We are all searching for healing, awareness, connection, and wholeness. Some would add love, community, and abundance to that list. But as we do so, sometimes we find ourselves in relationships where healing comes at the cost of the person helping another.
When we find facilitators and therapists who can help us heal, we value their professional services by providing funds, donations, or whatever is appropriate. However, when we find people in our lives who (knowingly or not) play similar roles, it is very likely to result in a damaging form of excessive reliance, pedestalization, and dehumanization of the person seen as ‘ strong’ or ‘ able to help’.
To love or be friends with someone you consider a nurturer, healer, facilitator, etc., you have to be careful not to take them for granted. It takes a lot of honesty to ask yourself whether you want to be with or around someone because you like the free therapy or service you are getting or whether you actually like them as a person.
If I had known this 30 years ago – my life would have been very different. It has taken me decades to understand that many people drawn to me have wanted the facilitator’s energy rather than the actual, everyday, human person with desires, needs, and personal views. And they honestly may not be able to differentiate between the two.
Human interactions with a substantial gap in perceived levels of power, competence, authority, expertise, and wisdom can be very tricky. Such interactions tend to become an entirely one-way street as the ‘ strong’ person gets used and turned into the other’s emotional dumping ground or parental projection screen.
Bear in mind that evaluations of ‘ strong’ or ‘ weak’ are entirely subjective as no one is 100% strong or weak all of the time. I’m primarily using these categories for heuristic purposes.
Some do use perceived differences in strength to encourage patterns of dependency so that they continue to feel superior or needed or indispensable. And sometimes, the person who prefers to be seen as ‘ weak’ uses covert manipulation tactics to control, gaslight, and project on the person they want help from.
Often these projections involve calling the ‘stronger’ person as controlling, bullying, or resenting them for developing what they have and guilt-tripping them to serve the other slavishly.
So it’s not that straightforward.
There is true strength in vulnerability and true tenderness in the heart of one who holds strength for another in healthy ways. These categories are not mutually exclusive.
Ultimately, strength and resiliency are things we each need to aspire to. What that looks like for each person is going to be different.
Many are conditioned into believing that they lack inner strength or are inadequate – and they then turn to others they perceive as having what they lack. Some unknowingly end up in a pattern of covert manipulation and parasitism.
Others justify it through a sense of false egoic entitlement or by convincing themselves of false narratives about the other.
The fact that one person is hurt does not give them the right, entitlement, or privilege to hurt or abuse another – even in the name of healing – even they think the other person ‘ can take it ‘ or that they don’t feel.
I’ve come across this many times in my life – even in childhood. I was always expected to be stronger, kinder, and more understanding than others.
I recall a time at school (maybe 10 or 11) when a teacher tried to blame me for defending myself against a bully. The bully kept following me up the stairwell, saying nasty things, and I refused to engage in the same way.
I said the word ‘ Likewise’ each time she said something and kept heading to class. When I didn’t break as she wanted me to, she broke down.
The teacher treated her as the victim as I wasn’t crying, and I was blamed for making her cry. In retrospect, my refusal to be her emotional dumping ground and abuse site probably forced her to see herself. I was just fed up one day and did not yield.
But did that mean that I was not hurt?
Did that mean that I did not deserve fair consideration?
Was I doing something terrible for refusing to accept abuse?
Think about it.
Just because some people externalize their vulnerability or trauma more than others does not mean that they are automatically in the right. Some people strategically use displays or expressions of trauma as a shield to justify ill-actions towards another or avert accountability.
For those new to the concept, I suggest looking up the term ‘ vulnerable narcissism’.
One day, I was trying to explain this to my Libran brother as I kept seeing people who were drawn to me because they wanted the nurture I could provide. But when I spoke up for myself or established a boundary, they would turn instantly – and sometimes savagely.
The best I could come up with was ‘ being a mountain’.
(Suprise, Surprise, for a Capricorn Sun)
And I don’t mean that in a holier than thou sense. Working with the mountain archetype is a lot of responsibility if you actually care about people.
It takes real work, awareness, and daily practice to carry a large field in this world with compassion. And to realize that not everyone can or would want to live near a much larger field than their own that challenges their perceived ego-image. And to also not let it get to your head in an egoic way.
To be a mountain is also to realize that someday, it will be ground back to the ocean.
There’s always something bigger even if, at that moment, the mountain appears to be the most prominent thing above the surface. Water will eventually cut through stone. It’s just a thing, a particular way of being that some people naturally resonate with.
Some people are mountains, others are pastures, others are rivers, others are oceans, others are planets, others are pebbles – and it’s all okay. They each have a place and intrinsic merit, and all are equally worthy of existence.
