I was climbing with a friend, Joey Redman, at Tennessee Wall many years ago. Joey was leading a beautiful route called Cakewalk, a crack climb with a small roof and crux about halfway up the route. Joey climbed confidently to the roof, but then struggled to climb through the crux. He’d climb into the crux, fall off, and get frustrated. I was eager to climb and was impatient with how much time it was taking him. I offered to lead the route. Joey agreed, so I lowered him to the ground. I led the pitch and Joey followed, climbing through the crux without falling.
How Can I Help?
In a previous lesson we outlined a progression for improving communication in relationships. We concluded that when we want to support others it’s helpful to ask “How can I help?” “Helping” however, can be misunderstood. We can become dependent on each other, reinforce our weaknesses, and thwart the learning process.
“Helping” may be interpreted differently depending on whether it’s done from a victim’s or warrior’s perspective. Each perspective is affected by one’s ego and motivation, and the behaviors they produce.
Helpless Victim & Helpful Hero
Victims have egos that need validation and reinforcement. They interact in a relationship in ways that satisfy their own needs, which shifts support away from the relationship and satisfies their egos.
Motivated by comfort, victims avoid struggling and stress. They also get frustrated and act impatient. These behaviors thwart learning and growth for themselves and any relationship they’re in.
Victims interact in relationships by cooperating in codependent ways. Typically, one person plays the helpless victim while the other plays the helpful hero. They depend on each other and perpetuate behaviors that reinforce their egos.
This is what Joey and I did. Joey behaved by playing the helpless victim, getting frustrated and seeking comfort by escaping the situation. I behaved by playing the helpful hero, being impatient and seeking comfort by taking over the role of leading the route. We cooperated in a mutually dependent way that didn’t allow Joey to remain engaged and learn.
Warrior Approach Using Awareness
Conversely, warriors look for ways to develop awareness of limiting aspects of the ego. They interact in a relationship in ways that satisfy the needs of the relationship, which keep them focused on seeking ways to support each other.
Motivated by stress, warriors welcome struggling and staying engaged. They’re curious and patient. These behaviors support learning and growth for themselves and the relationships they’re in.
Warriors interact in relationships by cooperating in interdependent ways. Neither person plays helpless victim nor helpful hero. Rather, they participate in behaviors that reinforce their relationship.
Awareness helps us break out of victim codependency. The people playing the helpless victim role become aware of their dependence on being rescued. The people playing the helpful hero role become aware of their dependence on rescuing others. With awareness they can find ways to stay engaged in the struggle.
Joey reflected on his experience. He told me that he wished I would have let me struggle with it a little longer. He was aware that he lost an opportunity to learn and that I had contributed to taking that opportunity away from him. Joey’s awareness helped us begin to support each other in an interdependent way, to be warriors.
Warriors pay attention to the struggle itself so they can notice things they can do to support the struggle of others. Rather than playing the helpless victim, they can notice if there’s too much stress, seek ways to diminish it, so they can process it and learn. Rather than playing the helpful hero, they can notice how stressed others are, give suggestions to diminish stress, and help them redirect their attention to the task so they can learn.
Joey and I realized that we could act as warriors. I could remain patient, allowing him time to struggle; he could remain curious, allowing himself time to learn. We would cooperate in an interdependent way to support his learning.
Practice Tip: Interdependent Helping
Warriors know stress is necessary for learning. So, instead of being rescued from stress or rescuing others from stress, interact in ways that are interdependent.
If you need help, don’t play the helpless victim. Be aware of how stressed you are, whether or not you can process that level of stress, and how you need to be supported so you can stay engaged and learn.
If you want to provide help, don’t play the helpful hero. Be aware of how much stress the other is experiencing, make suggestions for diminishing stress if needed, and help redirect their attention to the task.