I was a child when that Naughty-by-Nature song came out. I didn’t get it, especially listening to the radio edit. But, the hook was catchy.
I’m all grown up now. And you can pretty much replace that last P as you see fit. I don’t want to complicate things, so we’ll keep it Disney: Other People’s Problems.
As a human services worker, I’ve solved many problems. Clients usually came to me on the brink of psychological breakdown due to, you guessed it, problems, circumstances, issues, and quandaries. Call it what you will, sometimes they get the best of us. All of us. No matter what was going on with them, I had one job: find housing.
It doesn’t matter how deep a person is in their mess, they have to be tired. And not arms stretched out yawning, in need of a good nights sleep tired. More like, out of breath just saying your own name tired.
Early in my career, I was naive to think I could save the world—if only people would let me. Every morning, I threw on that red cape to save my clients from self-destruction.
Here’s the thing: people aren’t going to stop you from doing all the work. My clients were homeless, not incapable. They sat back and watched me run around like a headless chicken while I resolved complaints and quieted tantrums. My behavior created codependency. It wasn’t long before I experienced a burnout. Jaded by foolishness, I pulled the breaks on the entire mission.
So, how do you solve another person’s problem?
The easy answer is… you don’t. Let them do it.
Let them struggle– I know this may seem crass, but it’s a reason why lifeguards take their time saving a drowning swimmer. It’s so they won’t drown themselves. They wait until they stop struggling to perform the rescue. It happened to me when I was drowning. Though I’ll never forget it, I completely understand the logic behind it.
I’m willing to give you aid but not at the sacrifice of my personal well-being. I need to know you’re ready to receive. To be totally engulfed by your circumstances so that you’ll do your best to not let happen again.
I know someone who lets their living space turn into a chaotic, grimey mess whenever they’re having problems. Have you ever been to nightclub after the lights come on? It’s something like that. Besides being gross, it’s a total head-trip. I’ve spent entire days helping this friend clean and organize with the promise to change and not let it go back. Well, this last time she sought my help, I stood my ground. I said I would only help, if she was absolutely ready to change because I didn’t want to waste my effort. She was pregnant, at the time, so I did the brunt of the work. It took three days, but we finally transformed it into a functional living space. The following week, it was worse than before. I was done. She didn’t tell me the truth. Time and energy wasted. I’m not angry…just better informed.
Don’t work hard- You don’t need them to be ready to change. They need to be changed and making progress. Be a support system not superhero. You should not be working harder at another persons life than they are.
Offer advice first- I can’t tell you how many man-hours I’ve spent listening to my friends problems only to offer advice that they completely ignored. If your sound advice gets rejected…don’t make another move. They aren’t ready to put the work in or change. They’re enjoying playing the victim to access your resources.
If someone claims to have moved on from an issue but constantly talks about it, they want sympathy. The issue has become their bread and butter. Usually, they’re benefiting by continuing to talk about the “non-issue.” Recovery shouldn’t last a life time.
A coworker shared that she had been addicted to cocaine. She went through the recovery process and remained sober for over twenty-years. I asked if she still went to the meetings. She said “Once you recover from something, it’s over. If you still need to attend meetings, you haven’t recovered.”
Let them ask for help… but don’t make promises- If you rush to say yes, they’ll keep coming back for more. Dangle that carrot for a while. See what solutions they come up with while they wait for your response.
If any of this sounds cold and heartless—sorry to piss you off— but you’re a codependent. It’s okay. Step away from the ATM machine and telephone. I used to be that person until I ended up broke, busted, and disgusted. I promise, if you take a step back, they’ll figure it out. Now, if you like being used and abused—carry on. This post is not for you.
God inbred survival instincts in all of us. You can’t save a person from the learning process. Trying will only destroy the both of you. Your resources aren’t the answer. Some people just need to change.
Live. Bless. Prosper.