The law of cause and effect is a basic law of life. Every Action has a reaction or consequence – “We reap what we sow” However what happens when people don’t reap what they sow because someone else steps in and reaps the consequences for them? For example, if every time someone you care about overspends, you bail them out, they won’t reap the consequences of they’re spending. You are protecting them from the natural consequences of their actions.
Often it is people that get pleasure from helping others and have a tendency to over-give that jump in and rescue the people they care about. This happens in families, between intimate partners, and in the workplace. Sometimes people rescue others out of a genuine desire to help. However, it can also come from obligation or fear, because they are scared of what will happen, of the consequences reflecting badly on them, of losing someone or being alone.
Just as we can interrupt the law of gravity by catching a glass tumbling off the table, we can also interrupt the law of cause and effect by stepping in and rescuing people that are behaving irresponsibly. Rescuing a person from the natural consequences of their behaviour enables them to continue behaving in undesirable ways, ultimately resulting in you suffering the consequences instead, be it physically, emotionally, financially, etc.
The sad reality is that people who are stuck in undesirable or destructive patterns of behaviour often need to experience the negative consequences of their actions before they are ready to change. That doesn’t mean that you have to stop supporting the people you care about, but it does require you to set some limits about how you will support them moving forward.
So where do you start?
- Try shifting your perspective to view others as ‘creative, resourceful, and whole (not broken)’. Seeing the people in your life as adults, capable of figuring things out for themselves is the first step in enabling them to take responsibility for the choices they make.
- When you feel the urge to help, press pause. Take some time to think so you can make an informed choice. Ask yourself:
- By saying yes to this, what am I saying no to?
- By saying no to this, what am I saying yes to?
- What is underneath this urge to help? Is it a desire to be of service or is it coming from a place of fear or obligation?
- Let go of trying to fix someone and instead move toward supporting their empowerment. Instead of telling someone what to do or doing it for them, begin asking questions – ask first, tell second. Always doing it for them creates dependency. Being curious and allowing someone to talk uninterrupted about their struggles can really help them to work things through and find their own solutions.
- Put your own oxygen mask on first. When you switch your focus from others back to yourself it enables you to reconnect with your own feelings, wants, and needs. Focusing on yourself is not selfish, it is responsibly selfish because if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to effectively support others in the longterm.
- Make a list of all the things you are doing for others that they are capable of doing for themselves. Then add to the list all the things that you are doing for others where you feel a sense of frustration, anger, hurt, and resentment. Then pick something from that list that doesn’t feel too ‘big’ to tackle and try using the following formula for expressing your feelings and desires – ‘When you do X I feel Y”. Then ask for what you want instead – would you be willing to do Z instead? Remember all we can do is ask for what we want, we cannot control the outcome. However, finding your voice and speaking your truth can feel liberating.
- Know when to ask for support. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It does not mean you aren’t capable. It is giving yourself the gift of a buddy and confidante to support you (like you do for everyone else). A professional coach can make a great confidant if you don’t feel comfortable talking to your family and friends.
And remember if nothing changes nothing changes 😉