For many in this world, wells are a necessary source of the water needed for daily living. When a well is the only source of water, it can be catastrophic when that well dries up, becomes contaminated, or stops working.
Another source of water must be found quickly for life to continue. Returning to the same broken well over and over again when it is no longer supplying usable water is not going to make the well spontaneously fix itself. The thirst will just grow worse and worse.
This seems obvious when we are talking about water, but it's less obvious when it involves emotional needs. How do we respond when our usual sources of support dry up or become contaminated?
I have experienced some of those broken wells in my life—people and relationships that I would go to hoping for encouragement, reassurance, approval, or support, but the well is not able to supply my need.
Each time I returned, I would find myself hoping that this trip to well will be different. I kept hoping that maybe this trip I'll finally be "good enough" to get the response I was hoping for.
These broken wells would disappoint me over and over again, but I found myself continuing to return to them. Sometimes I did this out of habit. More often I did it out of a desperate need to get that imagined stamp of approval that will finally make me good enough in that person's eyes—and therefore in my own (or so I seemed to believe).
I operated out of an assumption that the well was not working because I am broken, a belief that I needed to fix me or my approach to drawing from the well in order for the well to work again. It became an addictive need to draw life-giving water from a broken well that could not give it to me.
And in the meantime, I continued to grow more and more thirsty, driving the addictive habit deeper into my patterns of behavior.
Freedom came only in the moment that I was able to recognize that the well itself was broken. When I recognized that the well simply has no water to give me, I could finally stop returning to that well and go find a different source of water.
In the world of emotional needs, sometimes this means accepting that a certain person is not able to give me the approval or support that I need in a given situation, and I need to find other people who can do so. No one person or relationship can supply all of our emotional needs, and it's important to know who to turn to for different situations.
Other times, it may mean accepting that no one can meet my thirsty craving for approval and support until I can give it to myself because only then am I able to truly accept it from others. In this case, I was going to the wrong well altogether by looking for someone else to supply what I could't give to myself. Of course, even this is only part of the answer.
My tendency is try to convince myself that it is better to simply never need any more water from any other well. I want to believe that it should be possible to supply all of my emotional needs from my own well, but this doesn't work either. The thirst is real, and my well has its dry spells too.
We are social creatures, and even the healthiest of us have times when we are discouraged and need some support from outside ourselves to regain our footing. In those dry times, we learn to value ourselves again by seeing our worth in the mirror that others show us.
Because these unhealthy patterns are so deeply ingrained in me, I continue to actively work on new patterns in this area to break my addiction to these broken wells of my past. Instead of my old all-or-nothing approach, I've found that dividing my efforts into three areas has been most helpful in shifting these patterns into healthier ones.
- I actively identify the broken wells in my life and consciously choose not to continue to go back to them in the hope of a new result.
- I actively identify new wells to give me a range of options when I need support so that I don't become overly focused on any one source, since no well can do it all.
- I continue focusing on repairing and tending to my own well, cultivating the inner resources I need to bring my thirst down to quenchable levels.
This three-pronged approach has helped me make enormous shifts in this area, which has brought so much freedom and stability in my emotional life.
Do you have any broken wells in your life that need tended to (if your own) or replaced (if someone else's) in order to better meet your needs for emotional support and encouragement?
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