To avoid feeling their pain, I’ve developed defense mechanisms. I can be very withdrawn and aloof as a way to avoid other people’s drama. I am great at problem-solving, so if people tell me their troubles, I have constructive suggestions. If people don’t know what to do, I’ve been way too free with advice. If none of these things works, I’ve been known to talk way too much, if that’s what it takes to prevent them from telling me more. For a while, I thought I was afraid of other people’s feelings, but in fact, I think I’m afraid of feeling helpless. I dislike feeling peoples’ desperation, concern, and frustration, knowing that I can do nothing.
Because in the end, only the person with a problem can fix it. In most personal situations, it is inappropriate to take over and fix someone’s problems. Boundaries 101 teach us that, as does the school of hard knocks. Healthy people deal with their own problems. They can ask for and receive help, but they must orchestrate or request their relief. Anything else can be disempowering and allows the troubled person to slip into victimhood, which can be a long slippery slope down to the dumps.
This year, I’ve decided that it is my time to confront my fear.
I’ve decided to hear people’s problems and offer compassionate listening. And that’s it. No more advice, no matter how well-meaning. Compassion is a lot, mind you, but I need to stick with that. I have many tools in my toolbox, and if they ask specific questions and make specific requests, I can answer honestly and helpfully. They have to ask for it, though. I’m not going to let me fear continue to take over all my conversations. I am strong enough to feel another’s pain without having to fix it.
Wish me luck…. This isn’t the first big fear I’ve decided to confront, and it won’t be the last. It is the one that has become unbearable, now, though. What about you? Are you working to release something from your life?