A few weeks ago a good friend asked me, “how do you keep it all together?” I was taken aback by this question. I never thought that I gave that impression to others! I always felt that if they looked close enough, they could see my mental chaos. What I’ve recently accepted, is that I’m never gonna be in total control of anything or anyone, except myself. Why have I come to this conclusion?
Being the oldest in a family of four siblings, I often ended up looking after them. That feeling of responsibility never really went away, but instead grew to include anyone I came to care about. I became obsessed with their well being, and their problems became my problems. I thought that by doing this I was actually being helpful to them. “Who doesn’t want to feel cared for”, I thought?
The sad thing, is that I couldn’t see what it was doing to me! I was a mess. I was anxious all the time (now it’s down to half). I often felt like I was riding an emotional roller coaster. My loved ones’ emotions influenced mine. I was already carrying a heavy emotional load of my own, but I felt like I also had to carry theirs. No, they weren’t asking me to do this. I took it upon myself. I thought it was my duty! Isn’t that what a good wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend would do?! Yes, on the surface I appeared to be in control of things, holding it all together, but I was falling apart.
It took the pain of falling apart to see that that behavior was doing more harm than good. I wasn’t taking care of “me”. Why would my loved ones believe that I cared for them if I was neglecting myself? Whose problems did I want to help fix, if I couldn’t even solve my own? How could I help my children grow up to be stable, both emotionally and mentally, if I myself wasn’t?
I got a mental picture of a car. If we have one, we’re well aware they need maintenance, fuel and cleaning. If I was the one who made sure to fill up my son’s gas tank, took his car to get oil changes, and cleaned it out when it got dirty, wouldn’t he soon become irresponsible for doing these things himself? For how long would he be grateful that I’m taking care of “his” car? When things are often done for us we easily take it for granted. So would it make sense for us to do this to everyone else’s car but our own, to the point that it brakes down?
So the sum of all of this is: being a good friend, wife, husband, mother, father, etc., doesn’t mean you need to solve their problems or worry about them to the point of anxiety. Doing these things won’t control their behavior (ok it will, but it won’t be good), and we will burn out under the stress. When we stop, they may at first be confused, but then they start stepping up to “their” responsibility (or they may find another person who is willing to worry about them).
To my friend: No, I don’t have it all together, and that is okay. Who of all of us on this earth does? We don’t expect you to either. That’s too much pressure for anyone. Take time to take care of you, so that you will have the energy to help those you love.
Help, not control.
Love you guys ; )