May 10, 2019
Readying ourselves for emotional learning: part 2 - Letting go and resisting control freakery!
Last week I wrote about getting ready for learning, emotional learning especially, by preparing to cope with not knowing, and moreover to move towards newness with delight and enthusiasm! I have learnt so much about this from my colleagues and friends, Terry and Beatriz Sheldon. They have come to deliver what promises to be a fabulous workshop in Birmingham, UK in their only workshop outside North America this year.
As promised, I'm writing today about letting go of trying to control others' learning journey. This second challenge which I avoided last week by breaking the article into two parts... because frankly, it is harder to share; harder to practice and harder to admit to. I mentioned during the last article that just by writing these articles, I’m pretty much failing to practice it. But here’s hoping that by writing about it, it will set me free on the day!
Clearly, being intensely interested in the emotional learning journey that others are on is a huge part of my work and life. I'm passionate and driven to move forwards with creating resources, workshops, events, and communities, that will help people on with their emotional learning. However, to be truly successful at helping other people to move forwards, we also have to be experts in letting go. The more I get attached to, hold onto the route, destination or way they travel, the less successful will be their journey. Isn’t that fascinating!
I have experienced the opposite to this first hand, on many many occasions! There are trainers who dictate the learning journey, who use control where they need to be regulating their own struggles. My polite name for those who do this is the ‘truth and the way brigade’. Acting as if there is one route, one way, one truth for all. Dogmatism over pragmatism. You can see that there are many who suggest one way, a five point plan that always works, the new thing that will change you life, the answer to all your questions, that this applies in many arenas. I will just say here, what destructive nonsense.
Oh, it is so much easier to complain about others than to face my own stuff but here goes. It too is my challenge, one that I face every time I run core training groups, workshops, lectures, write blogs or webinars. I have lots to say, and much to offer, but I have to let go of trying to control the journey that others are on. Here, this is an easy fail because I’m organising and hosting this workshop, so it is my responsibility of course to co-facilitate - to ensure that practicalities and emotional issues are dealt with to ensure there is a positive learning environment for all.
However, I can take this to a whole new level. Mind-reading whether people are finding it helpful, reading their body language and their words, and fast forwarding to consequences I cannot really predict. And quite often it isn’t really helpful, it’s a signal that I’m anxious and that I may well be not paying careful and close enough attention to what is going on within me.
Health professionals want to help people - doh, of course they do! However, there are some downsides. Abbass & Schubiner (2018) wrote "Many of us, if not most of us, went into health professions out of a conscious or unconscious wish to heal or help family members in our own past. Because of this drive to help and fear of being unhelpful, health professionals will react strongly to being in positions where they cannot help..."
And because we don't like being unable to help, we have defensive responses to this. One is omnipotence. I call these my "I can help everyone" moments. One way this translates when we are training other health professionals is to get over-involved, highly active and controlling of the journey.
And how does this translate in practice - well do any of us like it when we get micro-managed or over controlled?
People switch off their own capacity, shut down to their own experience, get passive and learn less and less.
Focus on others instead of noticing ourselves, our journey
I am not alone in this. A significant proportion of us hold back from asking questions, sharing ideas or comments because we are busy predicting whether others will find it helpful. There is a social value in this of course, it is important not to dominate, not to hurt others, to be connected to the group experience as well as our individual experience. But, we also need to be mindful of ensuring a balance - that we are respecting the group experience and being open to emotional learning, and emotional closeness with ourselves and with the group. A dominant focus on the other, prevents the very thing we have rocked up to achieve in a workshop - development within ourselves..
Remaining respectful and kind, but letting go of the focus being on the other, will generally help us. If I open to my emotional experience within, and share something of it between us, when it feels right, this builds the emotional learning. Emotions are about communication between us, not navel gazing within us. When I reflect on my learning from workshops over the years - what I remember most is what I shared.
The most effective learning journeys require a position of letting go and of opening to what our experience and emotion evokes in others.
- Sharing pain, receiving empathy;
- Sharing distress, receiving love;
- Sharing anger, receiving solidarity;
- Sharing playfulness, receiving delighted crinkly eyed smiles.
Being truly open to newness means we reveal and go to a different place that isn’t expected or isn’t known or hasn’t been experienced before, it might feel weird or unusual or brilliant or painful. Being truly open to newness means we are open to our path going to unexpected places and we don’t know, don’t control where the other is going either.
Readying ourselves for emotional learning means readying ourselves for a truly unique experience which creates ripple effects we cannot control.
With openness to not knowing and letting go of others emotional journey... I may just be as ready as I can be for the journey I will be invited to step into tomorrow.