There’s a bizarre character (one of many) created by Dr Seuss’ strange mind, it’s called the push-me-pull-you. It’s a sort of horse-like creature with a head at either end, so whenever it moves its going both forwards and backwards.
I’ve encountered a number of occasions when I’ve felt very much like that character – a kind of pulling in all directions where I seem to be needed by disparate people in equal measure.
It’s difficult to be in those circumstances – almost impossible to have a moment inside a circling storm of need, emotion and want where you can find your centre instead of being it.
There’s a lot of tossing around of the word co-dependent (well, I guess it depends where you listen and who you talk to – I happen to know loads of psychologists, both professional and ‘self-taught’). The word loosely describes a person who needs to be needed, with a bit more need than usual. We all want to be loved and needed, so it’s a natural thing, but the co-dependency puts your very self esteem in line with how much you are needed.
I can relate to that and would probably hate it if there came a day where nobody needed me. I would, however, prefer to be wanted, rather than needed. The opposite of co-dependency. Maybe that’s just dependency, but then that also opens you up to all sorts of dealing with other people’s stuff issues.
Need puts me as the ribbon tied in the middle of a tug-of-war rope. Want puts me on the sideline cheering. Perhaps its semantics, but it does adequately describe the feeling of being torn between intense need.
But the need often feels like obligation and puts you under so much pressure. Imagine for a moment that you’ve planned a lazy Saturday where you’re determined to stay in your pyjamas and potter around the house with good music, heavenly coffee and some indulgently delicious pastries (which you picked up the day before), after waking up later than usual. You may have planned to plant a few extra herbs in the veggie patch and perhaps watch an old movie playing on TV. Maybe later you’ll open a bottle of wine and watch the sun go down.
But, your phone rings you awake, earlier than your usual weekly wakening time and on the other end is a demand for attention. Whatever the early morning crisis is, it means you have to jump out of bed and get dressed without the luxury of a long shower. Once that’s over, you’ll return home to see if you can reinstate your lazy day. As your coffee bubbles into readiness, another phone call threatens your almost-achieved peace. And this time it’s someone who needs to come over for some needy reason or another. So, you add more coffee to the pot and cut your pastries into smaller bites so they’re ready for sharing. While you’re waiting, you receive a number of sms messages and perhaps a phone call or two.
It doesn’t sound so very hard, but what if the people who are phoning and needing you don’t really gel well together? What if you have to constantly choose who you’re going to favour that day? What if you can’t choose and so you end up frazzled and impossibly exhausted after you’ve soothed, dealt with, helped or shown love to all parties?
That’s what happens when you love and are loved. I’m working on being selfish. I’m working on loving myself more so I don’t end up with momentarily satisfied people not needing me while I try to gather myself into a bundle resembling who I think I am.
Perhaps it’s my fault – perhaps I need to learn to push people to fly on their own. Is being on the wrong end of co-dependency a pathology of its own?