The Limits of Helping Others

Re-booters do not live in a vacuum. We co-exist with others, many of whom have no interest or awareness of the personal re-booting process, caught in a web of problems of their own making. I don’t say this unsympathetically; after all, much of the time we’re our own worst enemy, aren’t we? More often than not, we are active participants in our misery making.


But as re-booters, we are keenly aware that we have the power to rescue ourselves from such pits whether it be through a process of re-framing the issue, taking steps to escape the triggers of such annoyances, or any number of other remedies available to us if we’re willing to do things differently. Knowing this is incredibly empowering—even if our execution of such efforts falls short of the mark—because we know we are our own rescuers.


But what can a re-booter do when someone close to them invites, creates, and re-creates sure-fire patterns of unhappiness? It’s difficult to watch someone we care about suffer. After the typical initial expressions of support and sympathy, I find myself (internally) getting impatient with the sufferer. I wrestle with how often I can express sympathy when my stockpile has run dry. What does it mean to be kind and concerned when a loved one makes a mess of their lives yet refuses to examine their own responsibility for this mini-drama?


How do we manage to offer compassion and provide the sort of support we aspire to when we’re sick and tired of hearing the same complaints ad nauseum?


Of late, I’ve been thinking a lot about the limits of individual responsibility to those we love. When people are in our personal space on a daily basis and driving us crazy with their particular issues, it’s a challenge to maintain that feeling of compassion and patience that is characteristic of a mature adult. As much as I may strive to reach that point myself, I fall short of the mark, followed by feelings of guilt for my impatience and desire to run away. But, one of the reminders that keeps me on a more even keel when I feel fed up is the knowledge that there is little I can do to alter another’s behavior. It’s Not Up To Me.


I may have strongly held opinions about what’s occurring. I may have handled their situation differently. I may never have gotten myself involved in such a mess with such a cadre of dysfunctional characters, but as clearly as I may see the “solution,” it’s not for me to mend. All too often, well intentioned people want to “fix” other people’s problems—they listen and nod, bring meals and hold hands, they give advice and then listen some more—all the while experiencing increasing frustration as the complainer does nothing concrete to remedy the situation. Powerlessness is an awful feeling but recognizing that we all are incapable of changing another’s behavior or choices is necessary knowledge to being able to support those we care about without losing it ourselves.


I want you to think about a person you love who gets themselves into the same mess over and over. Now I want you to think about your experience supporting them—it changed over the course of the problem, didn’t it? Did you start out believing you could make it better for them? What happened when they didn’t act on your advice but came to you about the same issue again? What was going through your mind?


People are imperfect—we make mistakes. Part of the evolution of a re-booter is recognizing just how much and when we can be there to help and respecting the limits of our power to do so.


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