Accepting Our Limitations in the Lives of Others

A short time ago, I was bemoaning to a friend about a situation involving someone close to me (well, to be honest, there’s more than just one) that feels intractable. As someone who considers herself quite capable in many, many arenas, I get enormous satisfaction from devising a strategy and solving a problem. So, to run up against a brick wall where nothing seems to work, I begin to fret, feel frustrated, and throw up my hands in helplessness.


Sound familiar?


After I departed, my friend called and shared with me the following. “It may sound dumb,” she began, “but reminding myself of this helped me: you can’t fix this problem. They’re going to do what they’re going to do, no matter what. You can’t fix it.” I assured my friend this was not dumb and I appreciated the reminder. I can’t fix it.


It’s terrible to feel powerless isn’t it?


From our perspective, we can see problems hovering on the horizon, like a menacing weather front generated by someone else’s insistence on pursuing a particular course despite changes in circumstances or capabilities. Ranging from denial about getting older or defiance about being young, the variety of instances where a refusal to heed or consider admonitions is infinite. For those of us on the sidelines, it is an awful feeling to watch as the locomotive bears down and no matter how fervently we wish to rescue our dear one, they have tied themselves firmly to the rails.


I don’t intend to present myself as a Cassandra of sorts—it’s not that we are infallible in our prognostications—and I respect a person’s free will, but the point of today’s post is the agony we experience when we see Person X heading down a path fraught with difficulty or loss.


I can’t fix it. I can’t fix it.


Re-booters understand that there are significant limits to our abilities to influence or help anyone outside of ourselves. But intellectual understanding is a far cry from emotional acceptance. It’s distressing and humbling to watch powerlessly as our child takes up with a bad crowd or a friend gets cancer or a sibling faces ruin from an addiction. We can’t protect our loved ones from the inevitable rough truths of the world—as much as we wish we could. Our rough truth is that we can’t rescue people from themselves, even if what happens hurt us, too. We can’t change what happens to others and we may wind up as collateral damage, to boot.


At times like these, I remind myself that suffering is part of their life journey, too, part of some lesson they need to learn. You may or may not agree with this perspective, but it helps me try to make sense of things I can’t understand. It feels so paltry to linger on the sidelines, simply loving these people from afar— praying for their protection–but this may be as much as we can conjure from our bag of tricks. Being ok with this, learning to make peace with the limitations of our intercessory powers is a key component of re-booting.


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2 Responses to “Accepting Our Limitations in the Lives of Others”

  1. helenga Says:

    Just what I needed to hear today! As the saying goes, “you can’t save people from themselves.” Great reminder, thanks!

  2. dignitarysretreat Says:

    So much easier to say than do. Learning, somehow, to train ourselves to remain placid when we see (or experience the impacts of) someone who–for whatever reason–is heading in a problematic direction that we can do nothing about, well, is an important life coping skill, but tricky to accomplish!

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