Due to internalized hierarchies and paternal attitudes, people tend to latch onto the single narrative of the lone mountain that creates an ecosystem and sustains life around it. It stands tall above the rest and shares the rarified air at its peak with the few who dare to scale its face.
This analogy is also used in religious and spiritual teachings, but not in ways I necessarily agree with.
Some people who resonate with the archetype prefer solitude and enjoy their own company most of all. Others engage in a limited capacity to help where possible. And some do exploit the natural pull or draw felt by someone who sees themselves as needing nurture when encountering someone they think’ has got it all together ‘.
But it is essential to understand that power naturally attracts energy. It comes down to your personal integrity, values, and compassion to live with it in a fair, just, and harmonious way with others without sacrificing yourself or anyone else.
Let’s get back to the mountain analogy.
Mountains are rarely, if ever, alone – even if people think the opposite of them.
They exist as part of a range or with an ecosystem that evolves around them. Whilst that can be healing and harmonious in nature, it becomes a lot trickier in human interactions.
Because if that mountain rumbles even in the slightest way, that ecosystem is going to feel it hard. We are okay with this disruption in Mother Nature, but to expect a human to play the same role is unacceptable for so many reasons.
The human-mountain ends up having to quieten or dehumanize themselves to become the desired’ function ‘ or be deemed nice, acceptable, or okay to hang out with.
Or they end up as the tyrant whose whims and fantasies twist and turn the reality of those who pedestalize and obey them.
Or they just run because they don’t want to be projected on, misunderstood, and ultimately instrumentalized.
The strength of the mountain is what people see, but they forget that it was formed through years of geological pressure, seismic activity, environmental changes, and physical trauma. It’s easy to look at a mountain and marvel at its strength, but it’s harder to recognize the process and the journey it has come through.
The same applies to people who get projected on similarly. Their narrative, identity, humanity, and journey are erased to benefit another person having an experience at that time and moment.
How is that kind, or just?
What kind of healing process does that erasure support?
Psychologists have long recognized this as the dynamic of transference as that erasure of self, or at the very least, professional detachment is part and parcel of their clinical discipline. As they’re still human, psychologists can also find themselves in states of countertransference (the other way around, in response to a patient’s transferred emotions and projections).
And it’s not always easy to maintain that detachment to do the job, even for professionals. They would not be able to do that effectively for people they see daily, be it their spouse or child, without disrupting the familial relationship.
Expecting a friend, partner, or relative to primarily play that role for another’s person’s benefit – is disruptive to interpersonal harmony and goodwill.
Whilst not to the same degree as a psychologist (in principle), every healer or facilitator will have some degree of detachment when working with clients professionally. It’s just not meant to be cut-and-paste into other kinds of relationships.
Sometimes people in vulnerable spaces end up justifying their sense of entitlement towards someone’s energy because they have made up their own story about them. They’re ‘ strong’ because they didn’t have challenges or struggles, had good parents, or had money, and therefore, they can and should play that role.
That’s a load of poppycock.
People talk about being supportive and holding space, but they don’t talk about the emotional and psychic cost of listening or witnessing. Or the muted pain of erasure.
Being ‘ strong’ doesn’t mean that you don’t hurt or that you don’t feel intense pain.
I feel so much of it when I work with clients moving through extreme trauma in their lives. Some of their stories remain with me for years afterwards. But that is part of the role, and yes, it needs to be said as such.
It’s not that ‘ strong’ people can ‘ handle it ‘; it’s just that those who are comfortable depending upon them choose to believe that.
In short: The mountain has feelings.
Indigenous cultures recognized this and declared the mountain sacred, or the elder or healer as valued and supported them in different ways – or gave them space to be.
They recognized that by being, experience, or attainment, some natural features of the world and some people occupied larger energetic fields than others, which is why the priest’s or priestess’ hut or shrine was often kept at the village’s border.
This is why, no matter how near cultures would build their villages on the top of a mountain, they left the very pinnacle as a sacred space not to be accessed or touched.
Those recognitions do not exist in contemporary society, and it is problematic to pedestalize anyone in the same way.
It’s not sustainable for the person expected to ‘ be the mountain’ and not healthy for the person dependent upon them in an extreme way. Whilst it’s good to help where you can, know that drawing limits is necessary.
Naturally, there are other aspects to this discussion, but I hope it opens the door to a conversation that may be useful. Each person has an inner equilibrium and by no means is this conversation (or any other that I have) meant to be a one-size-fits-all solution.
Much Love to all,
Dr. Bairavee The Sky Priestess
As the author of this work, I do not accept any liability arising from any and all potential effects from issuing or reading this work in any way. Anything communicated here is not intended to replace professional legal, medical, psychological, psychiatric, or financial counsel.
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© Bairavee Balasubramaniam, 2022. All rights reserved.