For years I was doing everything for my ex while I desperately tried to hold him together during the height of his drug addiction. Getting him up for work, getting him in the shower, setting out his clothes, making his breakfast, packing his lunch, and the list just goes on. Every ball he dropped I tried to pick up and hand right back to him before anyone noticed it was rolling away.
It didn't work.
I will never forget attending marriage counseling with my ex. He didn't want to be there, he was more or less forced into it due to some factors outside of our marriage, but to my surprise he did show up. It was our very first appointment and the counselor pulled my ex out of the room and said to me "this guy is going down. You have tried to hold him together for long enough and you can see that it isn't working. You have two choices here, you can let him go down on his own or you can let him take you all down with him."
I stupidly didn't take that advice and when he took me down with him, I almost drown.
After my post "Watch What You Say To Your Mother" a lot of you had questions as to when the right time is to cut the cord and stop saving someone from their own bad decisions.
You know what? That's a tough question and as you all can see, I'm still learning the answers to that one myself. It's never easy to step away from a situation where you know that another person will probably falter and possibly fail without your help, but at what point does your help become more harmful than helpful?
The first rule in saving a drowning victim is to not jump in the water if you can't swim. This is due to the fact that a person's chance of rescue go down when other people have to divide their time and resources to save two drowning victims.
The hard truth is, you simply cannot be responsible for saving everyone yourself, no matter how badly you want to help them.
I will never forget a demonstration that a youth group leader showed us in high school. The leader had one kid stand on a chair and one kid stand next to him on the ground. The leader told the kid on the chair to pull the other kid up onto the chair with him, without any help from the kid on the ground. After struggling for a while the kid on the chair realized that there really was no way for him to pull the kid up from the ground without any help. Then the leader told the kid on the ground to pull the other kid down to the ground with him and at the same time instructed the kid on the chair to try to stay where he was. With one arm the kid on the ground easily yanked the kid off the chair.
The moral of the story? It's a lot easier for someone to pull you down to a lower level than it is to bring them up to a higher one if they aren't willing to help themselves get there.. You can't pull someone up to where you are unless they want to help themselves get up there with you, but it's a real possibility that they will be able to pull you down to where they are no matter how hard you try and resist.
So when is it time to cut the cord and let someone go? When should you stop helping them and allow them to either fail or succeed on their own terms?
I'm sorry, I can't tell you that.
I can however give you some points to consider when making your decision;
*Are they making any progress on their own?
*When you stop helping them, do they continue to move forward because of their own motivation and efforts or do they go backwards in terms of their progress?
*Do they expect or rely on you to help them in a context that is more than the occasional helping hand?
*Are you protecting them from themselves?
*Is helping them affecting you negatively?
Like I said, I can't tell you what the appropriate boundary lines are in your specific situations, but those questions should at least get you thinking in terms of whether your assistance has turned from helpful to enabling or possibly even detrimental.
Stepping back and allowing someone the opportunity to help themselves is never easy. It doesn't mean that you have to say "see ya later, I'm outta here" it just means that you need to redefine your roll in helping them.
For example, I have a woman that I've been helping who while I love her, I've realized that my help was no longer helping her. My help was continuing to allow her to not have to help herself and something needed to change.
I helped her relay her fears to her counselor, connected her with the daycare assistance department, single mom student loan advisers, and the local benefit assistance department. I encouraged her to get a financial advisor and helped her get set up with a great attorney. Once I knew that she had the appropriate resources available to her, I then stepped back my assistance from "handling everything" to "just a friend."
When she calls, I answer. When she needs to talk, I listen. When she cries, I hug her. What I no longer do though is jump in to save her. I help her facilitate her questions to the people that I have set her up with and then I allow her the opportunity to advocate for herself. She is not alone without my help, she is with people who are not only more equipped to help her, but are better equipped to teach her how to live her life.
I simply realized that I cannot be two people. I cannot be me and at the same time be her.
I can be her friend, but I cannot live her life.
If you feel like you are living your life and helping someone else live theirs, it might be time to step back.
Most importantly and above all, don't lose yourself to someone else. My ex pulled me off the chair and I nearly drown in the muck trying to save him.
I can't tell you when it's time to stop helping someone, I can only remind you that they only way to have a successful life is when each person is living their own.
A person will never have to learn to live their own life if they can sit back and watch someone else live it for them.
There is a reason that children grow up and leave their parents; it's because eventually everyone has to learn to live their own life.
If you never learn, you never grow. To not grow, is to be stunted forever.
We all deserve to be better than half of our potential.
Don't lose yourself in a life that isn't yours, for you were never meant to be half of someone else.