Meet Yourself Where You Are
When I was studying Social Work I was taught to meet the client where they were at. It sounds like ridiculously simple, common sense, but that phrase has changed how I interact with people. If you were to think of rescuing someone from a physical threat, meeting the person where they are would make complete sense. It would be obvious that to help someone who was stuck in pain or danger you would need to go to them first and then help them get beyond that point. There would be no question of this if we looked at it from a physical perspective, but when we take it out of the physical and apply it to emotional or psychological distress, we don’t always realize that the same principle applies. We don’t always realize that being in the same physical space as another person does not mean we are in the same emotional or mental space as them. We aren’t generally taught to figure out where other people are emotionally or even where we ourselves are. In fact, I would guess that most people do not conceptualize a person’s psychology as a completely separate plane of existence where that person can mentally and emotionally reside. Since this non-physical place is not often conceptualized or understood, it can be much more difficult to know how to apply the idea of meeting a person where they are in it, but it is difficult to truly connect with someone if you can’t locate them in their psychological plane of existence and difficult to truly connect with yourself if you cannot locate yourself on this plane.
This can get even more complicated because you are made up of many separate parts and each of these parts can be located in different places in this psychological plane of existence simultaneously. As an overly-simplified introduction to the idea of parts, think about your inner child compared to the you that thinks of itself as “I,” compared to the work you, compared to the you that comes out when you are with friends, etc. This shows that there are many parts of “you” and they do not always act in the same way. For the sake of simplicity, though, I will spend the remainder of this post with the idea that you can only take up one space at a time in the psychological plane, so “you” can be the dominant part that pulls the majority of your conscious focus at a specific time. If you want more detailed information about how you are made up of different parts or aspects of self, I highly recommend looking at the work by Teal Swan. Also, if you are interested in reading more about my perspective of parts here leave a comment or reach out and let me know.
There are many things that we currently misunderstand about emotional and psychological pain. One thing we don’t often realize which is pertinent to this topic is that the vast majority of people have suffered through a great deal of emotional pain by the time they reach adulthood and most of us continue to carry that pain around in our day to day lives without necessarily realizing or acknowledging it, even to ourselves. This is partially because it is so common to experience emotional distress without resolution that the commonness normalizes it and we begin to become blind to the impact that it has on us and on those around us; and it is partially because the lack of resolution and our inability to figure out how to bring about resolution makes it so that our strategy for moving forward is to ignore the pain. This combination of normalization and coping by ignoring pain leads to people having serious emotional holes (how I see it) or energetic splits (how I’ve heard it described by people who can see energy more clearly and concretely than I can). Basically, we have a world full of people walking around carrying chronic emotional wounds interacting with other emotionally wounded people as if neither one was in pain, and then being surprised when they crash into each other’s pain and create an explosive reaction which increases the level of pain for both parties and those around them.
This way of relating to each other is problematic for a number of reasons. It creates more pain and reinforces old wounds, but it also makes it harder to relate to each other or find resolution because we don’t take the time to see where we are emotionally at or where the people around us are emotionally. If we don’t recognize where we or those around us are then we won’t be able to recognize what we need or what they need and we won’t be able to make sure that those needs are met. We also won’t be able to really see ourselves or each other. This makes it harder to understand and be understood and leads to feeling isolated and alone. No one wants to feel alone and in pain, but if we are unable to recognize and locate ourselves and others then we will continue finding ourselves in this state.
