Within the past century in the West we have become consumed with a more individualistic way of life. Self-reliance and independence have become increasingly valued. As a result we have learnt to look inwards for the solutions to our problems and purpose.
There is certainly worth in looking inwards to better understand ourselves (introspection). However, it’s becoming increasingly important that we remember the importance of balance.
By looking inwards, through self reflection or someone else’s support we can become familiar with our beliefs and values. We can come to understand how our actions are affected by our feelings. This can help us to make some sense of our own stories or liberate us from a perspective we were stuck in without realising.
If we become absorbed with looking inwards alone, we may fail to understand others and our relation to them. So we need to find balance.
As a result of cultural pressures to be self-reliant we might also blame ourselves for any lack of progress. This can bring us to a painful place where we feel stuck or trapped and isolate ourselves from others.
Understanding others and our place within our family, relationships and community requires us to practice empathy and look outwards as well as inwards. We might call this Outrospection*)
Without this we can start to see others as obstacles in our path and we might become more self absorbed without realising. Similarly if we become focused solely on helping others we might neglect our own health or needs.
The idea of achieving insight into a feeling or problem is a common one, but we may have become over reliant on this idea. Again with insight we see the suggestion that the answers to our problems are all internal.
Whilst it may sound a little woolly, at times shifts in feelings can occur through the process of relating to someone rather than digging around inside for insight. Insight can at times require us to dig around looking for a concrete solution to a fluid problem.
The act of relating and connecting allows us to constantly explore in a state of uncertainty until something shifts. This is also one of the elements of how therapy works.
Low moods and lost balance
Experiencing low moods, depression or other mental health issues can dramatically upset the balance in our outlook. It often makes us stuck looking inwards, unintentionally becoming self-absorbed as a result.
Naturally, if you are struggling with your moods and feeling more sensitive you are likely to be more preoccupied with how you are feeling. It’s natural to be less aware of your relationships if you are hyperaware of your own stuff or consumed with your feelings.
This combined with the natural inclination to withdraw ourselves from people when we feel low can give others the impression we have little interest in their lives.
This might begin to build resentment or simply give the impression that our relationship is a one way street. Should this become a cycle it can bring about a gradual decline in relationships as misunderstandings and ill feeling build.
In return as the one struggling with your feelings, you may experience this distancing of friends or family as some kind of proof. Proof that there must be something wrong with you or that you are always being let down.
Blame from both sides
This dynamic can at times lead to blame from both sides, and the slow slide of once healthy relationships. Spending time with someone with feelings of self-loathing or who is persistently negative, without losing patience or presence, is very challenging. There should be no shame in admitting this and no guilt brought in being the supported party.
If there is one guarantee in life, it is that we will all need someone’s support at times in our life. There are no medals or plaudits for going through dark times unsupported. However, if you support someone through dark times and allow them to feel heard when others judge or blame, it will likely be remembered.
As the great Maya Angelou said ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel’
Knowing this can help those supporting someone to understand that this lack of interest is often not intentional. Knowing this can allow us to be more forgiving and compassionate as a result.
Whilst it may also allow those who are struggling, to understand the reason people may seem distant, rather than think they are somehow unworthy of friendship. Open, honest dialogue and a willingness to cope with uncomfortable feelings can be powerful in maintaining and even strengthening bonds during times of distress.
The problem with only looking outward
As with introspection there are major benefits to our ability to use Outrospection on both a personal, local and global level. We can learn to understand others better, become more empathetic and develop closer bonds.
We can feel part of something bigger than ourselves through a sense of community. Outrospection and empathy are absolutely requirements if we wish to better understand people close to us.
Without some sense of balance, some knowledge of the self, we are unaware of beliefs or feelings which may hold us back.
If we struggle with feelings of low self-worth, we may have a powerful need to put others before ourselves. This can then lead us to become burnt out.
Many who are experiencing distressing periods or events find renewed purpose through a desire to help others. Clearly this is no bad thing, but without balance it can impact heavily upon our own well being.
Without our own wellbeing we can’t help others
We have to consider that without well being we can’t help others, and without being able to help, we lose this new sense of purpose. For some it is simply too difficult or painful to look inwards, so looking outwards becomes a way of coping.
We may be more likely to seek worth through pleasing others and disregarding ourselves. In a way we might start to lose a sense of our own identity and instead define ourselves by the help we can offer.
Perhaps it’s too painful to look inwards at the things bringing you shame or anxiety. Too difficult to accept that you deserve some good in life, or your relationships are disintegrating and you don’t know why. If that’s the case maybe it’s time to seek out some support to help you in restoring some balance.
Here’s a helpful summary :
- Be aware those who are struggling may at times be unintentionally self-absorbed. Try to be compassionate towards this.
- Perhaps someone you are close to repeatedly turns down social engagements. Try to look beyond yourself and show concern without taking this personally.
- Understand that shame and blame are destructive in relationships.
- Be aware that your health is just as important as the health of others. You cannot continually support others without some support for yourself.
- Realise that your world view and beliefs can keep you stuck in a painful place if you aren’t aware of them.
- Accept that all of us will require support at many points in life.
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*As defined by Roman Krznaric in Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution