Role and Relationship
June 24, 2014
“ I missed you. I am glad you’re back.”
I heard these words a few times when I returned from a recent vacation. I have probably heard them before, but this time I really heard them, and I paid attention to them in a new way.
Why did I hear them differently? Because a friend of mine in another helping profession told me that when she returned to her work setting after surgery, all she heard was how much work was waiting for her and how it was hoped that she would catch up as quickly as possible. No one said anything about missing her, about being glad she was back. It really hurt her, she said. She felt like she was just filling a role there at the work place.
I didn’t feel that way when people said they missed me. I believed that they missed me, Amy. I believed that they cared about me and the relationship they have with me. Even if I have a role in their lives, friend, therapist, spiritual director, boss, I still was touched by the comment and thought about how important it is to be missed for who you are, for the relationship you have with people.
The difference as I see it is between filling a role in someone’s life and being in relationship with someone. People feel invisible when they are viewed solely as filling a role. “He could be married to anyone,” I’ve heard women say in my office. “As long as there is someone to watch the kids, keep the house, and keep him sexually satisfied, it wouldn’t really matter who it is.” Whether this is actually true or not I don’t know, but when one begins to feel like nothing more than a role, trouble is sure to strike. Often the breadwinner in a family will complain about the feeling that they are seen as just a paycheck. They do not feel known or cared about for who they are. They do not feel like their vocational or recreational desires matter. Just keep bringing home that paycheck. These are roles that we play.
Being treated like a role is one problem. The corresponding problem is playing the role. Not communicating about feelings, thoughts and opinions, not insisting that one’s feeling and thoughts are important and deserve to be honored contributes just as much to the problem. It always takes two to play the game of role or relationship. Both parties are usually culpable. Why are you treating someone like they are just a role? Why are you playing a role?
Of course there are appropriate times to assume a role. We do have roles that we take on, and sometimes even when we don’t feel like it, it is good to remember that we must assume a role. We must be the mother, father, daughter, son, boss, colleague, friend, wife, husband, lover. But we are always more than our roles. We are more layered and complex than any role we assume or are given. If we are mindful, we can bring to those roles the essence of who we are and in doing that we may feel more integrated and centered. We feel less like we are acting a part and more like the part is a part of us!
Pay attention to the people who matter in your life. Care about them for who they are and get to know what is going on inside of them. Court the essence of who they are. Also, treat yourself like you matter. Insist on being known. Bring more of you into your relationships.
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