I’ve come back from two back-to-back relationship conferences with a full head. These were the best kinds of events, where I both taught the things I know and also was challenged with some ideas that I hadn’t come across before. In some cases I had come across them before, but because of the focus of some of the discussion groups (separated by gender in some cases, a practice I normally abhor) I saw them in a different or deeper light.
At the conference, a wise woman was talking about this same process in relationships, talking about working through problem areas. She used the metaphor of a stove, explaining how when you burn yourself on a stove, yes, you learn it’s hot, but you don’t stop cooking. “You gotta eat!” she exclaimed to the laughter of the class.
By extrapolation, if you see yourself in some kind of destructive pattern in your life, it doesn’t mean that you give up. A friend of mine is going through this process as she benefits from therapy. She is discovering patterns in her life that she identifies as counter to what she wants, and in doing so gains the first step in being able to change them. It doesn’t necessarily mean that she will fix everything overnight; it simply means that she can at least see where her choices are resulting in the patterns, and perhaps start to pick and choose which actions she wants to keep and which she doesn’t. Basically, it’s learning how to fine-tune the stove, which pans to use, and at what point to take the food off so that it tastes the best.
At that point the metaphor kind of gets ridiculous, but I’m hoping you get the idea. I certainly did in the class, but at the same time it was troubling me. I could easily see how it applied to some of my own experiences and difficulties with trusting partners in regards to their feelings, but somehow the cooking metaphor wasn’t fitting.
Surrender vs. Survival
It comes down to two very different concepts that are often labeled with the same word: trust. We’ll talk more about them Friday, but for now, basically stipulate that there is a big difference between these two statements:
I trust you not to hurt me.
I trust that when you hurt me I’ll get over it.
The latter is, frankly, not trust in another person at all, but rather in yourself. And unfortunately it’s where I defaulted to for far too long after a series of unpleasant endings in relationships.
To go back to the cooking metaphor, after getting burned several times by the stove I didn’t learn how to manage the burners, I just stopped cooking.
“But ya gotta eat!” said the teacher in the class, and that’s when I realized that the stove metaphor for the patterns in your life isn’t necessarily the only one that applies.
I realized that for me it was more like Charlie Brown and Lucy playing football. Over and over she would urge, cajole, persuade, even seduce him into trying to kick that football. And every time – at least, every time she sees him coming – she pulls it away, and he misses it.
At a certain point, one would think, Charlie Brown would stop showing up on the field. Because while you gotta eat, you don’t gotta play football. And even if you love the game, if it’s feeling destructive, then just leaving the field altogether may be the smartest decision.
Stove? Or football? The metaphor you pick will help you figure out if you’re doggedly persistent or just dogged…