It’s a new year, and without even trying, my theme for this year has become very clear to me… help less.
My role in life has been The Caretaker, since I was a child. Whether it was helping take care of sick family members, taking care of the emotional needs of abusive family, friends, and partners, “babysitting” wasted friends- making sure they don’t end up dead or raped in a ditch somewhere, or just a general sense of wanting to make the world a better place through volunteering and being of service, my role has consistently been The Caretaker.
It’s second nature to me. And I’ve been ok with it. In all the work I’ve done over the past few years, there is no mistaking the fact that being of service is a necessary and noble undertaking for living a fulfilling life. I tend to live by the Aung San Suu Kyi quote, “If you’re feeling helpless, help someone.” That is without a doubt the best cure for a bad day (or week, or month, or life). Helping people gets you out of your head and out of your own experience and connects you with others.
I also avidly feel like, with all of the ugliness in the world, if you don’t like what you are seeing, do something to change it. Which means, if you don’t like seeing hatred, put more love in the world. If you don’t like seeing people starving, feed someone. It doesn’t have to be a whole country- one person is better than no one at all. Find ways to put more good in the world, to negate and remedy the problems. And I really prefer to be part of the remedy.
With all that being said, there’s the old adage- you can’t pour from an empty cup. I wholeheartedly believe that. Which means we must first take care of ourselves, help ourselves, feed ourselves, love ourselves… make sure that we are happy and healthy and whole, before we start trying to doing that for others. Make sure that we are standing steady on our own two feet before we try to pull others to their feet. Otherwise we might fall. Then we aren’t able to help anyone.
This is what I call the Oxygen Mask Theory. When you’re on an airplane, they tell you that if you are traveling with a small child, and the oxygen masks come down, you must secure your own oxygen mask before your child’s.
We must put ourselves first, especially when we are trying to help others.
All of this is a struggle for someone like me who is both an Empath and a Codependent. I think that both Empaths and Codependents share the desire to want to save the world. But that desire comes from different places.
As an Empath, I hate to see people suffer. I feel their pain. It’s even worse if it’s someone I know and care about. I recently found out that the wife of someone I know passed away six months earlier, and I cried for three days (and felt emotionally raw and tender for at least a week). I never even knew her, but the thought of what this person and his family had been going through gutted me. I’m getting teary eyed right now thinking about it. That’s being an Empath.
As a Codependent, there is more of a gripping sense of urgency of wanting to save people who are suffering. I want give them the magic formula, say the right words, offer the right advice that makes them change their life for the better. It comes from a place of desperation and seeking validation. If I can help them, save them, push them hard enough to salvation then maybe everyone will understand that I know what I’m talking about.
Truthfully, that’s just translation for, “maybe if my abusive family members see what I am capable of, they will finally give me the credit, the respect, and the love they never gave me before.”
But the reality is, I could have a fucking Ph.D. in everything, and they still would act as if I have no clue what I’m talking about, they’d scoff and name call when I’d claim my knowledge, they’d ask everyone in the room except me about the very things that I have expertise in. Because this is what they have always done, and this is what they continue to do (yes, these specific things have all happened- minus the Ph.D.).
I cannot expect to ever get the validation I seek from my abusers, and I most certainly won’t get their validation through others. Plus, it’s not very loving and kind to “help” others in this way. It’s manipulative. And it is not at all generous. In fact, quite the contrary. It is seeking to get something under the guise of “giving”.
And I do this, still. Even after all the years of work, all of the healing, all of the self-reflection and transformation, I still find myself doing this.
I give, and I give, and I keep on giving. And when I have emptied my cup, I still try to give. Then I start finding these covert ways to try to fill my cup back up (i.e. codependence).
That is why this year I am going to try to give less, help less… and receive more. Everyone who knows me knows I love volunteering. Because I do love contributing and being a part of something bigger in this way. But I know now that I need to focus on filling up my own cup- until my cup runneth over.
It’s not that I won’t help people at all. There are people I still feel very called to help, and happy to do so. And it doesn’t mean others can’t ask me for help. It’s just that, I won’t go actively seeking to help. My energy won’t be spread far and wide with the main focus being on helping others. It’s time to help myself. And ask for help. And be ok with receiving help.
Unfortunately, asking for help is so often perceived as a weakness. Truthfully, it takes strength and courage to ask for help.
But I still have such a fear of asking for help. I come from a family where everything you say and do will be used against you. So if I ever asked for help (which, as an adult, I almost never have) that help was never given with love or even with the intention of actually helping. It was always given with condition, with the intention to control and condemn.
So that pattern has still been at play. And all that has taught me to never ask for help, or never take it if it is offered.
I keep thinking of the phenomenal book, Outliers, which goes into tremendous investigation of success. The crux of the book is that, it undeniably takes a lot of hard work- ten thousand hours to be precise- to achieve success (I’m just talking the conventional definition. We all define our own idea of what success is), but hard work alone is not enough. It also takes opportunity (which includes resources).
I have been so determined to achieve my goals and my successes on my own, without anyone’s help, but nobody can do anything solely on their own. And I am starting to wonder if I have denied myself opportunity and resources that may have helped me get ahead. If I had more money to invest in myself then I wouldn’t have as many challenges to overcome. Instead, my energy could go to simply doing the things I want to do, and contributing in the ways I want to contribute.
I know this is pretty much true of everyone- if we all only had more money, right? But my point is, that even if the resources are there, I have not allowed myself to receive them.
The catch 22 with trying to have more money is that usually in order to make more money you have to sacrifice your time. It seems that our society is set up in such a way that you can have one or the other, but not both. Especially here in the Bay Area! But when what you need is both time, to work on your goals, and money to invest in them, you’re kind of screwed. Unless you ask for help.
I have spent my entire life helping others. It’s ok for me to take a break (I need to remind myself of this because it is very challenging for me to not feel like I am helping). And it’s time to be more honest with myself. Right now I need help. And I need to ask for help, and be ok with receiving help. I’m not quite sure what that means exactly or what that help will look like for me. Sometimes it’s simply asking The Universe for guidance. Or sometimes it’s something much more specific. I just know that it is time to start asking for help- and allowing myself to receive it.
I am smart, intelligent, competent and entirely capable of having the life I want for myself. Yet I still struggle to meet my basic needs. I know at this point that a lot of this comes from the many abusive relationships I’ve had in my life, and my abusers doing their jobs very well. The classic abuser/victim pattern (though I don’t like using the word victim) is for the abuser to break down the confidence and self-esteem of their victims so that the victim becomes dependent on the abuser, thus giving the abuser a greater sense of control.
Part of becoming a true adult is realizing that we cannot go through life blaming all our problems on other people. But it’s important for me to know why I am the way I am and where my patterns come from, so that I can change them.
I have changed many of my patterns. And I continue to change my patterns all the time. I have worked incredibly and indescribably hard. I have definitely put in my ten thousand hours as a Writer. So, at this point what’s missing is the opportunity and resources.
This is more than a resolution. This is an intention and dedication to creating the life I want for myself. This year, as challenging as it will be, I am going to reserve my energy. I need it for Me. I will focus less on helping others and more on receiving help (and not resisting it). Because right now my cup is nowhere near full. And if it’s not filled full, I cannot be fulfilled.
So it’s time for me to truly fulfill myself and my goals.