• Thrive Inc.

Why Focusing on You Is Not Selfish

Today we’re talking about a survival stance that so many people are stuck in, yet so often, they don’t even realize it. You may know it in terms of being co-dependent, a people-pleaser, or a perfectionist. But we want to define it in terms that you can start to recognize yourself, and we’re calling it agency.

When you make choices based on other people’s needs, and prioritize what others want above your own needs and desires, you’re operating from a sense of agency. Learning to slow down, wake up and connect to yourself will enable you to make choices from an inner place, and start to express yourself, and move towards things that really light you up. It is powerful to admit what you want, and we’re showing you how to give yourself permission to do so this week.

Join us this week as we discuss what agency is and show you how to recognize when you’re in it. We discuss the reasons you may prioritize other people’s needs above your own, and show you how to start listening to and honoring your impulses, make choices based on your own wellbeing and prioritize yourself in your life.

If you’d like us to speak at your organization about conflict, stress, team-building, or leadership, work with your team virtually, or coach you or leaders on your team, reach out to us!

If you enjoyed the show, please share the podcast with your family and friends, or post a five-star review on iTunes. Rating and reviewing the show helps spread the word, which means less friction and suffering for everyone, and who doesn’t want that?

Listen on Apple Podcast | Stitcher | Spotify

Learn More:

  • Some ways to recognize if you are in agency.

  • How to stop making the wellbeing of others your responsibility.

  • The benefits of being able to connect more deeply with yourself.

  • How to tap into your own guidance system.

  • Some profound realizations around agency that we have had in our lives.

  • A mantra you can use to become a self-agent.


Full Transcript:

Susan: Welcome to The Beauty of Conflict, a podcast about how to deal with conflict at work, at home and everywhere else in your life. I'm Susan.

CrisMarie: And I'm CrisMarie.

Susan: We run a company called Thrive Inc., and we specialize in conflict resolution, communication and building strong, thriving teams and relationships both in person and virtual

CrisMarie: On this podcast we’ll be sharing tips, tools about how to make your team, your relationship, and even you work more effectively. You can find us at thriveinc.com. That’s www.thriveinc.com. Or follow us on LinkedIn at Thrive Inc. We hope you enjoy this episode.

CrisMarie: Hi there. I'm CrisMarie Campbell.

Susan: And I'm Susan Clarke.

CrisMarie: Today we’re going to be talking about a survival stance that many people may not even realize they’re stuck in. Why? Because I didn’t even realize how stuck I was in this survival stance. Some people call it agency, which meant nothing to me. So we want to define it in terms that maybe you can start to recognize yourself.

Susan: I mean you may also recognize it because other ways it’s referred to might be codependent or a people pleaser.

CrisMarie: Yeah. If you have the compulsion to please those around you or fix a situation, I’d better fix it. Or take care of other people. Or it could even be that you have a sense of perfectionism. Like you’ve got to make everything perfect, or you need to be in control of everything around you. Those are some of the things.

Susan: Yes. You know, another kind of way you may recognize this in yourself is you really don’t…You know what everyone around you wants. You can pick that up pretty darn quickly.

CrisMarie: You're actually really good at picking that up.

Susan: Yes. But when it comes to what you want, you don’t know. You know?

CrisMarie: How this can show up is you're really good at work. You can make all these deadlines. As soon as work kind of lets up, you're like, “Oh no. What should I do?” There's either a discombobulation or a boredom because there’s not that outside pressure to meet the deadlines. So there’s nothing coming from within that says, “Hey this is what I want to do.”

Susan: Now this can also show up in relationships and marriages. Often in that scenario there's a sense of boredom. It’s flat. There's not a lot of passion or aliveness or sexual drive in it. A lot of time that presents as a relationship issue. Here’s the deal. It’s not really a relationship issue. It’s actually a self. The person who’s experiencing that really needs to look at it differently.

CrisMarie: So we’re going to use the term agency. It sounds kind of funky, but it describes this codependency or propensity to kind of look at yourself through somebody else’s eyes. Really it develops in infancy. If an infant all of a sudden thinks—Babies cry. They are hungry. They need to poop. Whatever it is. If somebody’s taking care of them, they will develop what's called self-agency. Meaning I'm in control of what I want and focused here.