In Social Work, we were learning how to help other people who were in painful situations and the lesson of meeting clients where they were meant that we needed to be careful about our assumptions. It meant that we could not expect a person who’s only experience with parenting was slapping a child for making too much noise and getting hit and screamed at when they were children to suddenly know how to nurture their own kids. It meant that we needed to recognize barriers to service, even if those barriers did not apply to us—to recognize what it is like to arrive at appointments when you are a single parent working two jobs, or relying on a tight bus schedule, or struggling to understand a language. What this boils down to is the recognition that the people you are working with have not had the same life experiences as you and should not be expected to find the same things hard or easy or obvious or right as you do. Instead, if you really want to help others, it is important to look at the world from their perspective and understand the barriers that they see so that they can be addressed in a way that is compassionate and applicable to them. Their emotional location is especially relevant to this, because if you think of a person who has an outburst of anger and recognize the amount of pressure that has been put on them by the cumulation of difficult life situations and lack of resources then you know that taking that outburst personally or reacting with greater pressure or anger is detrimental rather than helpful. If you understand where a person truly is at both emotionally and physically and can meet them with understanding in that space then you are able to build a true relationship based on trust which makes healing possible.
This is a great thing for Social Workers to know, but this post isn’t meant just for Social Workers. It is meant for people looking to grow, learn, and heal in their own lives, with the recognition that the way you relate to yourself impacts the way you will relate to your environment (and the other people who happen to be in it). From this perspective, learning to meet other people where they are is still important because it helps you understand and relate to them, but learning to meet yourself where you are at is just as important. Not recognizing where you are makes it much harder to move forward in life without tripping over all the unseen elements of your psychological landscape. Learning to see where you are and meet yourself there instead of trying to force yourself to be somewhere that you are not, is one of the greatest ways that you can improve your relationship with yourself and work through emotional pain. Meeting other people where they are means to take on their perspective so that you understand why they are reacting to things in the way that they are. Meeting yourself where you are is essentially the same thing, only it is applied to you. What this looks like concretely is noticing when you are terrified of doing something that you think you should easily be able to do and stopping to figure out what about the situation terrifies you instead of bullying yourself or forcing yourself to do it. It also looks like noticing when and why you get angry and addressing the underlying feeling of powerlessness, fear, or invalidation. It means not putting yourself in damaging situations and respecting your own abilities and limitations. Meeting yourself where you are at is seeing yourself. It is noticing what you can and cannot do and respecting that where you are is where you are, instead of pushing yourself to take on more than you are able to. It means assessing where you are going and where you want to go and allowing yourself to take manageable steps to re-direct your energy to build momentum that aligns with your desires. It is being supportive of yourself and acknowledging what it has taken for you to get where you are while recognizing what you are capable of doing now to move closer to your goals and desires. It means looking at the things you have been through, recognizing what has hurt you and being gentle with yourself as you feel that pain, just like you would be gentle with a kid who has just been hurt and is crying and needing to be held.
Meeting yourself where you are at is an extremely compassionate way of understanding where you are without judgment. It requires recognizing all the experiences that have made up your life and seeing that you could only expect to react the way that you do based on all those experiences. It also means not forcing or expecting yourself to be further along than you are. Allowing yourself to be where you are and making choices from there can help with setting realistic short-term goals that set you up to be successful because it takes the current difficulties (physical, emotional, and psychological) into account instead of ignoring them and then getting mad at yourself when they cause you harm or prevent you from moving ahead. Taking the time to meet yourself where you are instead of expecting yourself to rise up magically to some expected state, is an expression of honesty and acceptance. It is a powerful way to express compassion and understanding and re-learn how to relate to you, which can then be used to re-learn how to relate to others.
This post goes out to a general audience, so I don’t know your exact circumstances or where you might be at this moment but based on the things I’ve been feeling and seeing lately, I would not be surprised if some difficult things from the past are coming to the surface. This is a great time of expansion and growth, but it can also be an extremely difficult time. Recognizing both the growth and the challenge is how you can meet yourself where you are and compassionately take stock of what is going on and where you want to go. It is a good way to use this time and your reaction to it to locate yourself and figure out what you want and need and move gently in that direction. If this something you would like additional help with please feel free to check out the about page for more information about current services offered, or reach out to let me know what additional information would be helpful to post here.
Thank you for reading and for being here with me on this journey of growth, learning, and reaching for our highest potential.