Last weekend I was on a new two day course for gay men called “Who Am I”. I led a meditation session at the start of the Saturday session and then participated for the rest of the workshop. As gay men we know what it is to feel lonely, cut off and a sense of not being ok in our own skin and these two days created a safe space where men could connect and be open and honest together as we explored identity, how we create ourselves and how to find a happier way of being that connects us to our key values.
Needs and wants
One of the points the facilitator covered was the distinction between needs and wants. Wants being a surface level desire whereas needs can be seen as a deeper level of what really nourishes us. What I want may not be fully in line with what I need, so only by connecting more deeply to what it is that I need can I know what action is most likely to lead to a sense of fulfilment. An example would be of wanting lots of random, one off and non comital encounters with other men when there may be a deeper need of connection, nurturing and care.
On the workshop we were invited to consider what our core needs are, which will in turn reveal what our core values are. So if nurturing connection is a core need it shows that what we value is closeness, intimacy and trust. We can then look at who we have in our life and who we tend to meet as friends and for relationships and reflect on if we are meeting others who meet these core needs and values. Some people will automatically meet these needs, without us needing to ask them, whilst others will not meet these needs and leave us with a sense of lack. The workshop explored ways of discovering what our core needs and values are and how to act in ways that allow us to experience them more fully in our lives.
Another aspect that was explored was how some parts of our self were locked away as a child. We may have learnt that being caring to a parent and always active received praise. Whereas spending time relaxing or doing things just for ourselves was called lazy or self-indulgent and disapproved of and called selfish. The ‘lazy’ and ‘selfish’ aspects of ourself were then disowned and pushed into the shadow and by the time we are an adult we feel we are only of worth if we are caring for others and being constantly active.
The easiest way to discover what you have cut off from in yourself is to look at what you find annoying in others. When this hypothetical ‘caregiver’ described above meets a ‘carefree’ type who has an attitude of enjoying the day by making time to relax and do nothing, and moreover does not focus all their attention on helping others but makes time to relax and do fun things just for themselves, the ‘caregiver’ will very likely feel angry, and consider the ‘carefree’ one as a lazy, selfish and bad person. Ironically we often find we are attracted to people who have the thing we have cut off from….and initially it is this difference we like as it provides a way to connect with a part of ourselves we have denied, but then in time we try to change the other person to ‘fix’ this part of them so they become more how we think they ought to be. So the ‘caregiver’ tries to get their ‘carefree’ partner to take more responsibility and think more about helping and doing good.
Healing through relationship
There’s a saying in therapy that “we are wounded in relationship and we heal in relationship”. But we only heal if we become conscious of what is happening in the dynamic between us and another. Otherwise we risk deepening the wound by just repeating old dysfunctional patterns of behaviour. The ‘caregiver’ is drawn to the ‘carefree’ and makes it a project to care for them – when they have not even asked for it. Then the caregiver just repeats the pattern of childhood and eventually feels resentment that the other is not returning the care. Like wise the carefree one sees in the care giver the part of themselves that have cut off from of the responsible and sensible person and feels a draw to it as it is the part they have denied in themselves…..but then feels annoyed by it latter! And thus the wound just gets deeper rather than being healed.
To heal one needs to look at what the relationships in our life are showing us, how they may act as mirrors to be able to look at what we have put behind us in our shadow.
Ask yourself what you find most annoying in your partner or as characteristics in others. Consider if this trait was also what first attracted you to a partner of friend but is now something you wish you could change in them. Then ask yourself if you remember making this particular quality or way of behaving wrong for yourself at some point as a child.