We can spend lifetimes running around hoping that someone else will fill in our holes. It’s an easy trap to get caught in–without being conscious of it, the line of thinking goes something like…momma and poppa didn’t raise us quite right, so we start looking for someone else/something to raise us, to fix us.

Religion? Therapy? That dynamic teacher at yoga? A Life Coach? A sage smudge? An energy clearing? Another self-help book? Who has our answers?

Surely, someone out there is going to have the answers and give them to us and do it in that loving, nurturing way that we’ve always craved, right?

It was a difficult day, the day that I realized that–holy shit–there was no coach, no workshop, no therapist, no book that I could buy that would make me feel whole.

That job, that work, that journey… was mine alone. (And thank goodness for that!)

Now here’s the good news: We can use the relationships in our life for growth. Perhaps the most important healing relationships some of us will ever have will be with therapists, coaches, energy workers, or truly life-changing books. What’s important is to choose people who are conscious about what it means to be a “giver” in this equation, and what it means for you to be a “receiver.” For example, within spiritual circles, this is the point of having a spiritual teacher–someone who is going to be your teacher and not give up on you, no matter what, while they challenge you to push past all of the little limits and constrictions and boundaries that you’ve set up to resist change.

It’s important to find a good “giver,” someone who’s done a significant amount of their own work (so that you won’t think they’re a lying sack of shit when they tell you that it’s going to be alright–they really do know that it’s going to be alright); someone who won’t let you pump them up on a pedestal and give them all of the credit for your transformation; someone who is going to lead you only so far in their framework before they tell you to use your newfound tools to stop playing life small by running to them for more answers–it’s time for you to trust in your own wisdom. Then the teacher is simply available to help you spot ever more places where you might want to course-correct, again trusting your own wisdom in that process.

However, I believe that the true challenge is not usually in the quality of the giver. The true challenge is whether or not the receiver will truly surrender to their own process. To allow a “giver” into our lives often requires a bit more surrender to one’s unique process than most people are willing to give–frequently, we surf on over to the next website, book or therapist juuuuuuust when things start to get a little tricky, when the resistance comes up and things are getting uncomfortable.

It’s important that if you’re in the receiving role, you’re open to the idea that the giver needs plenty of room to do the work of helping you. It’s probably not going to work to expect to get very far if you’re quitting when things get dicey, or setting up boundaries around how far you’ll go with the very person you’ve enlisted to take you past your boundaries in the first place.

Ironically, this place sometimes be the place where a receiver experiences the most growing pains–reverting back to old, sabotaging patterns because then that sets up the conditions to run to the giver again. Help me, help me!

This becomes the true test–will you use what you’ve learned to trust yourself, or insist on being rescued?

I see this all of the time as an English professor. Every semester, I give a lesson on thesis statements–what they are, what they must contain, and approaches to writing them. At the beginning of the semester, students run to me to ask if their thesis statement “looks okay.” I give them feedback, offering suggestions. However–As the semester goes on, people still want to check thesis statements. At a certain point, I start turning the question around on them: “Do you think you’re on the right track? What part are you uncertain about? What do you think of this thesis statement? Does it work for you?”

You learn a lot about these students when you see their reactions. Some will rise to the challenge and start pushing themselves to answer those questions. Others are annoyed, and you can practically hear them thinking, “Won’t she just tell me if this is ‘right’ or not so that I can get on with writing this paper?” Others get frustrated and eventually air their resentment: “You don’t bother to help your students!”

See what I mean? As a teacher, I can’t hold space for them, forever, because it wouldn’t teach them to hold their own space, evaluate their own work. I can offer the process, the questions to ask, I can model, and I can give my honest feedback. But I won’t choose to put myself in the position of being the Thesis Statements God. The point is not to write a good thesis statement for me…it’s to recognize what a good thesis statement looks like, themselves.

These relationships are a balancing act–tricky and precarious in their own way, because so much of the potential for growth is determined not by the teacher but rather, by the student ( who is triggered as they courageously stretch into a new space, fearful because of how tight the space looks, and wishing change felt just a bit easier).

Did you catch that? Truly–the receiver makes all of the difference. The giver can give and give and give, but a receiver who does not receive will always feel lacking.

I don’t say any of this lightly. I know that it can be scary to enter into a long-term relationship with anyone in which you say, “I’m trusting you to lead me to places that I’m afraid to go into at all, with you or anyone else, let alone myself.”

But as my own coach, Matthew, used to say, when I’d back him into a corner with my resistance and absolutely refuse to try out anything he was suggesting (because, duh, I was terrified):

“Well, Kate. This is what I’ve got to offer you. Will you take it?”