I was flipping through The Way of Woman by Helen Luke looking for something completely different, when this quote jumped out at me:
“…to reveal ourselves, our thoughts and feelings to someone who does not understand our basic values is not only pointless – it exposes us to invasion by superficial attitudes and literally corrupts or steals away our energy, dissipating it, or imprisoning it, so that we have nothing left to give to the true relationship.” – Helen Luke
I found myself whispering that inner “yes!” that happens when we discover something that resonates as truth within us.
I like to call this phenomenon Barking Up the Wrong Tree.
By that, I mean continuously approaching people that you know will not be able to provide you with the type of support that you are looking for. Perhaps, as Ms. Luke says above, it is because those people do not share your same underlying values.
This is something that comes up with my clients fairly frequently. The clients I tend to attract, and love working with, are typically the ones who go against the grain in some way. They are the wild feminine voices ringing out in the halls of traditional, masculine power structures.
And because of that, there are not as many people who can meet them at their level or who see eye to eye with them. Their friends or family might consider their views a little “out there”. Too soft. Too idealistic. Too weird.
What can happen when we share our most intimate truths with these people is that they are unable to help us hold it. It falls flat to the floor at their feet. They may even carelessly step on it. Belittle us. Or ever so subtly, infuse us with this insidious self-doubt that can take days to shake off simply because they don’t share our values.
While getting different perspectives can sometimes be helpful, and is necessary in creating a functional society, continually seeking out the wrong people to support us in the endeavors that are closest to our hearts is a form of cruelty to ourselves.
It is taking the softest, most vulnerable and true part of yourself and entrusting it to someone that you know will not be able to cherish it in the way that you need or deserve.
That’s not to say that you have to cut off relationship entirely with these folks in your life, though that is an option. Instead, venture to know who will be able to provide you with the type of support that you are looking for in any given moment. There will be people who love to celebrate your accomplishments, but feel wildly uncomfortable holding you in your pain. There will be those who fully understand your values and your mission in the world, and those who don’t get it at all but still love you in the only way they know how.
To stop barking up the wrong tree requires you to know the people in your life well enough to be able to discern who is who. To acknowledge each individual’s strengths and weaknesses, and to call on them accordingly. To accept that the capacity to hold space varies greatly from person to person. No one is perfect and no one person can be everything to you.
While some relationships are not meant to be salvaged, and the healthiest thing you can do is to cut the cord entirely, that may not always be necessary. Or it might not be something you are willing to do. But continuing to hold out hope that this other person will suddenly change or show up differently only sets you up for disappointment time and again.
In these situations, it can be a powerful form of self-inquiry to ask why you continue to bark up the wrong tree? Why do you continue to seek out support from people that you know will not able to provide it?
Often, these people mirror our inner critic (or some version of it) back to us, which is why it can be extra triggering…because on some level, we believe them. We already carry their voices within us; they are speaking our secret fears out loud.
What I have found is that when you get the support and intimacy that you truly need, regardless of the source, it begins to fill your inner well. From that more nourished place, you feel more clarity on which relationships are worth saving, even if they are not everything you desire them to be. You will cease to expect more from the relationship than what the other person is able to give, thereby freeing you both.
There is a maturity in that. Acknowledging and valuing your own needs, realizing that those needs can be met in a variety of ways, and actively seeking out support that you need from those who are able to provide it.