You love certain people in your life deeply. Your family, dear friends, partner or team. They’re so precious to you that when something goes wrong in their lives, it affects you too. And for those you care most strongly for, you’d do anything to help them be the happiest version of themselves.
Only… what happens when that care starts to feel like being squashed, controlled or criticized?
Today I want to share an incredibly vulnerable and moving example of this kind of support in action. It’s a story of love through one of the most painful possible times. And it’s also filled with hope, and the wisdom which came from it.
Here’s what Liz Gilbert taught me about balancing our desire to help with respecting the freedom of those you love.
Liz Gilbert, Mother, and the Alpha Wolf
Before we dive in, let me give a bit of background – just in case you’re not as much of a fan of this writer as I am.
Liz Gilbert’s a globally renowned author, speaker and teacher. She’s one of my favourite writers, both for her incredible fiction and her teachings around love, fulfilment and creativity. As well a being the bestselling author of Eat, Pray Love and Big Magic and her latest novel, City of Girls, she’s a passionate advocate for social justice.
In 2016, she celebrated publically the news that a new relationship had blossomed in her life – with her best friend of 15 years, Rayya Elias. Tragically, the trigger for this awakening was Rayya’s diagnosis with terminal cancer. And in January 2018, Rayya died.
The time up to and following Rayya’s death is one about which Liz has been astonishingly lucid, vulnerable and raw about sharing in many of her public posts, talks and appearances.
Caring for a terminally ill partner is a devastating process. And I’m awed by how open Liz has been in sharing what she learned.
First, as a tribute to her fierce and beautiful partner. And secondly, as a profound lesson in the ways we can support and care for those we love, whilst honouring their independence and individuality.
The Mother in relationships
When we’re in a mode of caring and nurturing, the Women’s PowerType we tend to draw on is Mother.
She’s the archetypal version of the strongest Mothering instinct – unconditionally loving, gentle, and powerfully protective of those in her care.
When does Mother help?
There are 5 Women’s PowerTypes™, and Mother might not be the first to spring to mind when it comes to your partner.
But the PowerTypes are archetypes – embodiments of certain ways of being – not literal descriptions. And there are times, in any relationship, that Mother energy is what’s needed.
- When you or your partner are feeling hopeless, uncared for and small. We all need unconditional love from time to time, no matter what’s been going on.
- When you or your partner are feeling vulnerable or unsafe – craving a sense of home, safety, being nurtured and nourished.
- In times of sickness or exhaustion. Mother is the perfect energy in which to rest and feel cared for.
Just as Mother can be the most effective guide to caring for ourselves, bringing out the best in our team members or helping friends through tough times, so she can be a powerful support in relationships.
And for Liz, navigating the unthinkable – Rayya’s terminal illness and loss of independence – it was naturally an energy which came to the fore.
In a moving podcast for The Moth, called The Alpha Wolf, she shared some of the ways she moved into that caring role.
“I made plans to take care of her… and my whole planning was based on this idea that I was powerless to stop her from dying but by God, I was going to make sure that she had the gentlest, the safest and the most enlightened, the most cushioned death that a human being could possibly have.”
And yet, Rayya – the recipient of her care – was a reluctant – in fact a defiantly resistant patient. She didn’t want to be cosseted and cushioned; she insisted on continuing to live as she always had, right up until the end.
Here’s the beautiful, and even funny way Liz observes and pays tribute to that rebellion.
“She didn’t want to talk to the bereavement counselor that I brought to her house. She wanted to watch football afternoon with her nephews. I made her all this beautiful organic food to keep her as healthy as we could keep her, and she didn’t want it. She wanted to live on Oreos and cigarettes and did live almost exclusively on Oreos and cigarettes for a solid year past her original expiration date. And of course I got her to sign up with hospice, because I wanted to make sure that she had the best and safest quality homecare… and then Rayya got kicked out of hospice.”
There’s such humour, in that description of what must have included some really painful moments.
Overexpressed Mother in action
What Liz has picked up on is the way that Mother energy can sometimes run the risk of going into overdrive. “Overexpressed” Mother energy begins to show up as possessive, controlling or inappropriately ”fussy”.
It also starts to swallow your own resources.
And the situation doesn’t have to be extreme as Liz’s for this to be true.
Maybe you care so deeply about your team that you find yourself losing sleep over their personal lives.
Or you’re so concerned about your friend’s finances that unasked, you draw up a spending plan to help them get unstuck. (Never mind everything else that’s on your plate right now… or the fact that they’ve never stuck to a budget in their lives.)
What feels like care to the overexpressed Mother can feel a lot like being controlled or bossed about by the person in the “child” role.
And in the end, that can be a less effective way of supporting them on their path.
Finding balance with Mother
In Liz’s telling of the story, it was at the end of Rayya’s life that she finally understood the kind of care her lover wanted.
“Rayya didn’t want my help. She didn’t want my pity. She didn’t want my planning. She certainly didn’t want my story. The only thing that really wanted from me was that thing which I had always so effortlessly and naturally given her which was my devotion and my all. She just wanted me there in the room, in love with her and bearing witness.”
That pure, unwavering devotion – that honouring of the wholeness of the other person, and commitment to being there for them without trying to fix or change them – is a wonderful description of the Mother at her most powerful.
And Liz’s courage in sharing this lesson, continuing the legacy of she and Rayya’s love story and her own journey towards greater understanding, is something I find incredibly inspiring.
Taking charge of your Mother energy
If you know Mother’s a PowerType you tend to overexpress, here are some questions to ask yourself when you find yourself slipping into a caring mode.
1. Has this person asked for my help in this way?
You might be powerfully attuned to the challenges someone’s facing. But have you asked them what would help the most?
Checking in with them to see what they’d like you to do, or asking “would you be willing for me to…” gives them the autonomy to tell you what would be of most help to them. The answer might be “nothing right now” or “just being here to talk to” – if that’s the case, resist the urge to solve or fix things further.
2. Am I being depleted by my actions?
There are some people in our lives we’d willingly sacrifice energy for. Most mums have probably sacrificed their sleep and at times their sanity to support a sick kid; you might have a handful of drop-everything friends or family members who you’d turn your life upside down to be at their side.
But if you’re regularly being drained or exhausted in service of others, it might be time to take a look at how many people you’re committed to supporting.
Enough is Enough is our free how-to guide to setting boundaries and getting clear on what is and isn’t yours to take on. Click here to download your free copy now.
3. Do I have access to other leadership modes?
As a leader, Mother inspires independence, gratitude and courage in those around her.
But there are times when leaders need to call on other PowerTypes – decisive Queen, visionary Sorceress, energetic Warrioress or magnetic Lover.
If you’d like to find out how you can gain greater access to the full range of PowerTypes, book a call with one of the team today and find out if one of our programs or retreats might be a good fit for you.
Our intention is simple. To support professional women to handle the day-to-day so they can unleash the bigger impact they feel called to make in the world.
We believe real leadership is less about skill, and more about having a well of physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual strength to draw on. Every week we support thousands of grassroots leaders globally with our free articles, videos and online trainings with powerful tools and methodologies created BY women FOR women.
Become One of many™ women creating strong, meaningful connections in our community.
You might also like to read...
- How to collaborate to beat burnout - May 6, 2021
- Dissecting Leadership: Jacinda Ardern’s Leadership Style - April 29, 2021
- Breathing Underwater: stress about stress! - April 8, 2021