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!