Have you ever thought about why we do what we do? Have you ever looked at someone and wondered “Why on earth would you do that”? This includes the people walking through hip deep water from the storm Katrina with a 54” TV, the person that split their tongue in two and has implanted horns, and the person tailgating you going 80 on the highway. Why are they doing what they are doing? Well, the answer is they are trying to find love, safety, or happiness.
“But that doesn’t make sense!” I hear you exclaim. How does a person taking a TV with them while evacuating from the flooding from a storm help them find any of those three? I didn’t say it made sense. In that moment, their brain is telling them that they need that TV to live and to find safety. Sometimes the panic brain doesn’t make sense. And yet they are still trying to find safety. And the person tailgating believes that if they get where they are going they will be happy. And the person that uses body modification to express themselves is working to find love in a way that works for them.
Our base motivations are usually pretty simple. Why do people lie, cheat and steal? They believe that they can find happiness or safety in money or things. I worked with someone that was horrible to all of the employees. The ideas he came up with were ridiculous, and he always had a frantic energy about him. We all disliked him greatly. We found out that he had a brain tumor and he was desperate to keep the job so that he could earn as much money as he could for his wife and children after he died. The ridiculous ideas were his attempt to keep from being fired like the last three people that had had the job before him. He was trying to find safety.
When we start to see people through the lense of attempts to find love, safety, and happiness then we can start to find understanding and even some empathy in their craziness. The behaviors may not be conducive to getting what they want, and in fact they may in all actuality be accomplishing the opposite. And yet, even in our worst moments and cruelest behaviors we are working to accomplish love, safety, or happiness.
Often the things that drive us the most insane are when someone we care for goes about trying to find love in a way that drives us further away. In that case, it can often be helpful to let them know what they can do to get your affection. Letting them know (kindly!) how they can change their behavior to get your love, kindness or affection gives helpful and constructive feedback. It actually helps both people feel less powerless, and often more connected.
As a professional I have done things for money that I probably shouldn’t have, taken client’s that could have been served better by others with more training, or taken too many clients in a day just because I wanted to maintain my feelings of safety. I have driven faster than I should have to get home and be happy. I have made choices that have hurt people to make myself happy. I think we all have. Then there are the times that people’s attempts to find happiness or safety actually compromise your safety. People that are happy to lie, cheat, and steal in an effort to provide safety for themselves or their family. I can understand their motivations. If I lived in Russia and the safest way to keep my family fed was to hack people’s accounts and steal from them, if I were desperate enough I would probably do it. I don’t have to understand, like, or agree with their behaviors. I may need to keep myself safe from them though. I need to set boundaries, I need to maintain my own safety. I need to watch to whom I give my money, time, and love. Unhealthy people are looking for the same things, and will find unhealthy ways to get love, safety, and happiness. I can have compassion without making myself a victim.
I had a conversation with a client today about their path. They are in a place on Maslow’s hierarchy where they are able to start thinking about the more esoteric path they want to be on instead of just working to make sure they don’t lose the basic needs for safety of food and shelter. The path that looks at how he wants to feel about himself at the end of the day, about how he wants to go about getting love and happiness. Like me, he wants to know that he is healthy in finding love and happiness, and he doesn’t do at the expense of others. We all want the same things. The difference is how we go about getting those wants met. I also want to be able to find compassion for those that meet their needs and wants for love, safety, and happiness differently than I do, even if I need to protect myself from them. Underneath we aren’t that different.