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Finding Our Way Through Orientation People and Compass Points

compass old photo

I recently walked with a friend who lost her husband two years ago. She said after he died she was lost. She didn’t eat, didn’t want to do anything. She had to force herself to get up and out of the house each day. Now a good portion of this experience was grief, but there was something else missing, a compass point to help orient her.

Disorientation is intolerable

We have a dire need to get our bearings and feel comfortable in our surroundings. Feeling disoriented is unbearable. Think about how it feels when we get lost while driving. We don’t notice any of the lovely attractions on the side of the road. We don’t stop for food. We do whatever we can to get back on track as soon as possible.

As humans and mammals, we also have a natural orienting instinct that makes it psychologically imperative to get our direction or sense of orientation from someone. Children look to adults to help nurture and guide them. Adults look to other adults to provide values, companionship and schedules to work around. If parents or partners are not available as compass points, we experience what Dr. Gordon Neufeld author of Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers, calls an orientation void.

Orientation voids leave us desperately searching for someone or something to help give us a sense of who we are, what is real, what is good, what things mean and why things happen. Disorientation is intolerable for children and uncomfortable for adults, who have usually developed more self-orienting skills.

What happens when we don’t have solid orienting relationships

In our culture where adults spend more time at work and children spend more time in daycare, school or with other children, it is not uncommon for peers to become the compass points for each of us. This is unfortunate because peer orientation takes away from primary attachments — those between spouses an those between parents and their children. Especially for children, peer orientation leaves them without mature, consistent support and nurturance. Adults feel the pain of competing with work, peers, the internet, hobbies, etc. for the attention and attachment they desire from their partners.

When our people leave us frequently to spend time on work, with friends, on special projects, etc. it feels bad. Granted, we often have our own work, friends and projects to attend to, but that just solidifies the lack of orientation between primary relationships. Work, friends and projects are fickle. They do not have the same sense of responsibility to offer consistent security.

Primary relationships don’t have to be parents or partners

I know that friends, work and passions serve as primary relationships for some. This kind of orientation setup can serve the adult well. It’s when the primary relationships are threatened that anxiety surfaces.

Are parent/child relationships threatening to parent/parent relationships?

One interesting thought I’ve pondered is whether the relationships and responsibilities between parents and children feel like a threat to the parent’s relationship. I’ve recently had an unusual number of clients contact me for coaching services. Most of them have incredibly hectic lives due to obligations created by the needs of their children and society’s pressure to maintain active, high-achieving lifestyles for them. It seems the culture they live in is driving their actions and serving as the compass point, leaving them feeling disconnected with each other.

Creating orienting schedules

In the case of my friend, she moved to a new home and became entrenched in the community. She joined several groups and found a wood working shop to visit and use for creating projects. She dove in to co-chairing a theater production. She created her orientation points. Now joining or leading groups may not sound appealing to introverts, but there are settings or relationships that feel comfortable to the sensitive soul. A yoga class, book club or guitar lesson might be more our speed.morning glory on fence

A work schedule or even a few planned activities during the day can give us the structure we crave. We need someone, or in this case, something, to ground us and give us something to work around. Like morning glories, we grow on the trellis that guides and supports us.

When we have too much unbound time, we feel lost. We don’t know where to start or how to manage it all. A few scheduled activities/tasks, even if they are child driven, can help move us forward.

Who or what serves as orientation points for you? Do you compete with other compass points for your children or partner’s attachment? 

 

Special Note: There will be no post next week. I will be on vacation with my family and intend to fully engage in relaxation. 🙂

Also of special interest: I will be celebrating the launch of Jenn Granneman’s book,  The Secret Lives of Introverts on August 10th at The Bad Weather Brewery in St. Paul, MN at 6:30PM. I will be reading from my upcoming book, The Quiet Rise of Introverts: 8 Practices for Living and Loving in a Noisy World!  If you are in the area please stop by and say hello!

 

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3 Comments

  1. Michael August 2, 2017 at 1:33 am - Reply

    At what price, success? At what price a certain lifestyle? Are we driven by material gain, or by values that mean something to us?

    to suggest to someone, ‘hey, maybe the things you’re striving for, are costing you in ways you don’t see right now’ … usually doesn’t receive a lot of support, especially if you’ve gotten yourself in a position of making decent to good money, and having expenses and a lifestyle that uses most of it.

    But we know if we are being true to who we are. We always know. That quiet inner voice never stops talking to us.

    To have a purpose, something we are passionate about, that somehow fits with who we are and what we truly value, gives us a focus, a reason for being here, a way that we believe we can make the world a better place for our having been here.

    Many people don’t have that purpose — not the thing that fires them up on the inside, that brings them joy and meaning. We may lose that focus when things fall apart. But we can come back to it, and will, if it is true to who we are. The world does, and will always, swirl around us with heartbreaks and losses and hard times. Why are we here? What is our reason for being here? What difference do we want to make in this world while we are here?

    I talked with a friend today. 70 years old. Just closed his jewelry store in December. And he admits to searching for who he really is. He’s feeling somewhat lost now. But he’s searching, for who he really is. When we discover that, if we are so lucky, we are home. And when we know who we are — a discovery that always continues — then perhaps we have OUR life. We must have a purpose bigger than us. A purpose of service to others.

    Even then, life is hard. A priest I know is in his last months, perhaps weeks, from cancer. He has led a very Christ-like life of service and love. And he is struggling now to find joy and peace, even though he has been aware of his illness, and has planned for his death, for some time now. He no longer feels a purpose. He no longer feels of service. He is in hospice. Now he is being cared for, and can’t care for others in all the ways that have been his life’s work. But his life has been a testament of love and Christ.

    Having a purpose doesn’t protect us from life’s heartaches. It does give us a reason to go forward. It does make our lives more meaningful.

    To find our passions, to live from there, to love from there, to work from there, to know why we are here … these are critical searches that each of us must undertake within. It is hard. And perhaps there is nothing more vital to really living.

    Perhaps I’ve shared with you before, Brenda, a quote from e.e. cummings.

    “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, day and night, to make you like everybody else, is to fight the hardest battle that any human being can fight. Never stop fighting.”

    • Brenda Knowles August 2, 2017 at 8:19 am - Reply

      That passion definitely drives us, if we are lucky enough to unearth it and practice it. I’m starting to think that our relationships and the ways we serve and love others are our passions and/or purposes. Although, I know there are many who create or invent things and find fulfillment.
      Your story about the priest made me think. In the end (or at times in our lives) we may not be able to practice our purpose and that’s scary.
      It does seem like there are always heartaches and tribulations pulling us away from our passions. Life is hard and challenging. Finding the energy to keep on fighting isn’t easy, but paradoxically if we can keep fighting and make time to pursue our purpose we find energy. Love the e.e. cummings quote, so much truth in it.
      Thank you Michael for your wisdom and always thought-provoking perspective.

  2. zeina sereia July 28, 2017 at 4:19 pm - Reply

    great article! gave me much to think about…as humans, we do need orientation, or we feel unfulfilled. however, we require the meaningful and wholesome type of orientation. thanks for writing!

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