What Is My Motive?

I was working with a client last night, listening to her share her anger, sadness and disappointment that her sister didn’t support her in a time of need.

My client, we will call her Stacy, had undergone a medical procedure and was experiencing some unpleasant side-effects. She phoned her sister seeking support, as her sister had undergone the same procedure in the past, but her sister offered no support. In fact she shifted the conversation to herself. This only angered Stacy.

“She never thinks about anyone other than herself. I am always there for her, she’s never there for me. Even my therapist says she can’t see past her own nose.”

She proceeds to tell me that they got into a huge fight and she almost didn’t go to her sister’s birthday that weekend… which potentially could have created a larger family conflict.

I smile as I listen to her. Not because I am inconsiderate of her feelings, they are real and they are painful. I smile because I see the whole dynamic. I see where Stacy can take back her power and no longer feel disappointed by her sister. I see where there is a real possibility to have a relationship that is fulfilling. So when she finishes, I ask if we can move through the incident more slowly this time, and if I can ask questions as we do. She agrees.

So she begins again with how she had the procedure, how she started having side-effects, and then picks up the phone to call her sister. I stop her and ask, “What was your motive in phoning your sister? What did you want from her?”


“Wow, that’s a good question. I hadn’t considered that before. I guess I just called her out of habit. I knew she had undergone the same procedure, and I was in pain and scared from the side-effects.”

“Perhaps if it’s a medical concern you could have called your doctor.”

“Well, the doctor told me these side effects were expected and nothing to worry about, so I guess I called her because I wanted sympathy and support.” She bows her head in embarrassment. I can see how she is judging herself for needing sympathy.

It is important to know that our needs are not good or bad. There is no reason to be ashamed of our needs. It is, however, our responsibility to get our needs met.
And we are accountable for how we go about it.

“Ok, let’s think about this. In one breath you tell me that your sister is unable to show up for anyone except herself, and in the next breath you tell me you want her to show up for you. Do you think it was realistic of you to expect her to be anything other than who she is?”

And that is when I see it. The light goes on. Stacy gets it. This conflict could have been avoided had she asked herself, “what is my motive?” before dialing the phone. Had she realized that her need at the moment was for sympathy and support, she could have chosen to phone someone else- someone who is capable of offering sympathy and support.

“The only other person I could have called would be my mom.”

“Is there anyone outside of your family you could reach out to?”

She pauses. She has to think. And a new awareness crosses her brow. Stacy realizes that she hasn’t afforded herself the opportunity to cultivate other nurturing relationships. She has been operating under the assumption that her family should meet her needs. After all, they are family. She identifies that she has unrealistic expectations of her family.

The benefit of pausing and asking ourselves, “what is my motive?” is that we get insight into what need is up for us at that moment. Once we identify the need, we have a choice about how to get the need met. Choice is empowering. So now, instead of blindly jumping on the emotional roller coaster to conflict, Stacy has clarity and choice. She has an opportunity to successfully meet her need. And she has the opportunity to not have conflict with her sister.

I have often heard it said, “Don’t go to the hardware store for milk.”