Yesterday, I wrote about needing to make myself a first priority in order to regain some sense of personal power and not feel so threadbare (I'm hoping you've taken this message to heart, too!). Here’s the second lesson I have learned (and actions I am taking to change):
#2: No matter how much you want to help, ultimately, other people are responsible for themselves.
Someone comes to you and says she's hurting. Or stuck. Or in a bad situation and doesn’t know what to do. Or simply needs help.
What do you do? If you are like me, you jump in with both feet, throw yourself into helping, and take on the whole issue as if it were your issue, often staying up late worrying and going to any length in the mission to fix the problem.
And then it happens: You realize the person may say she wants help, but she doesn’t actually want to put in the time to help herself. Or, she might want you to just fix it all for her. Or, she might actually not really want to fix the situation - she likes the drama, sadness, chaos, or whatever.
But, you said you would help (and you've now taken this on as your personal problem and responsibility), so you spend a lot of time either trying to convince her to take some positive action, or you get fed up and just fix the whole thing for her.
Either way, you’ve just wasted time and energy on solving her issues, but you are left with so much stress and exhaustion that you don’t have the energy to try to make your own life better or deal with things that are important to you.
If this sounds like you, it’s time for a little tough love (and let me tell you, I kicked my own behind for this one, too!):
Solving other’s problems for them does not work. Helping someone who doesn’t help him or herself doesn’t work. Fixing issues that others’ don’t really want fixed doesn’t work.
No matter how good your intentions are, it truly doesn’t end well for anyone.
Imagine this: Your friend (lover, boss, grown child, etc) is caught in an angry ocean without a boat. She can’t swim, so you throw a rope out. She ignores the rope. You bring out a helicopter. She waves it away. You call out the coast guard. She says that she’s afraid of boats and won’t get in. So, thinking you are helping (also known as the “last act of a kind but self-defeating person”), you jump in, grab your friend, and start swimming for shore.
Instead of being grateful, your friend fights you every stroke of the way, kicking and flailing and working against you in the most disruptive, exhausting ways. Or, she simply refuses to even try to swim, telling you (tearfully) why she can’t or won’t try to help - that you need to do it for her.
What do you suppose would happen at this point? Is it possible that you somehow have enough strength to lug your seriously resistant friend and yourself to the shore? Sure, it’s possible, but not likely.
The much more likely scenario is that you become exhausted from all that effort, and you both drown.
If you are trying to help people that will not help themselves or will not participate in solving their own problems, you are doing exactly this, and I am telling you (from experience), you will eventually sink under the weight of it.
Or - hey - I’m an optimist! Let’s look at the ridiculously positive view for a second. Let’s just say that you DO actually, somehow, against all odds, fix the problem and save her from herself. You know what you have actually succeeded in doing? You’ve successfully made her dependent on you, which means that the next time she's in a pickle, guess who she's calling? (And rest assured, there will be another, breath-takingly similar pickle.)
There’s a couple of problems here:
- Your friend (lover, boss, grown child) doesn’t learn the lesson because he or she suffered no consequences, felt little pain, and made no effort. This pretty much guarantees he or she will repeat the experience (or upgrade to a worse one). And, if she actually kinda likes the experience (no matter how much she says she doesn't), she'll actively seek another one out.
- Your intentions might be great, but you’ve actually robbed her of the satisfaction of actually solving her own problem, unintentionally creating a sense of helplessness and a feeling of being incapable of effectively saving herself. Essentially, she's just learned that the best she can do is do the dead man’s float in life, rather than learn how to swim - because, after all, she's incapable of learning to swim and someone else will pick up her mess and drag her to shore anyway.
Sometimes you have to let people fall flat on their faces in order to learn a key lesson to create a better life or stop making bad choices. Sometimes, it’s got to get to the point that leaving the situation is less painful than staying for real change to happen. If people never feel pain, they don’t change - there’s no reason to. If you are always saving the day, never letting the person have to really feel the pain of the experience or his or her decisions, you are actually almost guaranteeing that he or she will stay stuck in the experience (which is kind of the opposite of what you intended to do!).
Think about it this way: when you successfully face a difficulty, obstacle, or tough situation for yourself, summoning up the courage to deal with it and get through it, don’t you feel stronger and more capable?
You do. You know you do. It’s the same reason that cancer survivors wear ribbons and shirts and do 4-day walks and help those going through the disease. It’s the reason that you can sit with your child and tell him that you truly do understand how it feels to be bullied, teaching from the heart how to deal with it. It’s the reason that you can help someone get out of an abusive relationship, because you know what you needed to hear to finally leave.
By participating actively in solving your own problems and issues - side by side with anyone helping you - you strengthen yourself in ways that allow you to be more resilient, capable, and self-confident. You’ve been there, done that and can help others get through, too.
So, next time someone asks you to swoop in and solve their problems for them, remember this. Don’t you really want them to have that sense of satisfaction and strength?
And, if someone won’t participate in their own solutions or healing, you must walk away. It’s not good for you to go down with the ship. It doesn’t prove anything at all that you have given until you fall over. It robs you of the life you are supposed to be leading and it’s time that you could use for someone or something else.
I know this is so hard. It’s a badge of honor when you miraculously fix the unfixable. It’s addictive to think that so many people need you. It feeds that place in you that longs to be loved and wanted and admired.
I get it. I have the same hunger within me.
It’s time to feed it something different. It’s time to feed your soul by releasing those that are sucking your energy dry. It’s time to focus on letting go of the notion that you somehow created everyone’s problems and are responsible for solving them. It’s time to use your energy to strengthen you and your life so that you can go on to make the difference in the world that you are intended to make.
So, repeat after me: “I did not create other’s problems. I cannot fix their problems for them. I can only be there to listen, to offer support, and to give only as much time and energy as they are putting in to helping themselves. It's okay for me to release those that drain my energy and refuse to help themselves.”
Repeat that a lot. It helps. It really does. This should really be your new go-to affirmation.
Have you ever helped someone that didn’t want the help? Or solved everything for someone, over and over? Maybe you broke the over-helping habit? I’d love to hear your stories!
Part 3 tomorrow - and it is a doozy (you will not believe what I just went through from setting one simple, seemingly innocent boundary)!
Flow Method Actions to Implement:
Take a look at those that you are helping that continuously require that you save them or clean up their messes. Set a mental boundary right now that the next time they ask, you say “no.” Let them know that you will help them and support them, but you will not do it for them again. Hold fast and remember that it may be painful now, but you will feel better and so will they in the long run.
Repeat the affirmation above over and over. You won’t buy it at first, but eventually, you will start to feel stronger; at that point, things start to shift.