Emotionally sensitive people often try to adapt themselves to other people’s comfort level.
It can be challenging to be around people who are made uncomfortable by our choices. In order to avoid that discomfort, it is tempting to adapt oneself to other people’s comfort levels. But this is not always wise.
Sometimes, we need to hold our positions even when we could adapt.
Being Flexible Isn’t Always the Answer
During a community building exercise at a group mentoring event for entrepreneurs, I saw a physical metaphor for the way that being too flexible doesn’t always help us achieve our goals.
The exercise called for us to stand in a circle and grasping the forearms of the people on either side. Then, keeping our feet grounded, we were to lean back, letting our centres of gravity fall back away from what we could support on our own. The result was a tension-supported circle in which the group supported everybody, but no individual supported their own body weight. The trust element of the exercise arises in the moment of fear as the individual must move from being balanced as an individual to being balanced as part of the group.
We were split into two groups because the space was too small for a single group. The first group leaned back into the experience. I grabbed my neighbours’ arms tightly to avoid breaking the circle, glued my feet to the ground, allowed the pull of the group’s strength to cross my shoulders, and let my body lean back against the air as though it were a mattress. I felt strong and proud, knowing I was doing my part to hold up this large group, and also at peace, resting into the group, everything was easy. I saw looks of wonder, joy, and enthusiasm on the faces of my fellow group members.
The second group failed.
One member of the second group is a yoga teacher, and extremely flexible. For whatever reason, instead of leaning backwards from their ankles in a plank like everybody else, they arched into a backbend. The rest of us would never have thought to do this because that kind of flexibility is not part of our self-image. For this yogi, however, this backbend is not only part of their training, but probably also a flashy party trick that generates “oohs” and “ahs” when they demonstrate it off the yoga mat.
But, it was exactly the wrong thing for this exercise.
The backbend placed their arms in the right position to create the look of the circle of arms that would support the circle, but their body was not structurally participating in the group. The circle collapsed.
To make this exercise work, each person needs to hold their own body straight and strong as they lean back into the strength of the group. Like an elastic band that is straight and dynamic when stretched and floppy when relaxed, the group body has power only under tension. This yoga teacher was strong enough and flexible enough able to do the backbend alone, but the group body needed a more rigid position.
Holding Firm Might Be the Right Thing
To support the whole, each person needed both not to bend and to let the group be responsible for their individual support. Only by each person submitting willingly to the form could the group have had the intended experience.
Watching, I was deeply moved by the metaphors provided by this physical experience.
Not only did this person’s use of their flexibility do a disservice to the group, but because they were strong and flexible and “did it themselves”, they didn’t experience the distinct pleasure of being supported by the group.
I would never suggest flexibility is inherently bad. For one thing, I have children who demonstrate to me daily that life is easier if being flexible is an option. But, sometimes exercising the flexibility you do have isn’t the best choice you can make.
The trick is to develop both flexibility and the wisdom to choose when to be flexible and when to hold firm.
Where Are You Too Flexible?
Are there areas of your life where you are extremely flexible? Where you bend too far to make others comfortable?
Does the flexibility you cherish, maybe even pride yourself on, create chaos or get in the way?
Take a moment now to think about the things in your life that aren’t functioning as well as you would like.
Is there an element of adaptability in the way you handle this area of life that might be creating more chaos than you need?
Is it possible that a little more rigidity might help? What might that look like?