Susan: They know. They will cry. They will laugh. They will do all sorts of things just spontaneously. Not to get fed or to do something.

CrisMarie: Yes.

Susan: But it’s like, “Oh, it feels good for me to do this little wiggle in my body.” Because they have an internal sense of satisfaction they get from a gurgle or a smile or a sound or whatever it is.

CrisMarie: Now if you as an infant are around a parent that is not so happy, the child comes to believe that, “Hey, I'm only going to survive unless I am what this parent wants me to be, or this caregiver wants me to be.” So it thinks its survival is dependent on its ability to attend to the parent. To be or do what the parent wants, to please or calm the parent. What happens is that self-agency really takes a backseat. Instead the infant is, “Oh my gosh. What does this person outside me need and I will become it?”

Susan: They become an agent for that other person, whoever it is. This all gets set up when it does seem to be a life or death issue.

CrisMarie: What happens is that the child is so hypervigilant to the external environment that it severely limits any sort of connection like you were saying, Susan, to the wiggle or the giggle. Like, “Oh that feels good to me.” There's a contraction in the body and a focus on the outside and thinking, “Oh that’s how I'm going to actually survive.”

Susan: Yes. Now I know this wasn’t necessarily the next step in this, but it came up for me. So I'm going to follow my instinct.

CrisMarie: Okay.

Susan: Because I often think of one of the things that we’ve led programs, Come Alive is the one that comes to mind. There’s a part of that program where the invitation is for someone to begin to recognize what they like and what they dislike and be able to kind of recognize it. That’s the propulsion to move. A lot of times we have given that up. That’s this idea of we have kind of given away our own sense of who we are and what we want to be.

That’s a lot of what happens in agency. The idea being that we have these clues in our body. Our body, like those infants, they are vibrating. They have that vibration. We have learned to turn ours off as opposed to noticing on the inside what do I like? What do I dislike? Because that’s one way to get back to coming into a sense of self-agency.

CrisMarie: It’s so true Susan. When I think about people that I coach who are really good workers, myself included. Like okay I will sacrifice what I want because I'm going to get the job done. That might be good for one or two times, but it usually becomes a habit like it has for me. I'm ignoring what really is important to me. I'm not listening to those inside cues.

Again, going back to the young child who thinks, “Okay, my job is to please the parent. I want that parent to feel fulfilled, happy, stable, content. So maybe I say something funny. My grumpy dad. I say something funny, and all of a sudden, his demeanor changes. I think, “Oh, I did it. I'm so powerful. There's this omnipotence.” Of course something happens and dad gets grumpy again. All of a sudden the child thinks, “Oh my god I failed. This is so important that he be happy for me to be okay.”

So what happens is these small victories are temporary. As you become an adult, you're left with this gnawing emotional feeling in your body that you’ve done something wrong all the time. So you work so hard to be the best you can be all the time. I mean this is coming from an Olympic athlete, an MBA, an actress. Somebody who’s always trying to do the next thing to feel okay.

Susan: Well, yeah CrisMarie. It’s so true. I think even it’s kind of like there’s also this part of me. Because as you’ve done this work on yourself, you also think, “I'm a phony. I wasn’t those things.” There's always this part of me that’s like, “All along the way you actually were an Olympic athlete. It was you that did those things, not these other people that did them for you.” I think that even that sense of being like it’s not me is so great that even as you begin to wake up to it, you still can disown it until you realize, “Well wait a minute.”

CrisMarie: I did that.

Susan: Yeah.

CrisMarie: Owning my choice, I did that. I think really what I'm pulling apart is my motivation was often like, “If I win this next race when I was training, then Bob my coach will finally be happy with me.” But, again, that’s a temporary victory, and then there’s the next race. It’s this vicious cycle. That can happen at work. This project.

