I can remember days when I used to get very wrapped up in other people’s drama. Like last month. Ok, just a little bit last month, but truthfully, in years gone by, I would get very involved in the misfortunes of friends and family. Born of love and caring, it would keep me up at night, steal attention from my work, and distract me from my life. That last one, of course, was the point: to escape my problems by “helping” others with theirs.
It wasn’t that I relished their distress – it was that I took it on as my own burden to bear. Rather than empathize, support and encourage, I would agonize, solve and push them to my solutions. I bet I was annoying. No one has told me that before, but they are all very nice people.
Two people called me out on this behavior and gave me a push to change. One – no surprise – was my therapist. The second, though, was a distant friend who, upon hearing my long litany of stressors said, “everything you just mentioned happened to other people.” I was stunned, then embarrassed, then spent a considerable amount of time in introspection into why the stress of others was so deeply impacting my life.
The answer, as I said, was that I was distracting myself from my own problems. Much like turning on a murder show or basket case documentary, I could get wrapped up in solving something, when my personal problems seemed unsolvable. I identified with their problems in some ways, but also was outside of them, allowing me to see options more clearly. However, the “work” (in quotes because it wasn’t my work to do) of addressing the problems did add real stress to my life.
I had to do my own hard work and figure out where my life was so wrong that I need to use others for distraction. I needed to accept my struggles and work on living with and solving them.
This whole process led me, too, to understand that I couldn’t control others. I couldn’t make decisions for others or make them see how brilliant it would be to do xyz. This was a core to the stress being added to my life – that no one would do what I said. (Or rarely.) Believe me, it was a LOOOOONG journey to accepting that.
Mine are the only actions to control. My life is the only life for which I get to make all of the decisions. (And, yes, no matter how I’m feeling in the moment, only I get to make those decisions for my life.) Even your own children. You may be responsible for them and their decisions for the first 20 years of their lives, but they start making those decisions from day one.
Grasping these concepts and practicing guiding my own life continues to be fundamental to my happiness. My superior problem-solving skills, however, didn’t get completely removed from other people’s lives. ha! However, I have it under control and will often ask the “sympathy or solve” question (thanks, Christine, for that one). “Do you want me to just sympathize or do you want solutions to this?” This helps me stay in the role of supportive friend, instead of friend who wants to ignore her own issues.