I’m someone who is wired to keep the peace. Not a fan of conflict, would rarely initiate it and if there is a way I can reduce the possibility of conflict for someone else, I sure as shooting am going there. This has resulted, not surprisingly, in me inserting myself into situations in which I should have left well enough alone. And in doing that, I brought myself far more grief and heartache than was mine to own.
Take my kids. When they were young and even as teenagers, I so disliked conflict between them that I stepped into it constantly. Asking them to stop. To work it out. Working it out for them. Showing them that going to me was the answer. As they got into their later teens, they were still coming to me. When I tried to push back on that, it was a little bit tricky, it was a monster I created.
And I did them a disservice. They needed to learn how to work out conflict with each other. It’s part of the ebb and flow of relationships. By taking it on for them, I kept them from doing their own work. (As a side note…they are far better at this now…I am rarely, if ever, called to be the referee).
I’ve been thinking about that concept a lot, the idea that each of us has our own self work to do. As mothers, it’s fairly common to take on burdens for our kids in an effort to protect them, to save them from experiencing heartache. To help them – or at least that’s what we had in mind. But when we do, we take our energy, that we need for our own self work, and give it away. Instead, we do the work they need to do.
It’s like that with anyone, really. If we’re not careful, it’s easy to fall into fix mode. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes that’s ok, helpful. But when it comes to other matters, like relational issues, people need to do their own work – “saving” them from that keeps them from learning the lessons they need to learn, from the journeys they need to take to develop as a person.
We’re doing that our entire life, if we’re lucky. We’re continuing to learn about ourselves, how we show up in the world, interact with our environment and the people in it. Each of us has our individual journey to take. No one can do it for us. Every person you interact with is an opportunity to learn about yourself. I’ll bet there are some people you get along with flawlessly but others the turn your stomach, who you make an about face from when you see them coming. I think that the closer someone is to us the more intense our reaction to them. They get all up in our space and that’s when things get real. In those situations, though, all you can do is your part. The cumulation of your own work. If they’re willing to work on their stuff, great. If they’re not, you cannot do it for them. They won’t learn the lesson and then you’re doing them that disservice I mentioned.
And that can be hard. For all of us. But in order to learn your own lessons, to be your full, authentic self, you need to stay in your own space. Be there to support and encourage others on their journey, but don’t do the work for them so that they can be their own, authentic self. You would think that it’s easy, but it’s not. For many of us, the natural inclination is to take on their emotion, maybe in the form of negative self-talk about what a “bad” person (insert, unworthy, not enough, whatever crappy message you tell yourself, here) you are for not helping, solving, making everything better. Not that I know anything about that…that’s a lie. Letting others do their own work – and doing our own – is part of having healthy boundaries.
What’s one thing you can do today to determine where you are doing someone else’s work for them? One thing, not all the things, one thing. When you figure that out, stop. Do you feel bad about not helping, not doing the work? Don’t. Seriously. Be loving, be kind, but let them do their work – you’re relationship will be better for it and your authentic self will thank you.