fear that not being agreeable will cause others to not accept us, not like or love us, or to leave.
Someone said to me recently that water shifts to assume the form of that which contains it. Recently I have found myself internally shifting from form to form a little too much. I have, in the past, found myself feeling a need to speak my truth about what isn’t working and what I need from relationships but have feared that the people I care about may get upset, be hurt, think less of me, or choose to leave. I have, at times, compromised my beliefs and my needs in an effort to hold on to someone I cared about or to avoid conflict. I have grown by leaps and bounds in managing this challenge in a positive way over the years but every once a while, this issue makes a resurgence. To some degree, I have found this issue rearing its ugly head in one of my personal relationships of late.
Where I have felt it most strongly during this cycle is at work. I find myself being pulled in different directions, with people I respect and care about in conflict and wanting me to make a decision or act in a manner that is acceptable and beneficial to them and which validates their point of view. My role is to do what’s best for the greater good and to be as fair as possible. This means that I am bound to upset or offend someone in the course of my work. Normally I can deal with this pretty well, but lately for whatever reason it’s been challenging and intense, and I find myself tossed about like a ship on the sea, trying to figure out what direction is truly mine and where I wish to anchor my boat.
For me right now, it’s not that I have changed my behavior so much on the outside. Externally, I make and communicate my decisions in the most diplomatic way possible. I still try to do what I think is best for all concerned. On the surface, I still seem calm and unruffled. But like a duck, I am paddling underneath where you cannot see. I find I have been second guessing almost every decision I make and doubting myself, replaying decisions over and over in my head and feeling the knot in my stomach that comes from worrying entirely too much about what other people think. My head is rational and tells me that I made the best decision I could and with sensitivity, and that others’ reactions or disapproval is their stuff to deal with, and not a reflection of who I am. But my heart, oh my heart, it takes over and has me at times questioning my worth and effectiveness based on how someone else reacts or may react. Anxiety mounts and begins to feel like a dragon that is nearly impossible to slay.
Recently, both in the company of some amazing women and in the solitary stillness of nature, I had an incredible realization. The anxiety and self doubt weren’t really a result of concerns regarding what others might think of me. No, what I was feeling was a direct result of having given away my power. You see, so long as I put acceptance and/or my self-worth in the hands of others (often without their even realizing it), I will always feel that anxiety because I will always be waiting for others to affirm me and in my heart I know that that acceptance and approval will always be fragile, tenuous, and fleeting. I will always feel ungrounded because even if I do secure others’ approval, there is no guarantee that it will last. At some point, someone I care about is going to not like or agree with who I am or what I do, and that’s ok. What a boring,
stagnant world this would be if others were to agree with us all of the time and the opportunity for divergence did not exist. And, when you think about it, we place an incredibly unfair burden on others when we rely on them to affirm our value and to be responsible for ensuring our self worth.
The only certainty we will have ever have in this life as it relates to acceptance is to approve of, accept, and love ourselves. That is within our control. In fact, it is the only piece of this that is. That doesn’t mean that we have permission to pull the the wool over our own eyes in order to accept ourselves. It means rather that we have to be willing to be brutally honest with ourselves, confront our demons, and mistakes but also love ourselves through it all – no matter what we perceive to be our flaws and errors. We need to remind ourselves of the strengths we have and our ability to move forward and overcome. We must nurture ourselves as though we were the cardinal parent, offering ourselves compassion and unconditional love.
For those of us that are like the water- sensitive souls for whom empathy comes as naturally as breathing-we can still feel deeply and offer love, understanding, and compassion for others. The difference, I have found, is that instead of assuming the pain and the form of those I care about (a vessel which is not my own), I can rise from the ground like a tree with strong roots, feeling and taking in all that exists around me and providing emotional nourishment, comfort and shade while still remaining solid in my own form. I can do this by seeking to understand, considering others’ feelings and the implications of my actions, and then choosing to speak my truth and act from a place of authenticity in a way that is respectful of those I care about (particularly if their opinions differ), and offering love, compassion, and/or support as appropriate. I can be empathetic and feel deeply and honor those gifts without sacrificing myself in the process. By doing this, I give myself permission to be who I am and to ask for what I need. Not everyone is going to give me what I want and not everyone will stick around (particularly if they are used to my giving in for their satisfaction or comfort). But the ones who love me, the type of people that I really want and need in my life and who contribute in a positive way to my growth -those are the ones I can rely on. They will love me regardless and perhaps even more when I let them consistently and without apology see who I am at my core rather than the forms I temporarily take when I have forgotten my own strength and heart.
If you allow your gift for feeling, caring, and loving others to somehow eclipse your love of self and your own truth, you forget who you are. You get lost and your gift is for naught. Feeling deeply is often akin to being a shape shifter in some ways. Like water, you are able to change forms by moving from heart to heart, feeling as another feels and glimpsing the world through their eyes if only for a moment. In the many myths I have read (and in my own imaginings), the best shape shifters know how to deeply connect and tie in to other beings while at the same time never forgetting the center, their home base- their authentic self. This is true for water in nature as well. Water is always most powerful at its center, where it joins together and is whole, and where its true strength and beauty lies. The force of the stream or creek that meanders cannot compare with the concentrated power of the ocean or river. The same is true for us as well. By working on not inhibiting my empathetic tendencies but instead grounding them with my own center and sense of self recently, I have felt freer and more confident than I have in a long time.
So honor your gift. Flow freely without regrets and without forgetting or sacrificing who you are, as tempting as it may be at times. You may just find that you will serve those you care about more effectively by being unapologetically, inalterably you. Feel deeply and love powerfully but never, ever at the expense of yourself and you will find yourself opening up to more joy, freedom, and opportunity in this life than you may have ever thought possible.