Put it in the porch!...
Many years ago at work, about 2005, I happened to be sitting on the periphery of a conversation that two fellow colleagues were deeply engrossed in. I did my very best to keep myself focused on the job I was doing, but their close proximity to me meant I simply could not avoid picking up on some of the vibes and energy from it.
I couldn't hear all the words spoken, in fact I tried to blank that from my consciousness by focusing on my own tasks, but I could not avoid sensing the tension and unease that was happening at points. Something in the tone and body language told me that it was a conversation with some difficulty or challenge for the person receiving the message being delivered by the other person (their manager).
However, at the end, I couldn't help but hear the closing words as the recipient stood up and said before they parted - I'll put that in the porch for now. I literally stopped what I was doing as I was completely thrown. Put that in the porch?! What could that possibly mean? Who's porch? What porch? What was going into a porch? My curiosity brought me to have the courage a little later that day to approach my colleague and ask what it all meant. I explained that I was not deliberately eavesdropping, and that I heard her closing remark and wondered what that meant.
She generously explained that she had learned this from a book she had been reading, and it was all about how we handle feedback and other information about ourselves that we might receive from others. The reality is that all such information is not always sent with the best of intentions, or the greatest skill or with the recipients' needs and readiness to receive entirely in mind. This can be especially true in moments of raised tempers, difficult circumstances and when there is a general sense of inequality at play (conscious or otherwise).
So where does the porch come into all of this? When I am working with clients that might be experiencing low self-worth, low confidence and or a depreciated sense of self I might introduce this metaphor as a way of building self-awareness and greater resilience through the everyday navigation of relationships and life. Both at work and in personal life.
I ask them to picture themselves as a house, and it can be positioned wherever in the world they might want that to be and any shape, size or design they wish. Taking a few moments they imagine and describe that, and it can be quite amazing to hear some of their personal qualities coming through - castles with great walls that keep people out, houses in remote areas surrounded by greenery and trees or welcoming cottages with flowers and pathways. Everything said often reflects something about the person and how they are just now.
Now we add to the front of the house a porch that fits the style and location. It's up to the client to decide if it has a door or not, windows or not and how ornate or plain it looks. The universal fact is the porch does not gain direct access to the house. It's a place where things can be left, and it's only when the client opens the front door and collects what's there that they enter into the house. From the safety of the house a client can look out into the porch and view from a distance what has been said or left for them in this imaginary porch. They can get close and inspect each through an intentional process by asking questions such as;
- is this received from someone I trust?
- has it been sent to me with the intent to help me or to harm me?
- was it said in a moment of anger or thoughtlessness?
- have I got the energy or willpower to let it in now or can it wait a bit longer?
- is it something I can work with on my own or might I need help?
- is it related to something about me that I do want to change or improve?
If it is not to be let in at all, it can be discarded with the waste that is regularly picked up, or it can simply wither to dust and blow away in the wind. If it is to be let in the house later, it can wait until the time is right and then be fetched when we are ready.
Following this intentional process means that we don't let everything that is said to us (or every behaviour towards us) get immediately into 'our house', where in can run riot in all our rooms, our mind, our heart, our core, our whole self. This can be overwhelming and can compound what might already be an overwhelmed place. It creates a space where we can be in contact with ourselves and our sense of readiness and help us process these messages or gifts on our own terms. It can often be the first time in a long time that we assess our own identity and needs and begin to create a boundary around that. Finally it can be a method that allows us to be with others, listen to what they have to say and acknowledge that we have heard it - whilst keeping that a safe distance from our more fragile internal places.
This method of metaphor is not just for the receiver of such messages or gifts, albeit they are the key focus of blog. It is also relevant to the giver of said messages and gifts. We cannot and should not assume that just because we are ready to say it that someone is ready to receive it. Perhaps there are more gentle, subtle and helpful ways we can do that for others. Maybe you could check what's in their porch already before you put more in there!