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Mentors – How Much Power Should You Give Them?

Emma French's picture

Mentors – How Much Power Should You Give Them?

Lately I have been pondering exactly what role mentors should have, and how much authority it is healthy to give them in your life. A few years ago I was involved in a spiritual group, which was really nourishing and changed me hugely for the better. But then the shit hit the fan, as it so often does when human egos are involved, no matter how noble people’s intentions may be. The two head honchos in my beloved group had a spectacular falling out, and I had to choose between them.

The way these two women handled the rift affected my ability to respect their “truth”, because I saw that they both had control issues they seemed to be projecting. Don’t get me wrong, I think most of us are inclined to be controlling in some way, but if people think they are somehow so “spiritual” that they are above their humanness, it should signal alarm bells.

It was heart-wrenching, but in the end I had to ditch the mentor I was closest to, because she shocked me by bitching viciously about her ex-colleague. She was a skilled navigator of multi-dimensionality, but her life balance was also pretty seriously out of kilter – one of the hazards of living too much in those upper chakras, as alluring as that prospect can sometimes seem to us spiritual seekers. Anyway, the bottom line is that I chose the mentor who was less inclined towards blame; it is no coincidence that she was also the happier of the two.

Running to mummy

As someone who had a pretty dysfunctional upbringing, I have been inclined to seek mentors as a parent substitute, so that I feel looked after. This pattern began in my mid teens when I met a woman who was fifteen years my senior. She took me under her wing, and I clung to her like the lifeboat she was in those troubled years. That woman was a luminous visionary and reluctant psychic whose genius was in comprehending human behaviour. For years she was generous enough to offer me informal counselling of the highest calibre, and it gave me an invaluable grounding in the finer points of understanding what makes people tick – especially myself.

She had been a primary school teacher, and for a while worked in special education, where she had apparently managed to sort out even the kids with the chunkiest chips on their shoulders, including the few who were so out of control they had been put in the too-hard basket by everybody else. She was incredibly analytical, intuitive, honest, direct and articulate, but also hugely nurturing, with a very soothing, measured way of speaking.

The synergy of these elements was truly mesmerising, and this woman’s magic transported me into a whole new world, where mystical forces were palpable and time stood still – a rare gift of connection. She would have made an absolutely mind-blowing hypnotherapist, and as a mentor, she was a hard act to follow. She managed to be both incredibly encouraging, and also not afraid to call me on my crap. This taught me to take criticism on the chin, though it has to be constructive and come from a kind, neutral sorta place for me to take it seriously.

Since then I have been helped by some other pretty switched on and committed people. I am inclined to seek out advisors – not to mention friends – who will tell me the truth, and are also far more interested in dwelling on what is right with me, than what is wrong with me. This most nourishing sort of confidante has been described as a “believing mirror” by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. The critiquing type of mentor is a dime a dozen – we are all inclined to judge and can easily become quite expert at cataloguing the flaws we see in others…which is uplifting for neither the critiqued nor the critic. And by the same token, people who insist on constantly cataloguing their own flaws and insecurities without wanting to hear any constructive suggestions make me want to run for the hills.

What makes a good mentor

In order to be able to hold a healthy space energetically for the blossoming of another person’s empowerment, I think a mentor needs to be directed by spirit, or something they consider to be bigger and wiser than their own personality self. They also need to be largely leading by example. The “do as I say, but not as I do” method just doesn’t cut it in a role model, any more than it does in a parent. “To know and not to do is not to know”, said Stephen R. Covey, author of bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

I think it is really important for everyone, especially if they are acting as a mentor, to have a person they also trust to give them feedback, because we all have blind spots, no matter how evolved we think we are. Equally, anyone who really wants to create their own life needs to take responsibility for their self care and learn to tune into their inner guidance, because no two journeys are the same – ultimately, if we want to create a fulfilling life, we each have to trust our internal compass.

It seems to me that a healthy part of becoming an authority in your own life is having space to expand into, so that you can start to question a mentor – just like a healthy child grows into questioning a parent. If an advisor is doing their job well, they are not only training their protégé to trust her or his own judgement, but are actually able to learn from their charge. At the very least a mentor should be able to take the kind of feedback they themselves are offering.

Unfortunately, this may not be the case, with the underlying message in my experience instead often being: “Always, ALWAYS question authority, just don’t ever question my authority.” …But to be fair I have probably attracted some over-controlling advisors because in the past I was not very willing or able to take proper self care and claim my own authority. So ultimately, I reckon self-trust and sovereignty, with periodic consultations from trusted external sources, is the only way to go.

What experience and insights do you have around mentoring? Please share your comments and stories here!

Emma French

Comments

Merri Beacon's picture

Still sorting it out...

Hi Emma!
This was a very timely past for me as I have just finished my third collaborative project with my mentor and I'm exhausted. I'm still sorting out how to take the nuggets of truth in our relationship while holding my own boundaries. Of course, this is my issue with everyone, having been raised by narcissists who were intermittently kind, then critical. The situation just seems bigger or more intense with the mentor. My mentor is fifteen years older than me also which gave her the upper hand when I was only 30. She seemed like the young auntie I never had, as I bet yours did too.
We treat each other with kindness and respect but it seems no matter how much I do and listen in our relationship, she seeks more attention, has more instructions for me to do more projects. I know it's not my duty to give attention endlessly but I got snagged early on before I worked out what I had been through with my parents. My mentor actually IS a hypnotherapist - interesting all the parallels. I'm glad your mentor has healthy boundaries, Emma. Thank you for letting me vent here - guess you hit a nerve! Loving you from here, Merri

Emma French's picture

collaborative projects

Hi Merri
Yes, it can be challenging to set boundaries with mentors, especially when they have given you some good parenting. Better if you can attune to your own rhythms though, and practise saying "No", scary though it can be. Good luck! xx

Emma French's picture

collaborative projects

Hi Merri
Yes, it can be challenging to set boundaries with mentors, especially when they have given you some good parenting. Better if you can attune to your own rhythms though, and practise saying "No", scary though it can be. Good luck! xx

Rebekah's picture

So En Pointe!

This was a fantastic article Emma! I relate to it well and agree with the points made here. It not only helped me better understand my own interactions with mentors of sorts, but is a good model for the type of mentor I wish to be as well. Very wise advice here. I "reckon" :) you are right on the best paths of how we can experience mentoring (with trusting ourselves and occasional external sources). For myself, I also find prayer and consulting with a higher power (Holy Spirit for me) to be effective. XO, Rebekah

Emma French's picture

En Pointe

So glad you resonated with the article, Rebekah, and that it inspires a vision for you of how not only to receive mentoring in a healthy way, but also how to be a good mentor yourself xx

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