Self & Other - Creating a Virtuous Cycle

In an effort to build and sustain healthy relationships, a core tension exists between two questions. How do I get my needs met? How do I meet the needs of the others? One view is that if I make sure my needs are met, that I will become selfish and that will undermine my ability to have healthy relationships. Another is that when I focus on serving those around me, I will become resentful, and likewise undermine my ability to have healthy relationships. 

So how do we leverage this tension between meeting our needs and the needs of others? How do we create virtuous cycles in our relationships, both personal and professional? First we need to see the bigger picture, and understand the nature of interdependence.

The tension between our needs and the needs of others is just one of many paradoxes that we experience in our everyday lives. The first step in leveraging these tensions, also known as Polarities, is seeing that what we are in is not a solvable problem with a solution. There is no perfect answer or balance point that solves the equation. Using the Polarity Map© helps to understand this dynamic.

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Using the Polarity Map of Self and Other, we use the top left quadrant to shows the benefits of focusing on ourselves. When we do this well, we become more connected with our experience, and are more able to meet our own needs. In the top right quadrant, we see that when we do a good job of focusing on others, we are better able to understand their experience of the world, and meet their needs as a result. However, when we over-focus on the experience of the other person, be that a colleague, friend, romantic partner, or even our own children, to the neglect of our own experience, we lose connection with ourselves, and can become resentful. At the same time, when we over-focus on our own needs to the neglect of the needs of other people in our lives, we become disconnected from the world, and can feel or be seen as selfish. 

We create a virtuous cycle when we can meet our needs AND the needs of others over time. The more I care for myself, the more energy and reserve I have to care for others. Also, the more I care for others, the more people I have to lean on when I need support in meeting my own needs. When we don't pay attention to this tension, or don't leverage it well, we end up creating vicious cycles. If I value taking care of others, at first I will feel great about how much I am able to give. Over time, if I'm not able to also care for myself, I will become resentful. Without caring for myself, and as this resentment builds, I will most likely act out toward those around me by either snapping at them or possibly withdrawing completely. In this acting out I become selfish. This leaves me with less people that want to support me, which in turn makes me more resentful. The same is true in reverse. If I only care for myself, I'll eventually be seen as selfish by those around me. I'll have fewer and fewer people to call on to get my needs met, and then become resentful of others. These vicious cycles become highly destructive, and are experienced as chronic conflict.

Seeing this whole reality is the first step in creating the possibility of choice. It is not focusing on myself that is selfish in and of itself. It is not focusing on others that makes us resentful. It is doing either of these to the neglect of the other over time that causes problems and conflict. Whenever we see this as an either/or, whatever we choose is unsustainable alone. We can only meet our needs to the neglect of the needs of other for so long before we are seen as selfish, and damage the relationship. Also, we can only focus on fulfilling the needs of others in our lives for so long before we become resentful, which also damages the relationship. 

The key to creating a virtuous cycle is understanding how to meet our needs AND the needs of others in a dynamic balance over time. That is to say there will be times that we need to be fully invested in getting our needs met. This is normal, and required for growth. There will also be times where we need to be fully invested in the needs of others. This is also normal, and also required for growth. Knowing how to notice EARLY that we are becoming resentful allows us to course correct and take care of ourselves in the ways we need to feel centered. Noticing EARLY that we aren't connected with the needs of those around us allows us to engage them and foster connection. When we can both meet our needs AND the needs of others in dynamic balance, we create a virtuous cycle that allows our relationships to thrive.

These virtuous cycles increase our quality of life both at work and at home.

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