Susan: Yeah. It’s kind of like that part of you that thought you did it for your coach would be the agency part of it. The part of you that can go back to. I mean even for you? Why did you go to the Olympics when you had a back injury? Not because your coach made you, but because you chose to get in that boat. Which is the self-agent. I don’t want to wait four years.

That’s kind of…This is where it’s sort of tricky. Where is your motivation coming from? Do you even recognize when you're kind of always motivated by what’s outside of you?

CrisMarie: I’ll just tell you. Why this started to come up for me now is I had this felt sense of often what I do is it’s as if I leave myself and I go over to somebody like in an audience or even you Susan. It’s like as if I'm going over there and I'm saying, “Oh my gosh. She’s judging me. She thinks I'm incompetent or they think I'm incompetent. I'm doing this wrong.” So then I try even harder to be perfect. Now, of course, I can't fly over to somebody else and see myself through their eyes. But that’s energetically what it feels like.

Susan: In a way, in some respects it is that energetic going out of your own boots so to speak and over into their lens of the world, seeing it through their eyes. And projecting.

CrisMarie: Yeah, what I think they are thinking.

Susan: Then if they look happy, you are like, “Oh I was successful.”

CrisMarie: Yes.

Susan: You know? If they don’t look happy, you're like, “Oh my god. I failed.”

CrisMarie: Yes.

Susan: It’s all based on them.

CrisMarie: Based on them. Yeehaw. This brings up this idea. So recognizing that we all have these energetic boundaries or bubbles around as some people would call it. But you know you have an energetic bubble if I were to come up to you, listener, and stand right nose to nose to you. You’d be like, “CrisMarie, back up.”

Susan: Likely if you started to pay attention, you would notice the moment someone got closer than you wanted. Now, you may not tell them to stop. But you can pay attention to, “Oh. Oh, right now. I actually feel.” That’s the energetic bond.

CrisMarie: Yes. Now that we can be in elevators again because of the vaccine, you can actually tell, “Uh oh, somebody’s too close.” And you step sideways. That’s you. They're not physically touching you, but they're in your energetic space. It’s important to recognize and connect to your energetic space because that’s you. There’s so much that we take in the body versus, “Hey, we have this whole space.” That’s what I mean. Like who’s energetic space are you in? Am I over in Susan’s looking at me, judging me? Or am I in mine thinking, “Well, I think I did a pretty good job.”

Susan: Now, this does bring up one of the things I love about working with the horses. Is because often someone comes into a session. You know this Equus coaching isn’t about the horse, but why horses are so profound in it is because they respond to the physical. They are reading like your heart rate, whether you are in your body. All sorts of things like that. What happens for the person? Like over and over I've seen this.

They're like, “Okay the horse walked away. The horse doesn’t like me. The horse didn’t like that. The horse is doing this.” Because they kind of get how absurd that might be at some point? Like really? You don’t think the horse thinks that blue is a good color on you? They begin to see that that really has nothing to do with it. So it’s a way to come back to how much, because you can see it pretty quickly. How much are you projecting over there instead of being in here?

CrisMarie: Now, Susan, you opened that statement, and I wanted to hear the end of us. You said, “I work with horses, but it’s not about the horse.” What would you say if you had to land that?

Susan: Yeah. The horses have these big vibrational.

CrisMarie: But what is it about for the human?

Susan: Well, their opportunity to get in touch with their own embodied vibrational experience.

CrisMarie: So come back to their own circle basically.

Susan: Yes, each and every time. The horse will give them feedback about how they're doing with that in terms of how they relate to it.

CrisMarie: Yeah. I mean I think this whole idea of like flying over and being in somebody else’s circle, judging me from what I think their eyes are is really I'm abandoning myself. There's a loss of connection to me. The whole work is to come back and land in me, which the horses help give a mirror to that. There's also just noticing, “Can I actually feel my body?” Because a lot of people who are in a work addiction, they're not even taking care of some basic needs because they're not listening to their body.

Susan: I think sometimes that’s why people get so obsessed with exercise maybe.

CrisMarie: Yeah.

Susan: Because they suddenly have. I mean, I think that’s been something for me. I really have to pay attention to am I just going out to exercise because I'm out of my body