Have you ever felt lost on how to help? What to do and say that will make things better?
This week I have not been sleeping over something that is not going on with me. It is out of worry for someone else. I am not trying to say that this is about me, claim some sort of victimhood by proxy, or make it seem like I am a good person because I worry about others. All of those could be true, but in addition, I just really want to be helpful out of love, and I don’t know what that looks like.
How have you been trained to be helpful? What does helpful even mean?
I have issues, with enmeshment. Especially with my family members. Enmeshment, I know I talk about it all the time, is relationships without boundaries. I find myself saying in jest, “I have bad boundaries,” quite often. Enmeshment can also reference various unhealthy relationship patterns (you might be unaware you have them), lack of independence, and emotional fusion.
In my family, growing up, we felt each other’s feelings. Let’s stop here and check in with how that statement made you feel. Uncomfortable? Judgmental? Can you relate? Whatever your reaction, I wonder why? For folks in my family, it just seemed natural that we should care about each other in the ways that we did. If you are someone who thought, what’s the problem with feeling other people's emotions, the question that I am asking here is, where is the line between helpful and hurtful?
Obviously, it depends. But I have been mulling over a framework to help myself help other people. To not have to worry if I am doing enough, or doing too much. Doing the right things, or just making things worse.
The problem is with my mom, my sister, and me. Enmeshment. We are Enmeshed. My sister is in a jam. I can’t say how or why or what… she is just having a hard time. I am going to share things with you that I have not told her. I would tell her if she asks (or on the off chance that she reads this), I have been dreaming about her every night this week. This newsletter is called Bad At Keeping Secrets for a reason.
In my nightmares, my sister stops talking to me. She chooses to end our relationship and sets a boundary that I am someone she feels bad around. Whatever I am doing, saying, is just making her feel bad, when she is already down. I fear this, obviously. Obsessively. She didn’t ask me to worry about it, I just am. She is hurting and something deep within me has awoken. I know it is not fair to say I am feeling her pain, but in some ways, I feel like I can feel it. I wake up in a cold sweat feeling like I have just been choked. There is a certain relief in being awoken into a different reality.
I would not tell her this because I don’t want her to feel bad for feeling the way she does. The issue I am having is not about her feeling that way but desperately wanting to help her, but not knowing how. In some ways, she is the person I know best in this world, having grown up together. But she is no longer the person I grew up with. Perhaps it would be a more accurate statement to say she is the person I knew best, but I still feel like I know her best, in the present.
I am watching my mother try to help, to do what is right, and it’s not helping. The result of my mother’s good intentions is my sister is edging back from my mom. Our mom, who I honestly believe is trying her best, is possibly making the situation harder for her. I want to help. To be helpful. But I don’t know how to do that. I am scared shitless, stuck in a spiral of analysis paralysis, that I will fuck up and I will lose one of the great loves of my life, my sister.
Over the past two years, I have had to let go of two wanted fetuses. My sister stood up for me in ways that I needed her to but could not ask for. She called my husband, told him that he was making me do something I didn’t want to. The situation seemed clear cut to her, that I wanted to keep the baby, so we should. That there were not other medical complications. All that mattered to her was what I wanted in that moment. She said the things that I felt, but the complexities of life, and my conditioning made me hold back.
I try to be diplomatic when I talk about this with my partner. He hung up on her at the time, so mad that she would fight for me, the audacity of her to think that she knew better than he did. But in a way, she did. She knew what I wanted, deep within me. The part of me that wants things regardless of the context. She didn’t want me to have to compromise that part of me because of the world’s unkindness.
There are those two rules, the golden one: Treat others the way you would like to be treated. And the platinum one: Treat others the way they want to be treated. But how do you know which one to choose at any given moment?
Thanks for thinking about these things with me. If you are feeling the feelings of others, or wanting to help someone but don’t know how, you are not alone. I am not alone. We are somewhere, together.
This week, I am finally talking to Dr. Shefali on her book The Parenting Map. We have a copy to giveaway. I have now read this book twice. She is Oprah’s parenting expert. She is profoundly changing the way that we look at parenting, shifting the focus onto what she calls, Conscious Parenting to create Awakened Families. I will let her explain the rest. I love her. The Parenting Map is the “how-to” book - where she takes the theory to action, helping you one step at a time rethink your relationship with yourself and your kids.
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i think, for me, the best way to help someone, is just staying side by side , listening with compassion and empathy and respect the other people desiree/ wishes or whatever... just be present and fully commited <3
You describe a really complicated pickle. In the end, it is my opinion that we cannot fix or fight each other's battles. It's hard enough controlling what little we have influence over let alone checking out what everyone else is worrying about in their own lives. I am not suggesting to turn a cold shoulder to other people's problems, only to say their problems do not belong to you. They might cause your grief, distress, anger a whole range of emotions but this is not your problem to solve. I trust in your sister to decide what she things is best for her and her life.