Most of us humans want to do good in this world. We want to help people. And this is a beautiful thing. But there is a fine yet distinct line between helping other and losing ourselves in the process.
The pilot’s directive in case of a flight emergency is always the same: put your oxygen mask on first.
Yet in life, many of us tend to ignore our own needs in order to care for another.
Living in the Gray
Nothing is black or white in this life. There’s gray. There are, of course, times when we put aside our own needs to attend to another. When:
- an infant needs to be fed
- a loved one is close to the end of their life
- someone is in danger
But even in the examples above, there is gray:
- The infant can be fed within 5–10 minutes
- You can get something to eat/go to the restroom at the hospital during your vigil
- You can call an ambulance/the police without putting yourself in direct danger (again, even here the situation is filled with gray based on the nature and scope of danger)
My cousin regularly caters to her grown children and subsequently complains that they don’t appreciate her and treat her like a doormat. If she has plans, and they arrive, unannounced from out of town, she changes her plans. Some are carnivores and some are vegan. Regardless, the expectation is that “mom” (my cousin) will “take care of it.”
- shops, prepares, and serves the meals to her grown children’s families’ tastes. Then she washes up the kitchen — solo.
- does her children’s and grandchildren’s laundry
- cleans the house after them daily
And then they leave and don’t call her unless they need money.
My cousin’s pattern:
Doormat + Complainer=Resentment and Helplessness
Victim or Volunteer
A wise therapist said:
If there’s a negative situation you keep experiencing, you have to ask yourself: What am I getting out of it?
There’s always a positive in the negative. There’s always some kind of reward we receive that keeps us stuck in that negative pattern.
My cousin might complain, but it is never to her daughters or their husbands. She will complain to the rest of the family. She will complain to friends. But she stays quiet when it comes to the source of her unhappiness.
Why? I can’t speak for her. One reason might be fear — the fear of what might happen if she tells her grown children how she truly fells.
“My grandchildren are my whole life.” We become the stories we regularly say to ourselves and others.
Another potential reason? There’s a comfort in the roles we play for a long time. My cousin is quite comfortable in her victim role. It’s a false safety net, trapping her in its familiar web.
Growth happens when we step out of our comfort zone.
It is uncomfortable to sit with the notion that she is a volunteer, not a victim. It is uncomfortable to sit with one’s responsibility for an unpleasant experience.
The late First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt wisely said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Nothing is stopping my cousin from speaking up, allowing the figurative chips to fall in her self-caged prison.YOU are the author of your life. What’s your narrative going to be? (GIPHY)
The Greatest Storyteller
The greatest storyteller is the one reading this right now. It’s YOU. Whether you are a victim or a volunteer is always up to you. If you don’t like the narrative, change it.
Changing a narrative is not so simple as “okay, now I am no longer a victim.” That is the physical equivalent of a child shoving their strewn toys under their bed. The mess has simply moved and still not dealt with.
Changing the narrative requires great courage. The willingness to see the patterns we’ve created and the WHY behind those patterns.
Only when we’ve looked with both eyes open can we start planting new seeds and growing a different, empowering narrative — with you as the hero.