and Reason Series, Article 16
Mary Ellen Donald
published in Bellydancer Magazine in 1978 as part of an ongoing
This magazine was published by Yasmine Samra in Palo Alto, California.
Revised for Gilded Serpent April 8, 2006
I did for her, why did she turn on me that way?" "I'll show
her that I can do just a well without her help?"
"I'm so tired of having to deal with her pettiness and viciousness?"
Do you feel any connection with the exclamations above?
No, I wasn't taking about your mother or your daughter, but I
just as easily could have been.
talking about you and that teacher or student of yours who now
is your bitter rival.
If none of
this seems to apply to you, stay with me anyway and perhaps you
can help a bellydancing friend see more clearly what she is doing
in relationship to others.
directly about the bellydance teacher-student rivalry, I'm going
to present a psychological framework through which you can explain
some of your actions and those of others. Consider this
notion - that your behavior is directed either by your Needy Self
or by your Secure Self. When your Needy Self directs, here's
what happens: you feel pushed to act in certain ways.
your Needy Self might deceive you into believing that you are
making choices, you really are not very free to choose.
When you take
care of your genuine needs in a reasonable way, your Secure
Self is in charge. When you take care of your deep unmet
needs - needs for recognition and self-assertion - in an irrational
way, your Needy Self is in charge. This Self deceives you
into believing that you can satisfy those unmet needs by relating
to others through the major role that it prescribes for you such
as The Martyr, the Super Mom, or The Manipulator. Your Needy
Self will seek out relationships such that your favorite role
and that of the other will be compatible - Super Mom and The Helpless
One, or Critic and The Inadequate One, and so on. Although
you and the other person appear to be communicating well, you
never touch each other genuinely - you are strangers, each primarily
concerned with living out the drama which your Needy Self prescribes.
your Secure Self directs you, here's what happens: you can share
with and care for another person genuinely.
You are aware
of a wide range of alternatives and you actively choose among
them. You have an inner sense that you are alright.
The theatrics you engage in are for fun, not for emotional survival.
You can be kind to an emotionally needy person. You also
feel free to discontinue a relationship with such a person when
his needs push him to intrude too much in your life.
own particular spiritual, hereditary, and environmental history,
you will tend more toward the direction of your Needy or Secure
Self. For sure, both will take their turns with you.
Time will tell which one will take the upper hand more often than
not. With this framework in mind, let's look at the bellydance
teacher-student relationship. Let's assume that they start
off both directed by their Needy Selves - the teacher: talented,
dynamic, seemingly strong, on the opinionated side - the student:
bright, with good ability emerging and promise of great potential,
but suffering from self-doubt and a sense of inadequacy.
The student attends many classes, is invited by the teacher to
do some shows with her, and if there's a troupe, she's in it.
The two seem to be close. (Remember the limitations
on one's ability to genuinely relate to another when under the
direction of the Needy Self.) Then one or both of them changes.
Notice what this does to their relationship in each of the instances
teacher begins to open up more to the direction of her Secure
Self. Consequently she pulls back from her Super Mom role.
lightens up on some of her harsh criticism of others, and is less
intensely involved with her students and troupe.
stays under the direction of her Needy Self. She resents
her teacher's letting go of the role compatible with hers.
She clings to the sense of strength which she got from identifying
with the power she previously perceived in her teacher.
She feels betrayed and soon finds some pretext for violently breaking
away from the teacher. Quite often she begins teaching and
gathers pseudo-strength from denouncing her teacher. The
teacher has no need to engage in such viciousness and simply tries
to go about her own business, somewhat sad inside that their relationship
soured as it did.
2. The student
begins to open up more to the direction of her Secure Self.
She recognizes her own ability and feels excited about asserting
her own creativity.
her own genuine strength, she doesn't need to gather strength
from her teacher's power and negativism.
continues to be directed by her Needy Self. She senses that
the student no longer worships her nor desperately needs her as
she did in the past. She sense that their role compatibility
is crumbling and feels uneasy about it. She herself feels
pretty inadequate when her role support wavers. Soon she
will find some pretext to eliminate the student from her fold.
She will gather the other students tightly around her and try
to bind them together with denunciations of the wayward one.
Meanwhile, the student might have independently been removing
herself from the fold before she was expelled. Because her
Secure Self is in charge, she has no need to engage in vicious
attacks against the teachers. If she begins teaching, she
will build her reputation on the positive talents she has to offer
rather than on an anti-teacher campaign. She will probably
feel some sadness about not being understood by the teacher and
the others but won't dwell on it.
3. Both the
teacher and the student remain under the direction of their Needy
Selves. Something goes wrong in their role balance.
The teacher might overplay her Super Mom role. The student
might try role hopping and attempt to come across as the authoritative
both feel threatened by the imbalance they experience - threatened
because they aren't getting enough satisfaction for those unmet
struggle for need satisfaction takes place on such a primitive
level, they can't deal with such upsets rationally - all they
know is how to split apart dramatically, violently. Each
probably feels that she got rid of the other. The student
probably begins teaching and scurrying around trying for performance
opportunities. Both openly denounce one another and gather
followers on the basis of their negativity toward each other.
They feel bitter and betrayed and become downright vicious.
They haven't learned anything about themselves or about the other.
4. Both the
teacher and the student open up more to the direction of their
Secure Selves. Neither has to cling desperately to a role.
talk openly about the progress that the student is making and
about what abilities she ought to develop before teaching or leading
a troupe on her own. The teacher encourages the student
to go out on her own,
of her own ability to stay in business even with her student out
there as competition. The one doesn't have to be always
strong and the other always weak. They find that they like
each other rather than need each other. Of course
they will experience some jealousy, fear, self-doubt, and pettiness
- but they will go beyond them. Based on what they have
learned about themselves, they can form genuine relationships
with others more easily.
As you probably
know, those who are the closest have the greatest potential for
mutual hatred. This holds true within the bellydance profession
as well. Look at the bitter rivalries that exist between
competitors at all levels of the profession. My guess is
that you will find that most of these rivals were very close at
one time, if not teacher-student, then partners of some sort.
I'm not offering
simplistic solutions for very complex problems. I have just
scratched the surface of the problem with this analysis.
The framework I have presented emphasizes the dynamic between
the Needy Self and the Secure Self, and the threatening nature
of an imbalance in roles between needy people.
hope is that this framework will enable you to take a fresh look
at an old problem.
applying the framework to yourself, you are concerned about how
one shifts from the direction of the Needy Self to that of the
Secure Self, be comforted by the fact that most people are struggling
with this question in one way or another. People do change.
They change as the result of working through interpersonal crises,
by practicing meditation or other forms of spiritual renewal,
or by persevering in counseling or psychotherapy.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
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