True Story: One rainy afternoon a few years ago, I was driving into Seattle for a networking event when my husband called me from his office in Tacoma. As I listened to him, I noted the barely perceptible panic in his voice: something unexpected had come up, and he needed the car for an off-site meeting. Since I was in the car, traveling up I-5 at 65mph in the opposite direction from him, he clearly had a problem.
There was a time when I would have sighed, said, "I'll be right there," and gotten off at the next exit and turned around. He called me with a problem; I had to save the day, right? I would have felt mildly annoyed but, in a twisted way, virtuous for having come to his rescue and fixed his problem. (And my strong introvert side would have felt relieved... no networking event!)
But that's not how this story ends. I listened to him and said, "Oh dear, I'm sorry to hear that. How else can you get to the meeting?"
We brainstormed some solutions for a moment, he said, "I'll figure it out," and we hung up. And I forgot about the conversation until I got home later that evening.
It was a true turning point for me. It was one of the first times I'd intentionally taken a concept I learned in coach training and put it into practice personally:
To see and hold others as whole, capable and resourceful.
While the three words are simple, the concept is a game-changer.
If I choose to hold someone else as whole, capable and resourceful, I see that person not as someone to rescue, but a person to respect. Not broken, but healthy. Not helpless, but self-reliant. Not clueless, but creative.
So when I listen to my husband and don't assume I need to swoop in and make it all better, I am respecting his capacity to solve his problem. I offer support and empathy, but I don't have to abandon my own priority to take care of his. I trust that he can handle it (which increases his trust in himself). And I don't assume my solution is his solution.
Admittedly, this is a fairly simple example, and not a lot was at stake. How can we put this into practice in more complicated situations? And why is this important to introverts in particular?
Being "The Fixer" is a role many of us slip into, regardless of whether we're introverted or extroverted. Introverts who tend to lean this way might do so because they feel relief when attention shifts from them to a problem to fix. Much of being a healthy, happy introvert is about managing our energy. To do that, we need to establish boundaries: around our quiet time, our work spaces, our social interaction. And depending on our personality, we might find those boundaries frequently being violated because of our equal need to be of service or to feel like we have a clear sense of purpose.
Therefore, whether the situation is simple or complex, it's the perfect opportunity to practice establishing a boundary of compassionate detachment, one that allows us to be present for someone without getting roped into the drama. Here's how:
1. Release the idea that you need to fix the person or solve the problem. Let go of "The Fixer" identity. Be present and curious, without going into rescue mode.
2. Soften your presence (your eyes, mouth, hands, shoulders). Rather than brace yourself to take action, breathe, relax, and listen without judgment or analysis.
3. Remind yourself that the other person is an intelligent, resourceful human being, capable of handling the situation.
4. Give her the gift of your attention, space to think, and your belief she can figure it out.
5. Come from curiosity. Ask: "What options do you have?" "When have you been in this situation before, and what did you do then?" "What's most important right now?" "Do you want me to do some brainstorming with you?" "What would support you best right now?" Create a space in which the other person feels supported, seen, and heard, while encouraging her take the lead in finding resolution.
6. If you do give advice or offer to help, do so without attachment. Let the other person decide what she needs.
I can hear some of you now: "Yeah, that would work with a person who has it together, but it wouldn't work for my crisis-oriented, super-needy brother/co-worker/mother-in-law."
I'll grant you this: there are some people who have certain life challenges that may make it seem difficult -- if not impossible -- for you to see them as whole, capable, and resourceful. Try anyway. Find ways to see past the surface issues and speak to their higher self, the one that longs to be respected and cherished, to be seen as capable. Discern what's going to serve the situation best; sometimes a rescue is required. But always question that assumption.
Here's the bottom line: When we treat others with dignity and respect, they often rise to the occasion, whether they believe in their own capacity or not.
Your belief in them inspires belief in themselves. This allows you to be present and compassionate without giving away your power.
It takes time to build this muscle. Start by noticing when you jump into rescue mode, and practice solving the problem with, rather than for, the other person. Gradually release any feeling of responsibility for their solution, and instead focus on how you can create a supportive space that empowers the other person to own the solution.
Carl Jung concluded, "As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being." You don't have to stamp out the darkness; simply be the gentle light that shines on the brilliance of others, so they can discover that brilliance for themselves.