“Sometimes when I say, I’m okay”, I want someone to look me in the eyes, hug me tight, and say, ” I know you’re not” – Unknown
I’m not quite sure if it is the crap I have been through, it’s simply a part of my make up or I am just a sucker for the down trodden. Whatever it is I have always had this propensity to find and help hurting people. Now I don’t consider it a weakness, nor a strength necessarily, but it is me at my core and for years I have often wondered why I was blessed (or cursed, depending how you look at it) with this ability and outlook on life, because as much as it is a wonderful disposition, gift or characteristic to have, it also comes with its own set of potential problems. Like when should I turn it off or tone it down to give others the opportunity to work through their own set of issues? When people fail to hold true to this, we will inevitably become known as enablers or crutches. So to prevent the entire notion of being my brother’s keeper becoming something negative and discourteous it became imperative that I learn a few things, otherwise premature burnout was certainly in my future. Actually I cannot honestly say that I did not finally reach the point of burnout at some point, because I did. I just chose not to stay there.
Making this decision is what placed me on my journey to live a more healthy lifestyle when it comes to assisting others. Here are a few things that I learned along the way.
- Establish healthy boundaries, so people are crystal clear where your support begins and ends – I am always saying, “What does that look like?” People need to know where your limits are and what your assistance or support will include, when it will it stop and based on what conditions it will become null and void. For years I was afraid to have this attitude because I wanted to be everyone’s superhero, go to guy and best friend. How exhausting and debilitating this became to sustain! Until I was able to have this often challenging conversation with those whom I was trying to help, I remained on the hook with them. There was seemingly no end to the help I was attempting to give, simply because I was afraid to say “no” or provide the conditions that I expected. This can be especially troubling with family and close friends, because we never want to let them down, after all, they are family right? Wrong, family can be the worst perpetrators of this, simply because they have the type of access that others do not. And they also have an uncanny way to make us feel guilty over things we should not. So we have to lay out the rules from the outset. For instance, years ago I had a family member live with me. I was compassionate, displayed empathy, understood their needs, and was willing to help. But I also had a tough conversations about terms and expectations. It was clear between us both how long the stay would be and also how it could prematurely end. My display of compassion and empathy was not to be mistaken for a lapse of good judgement, and I had a responsibility to tell them prior to moving in.
- Follow through with your established agreements – Sometimes the hardest things to do are the things that you said you would, especially when it does not feel pleasant, however if you followed rule number one, it will prove to be a much simpler task. When you laid a foundation at the beginning, following through on aforementioned discussions should not become emotional or personal. I know this is easier said than done (depending on who we are dealing with), but it should be a straight forward conversation at this point. It really comes to: “When you do that, I will do this” kind of a conversation. It doesn’t have to be a punitive discussion, simply a follow through on previously established agreements. So keep the lines clear and don’t allow it to become cluttered with confusion.
- Get comfortable with saying the word no – Fortunately it is not our responsibility to save the world. Perhaps we will help many throughout the course of our lives, but we cannot save them all nor should we try. That said, we need to fully understand our limitations, and at least be honest with ourselves about them. Even if our heart is genuinely crying out to provide support, we just may not be able to at that time. Whether emotionally or financially. That is not the end of the world, because you are not their source and people tend to find others ways when we cannot genuinely be there in the ways they are seeking. Using the word “no” does not have to be the killjoy it can be known as in this type of situation. It can actually become the motivating factor for setting a new course. Kind of like that saying, “When one door closes, another one opens.” Perhaps you are being used to close a necessary door, so another one will be sought and eventually opened.
I will admit that even with these learned lessons, I still struggle at times with not supporting people who want it, but do not necessarily need it. I suppose it is just my heart, and I accept that as one of my personal traits. It makes me who I am, like no one else. It also allows me to really see people for who they truly are and why they often struggle. I pray that in my journey I will continue to cross paths with those that genuinely need support, and that I am able to help them in a meaningful way. Even if it is just to see them and acknowledge their suffering or hardships, because although the world has over 6 billion people in it and we live in over crowded cities, it can still be a very lonely place.
So take note of my three rules, but never stop seeing people when they are down.