It’s a topic that has come up a lot recently in conversation with my friend. I try my best to be a compassionate and caring person. I want to be empathetic. I want to help people.
And I know I’m not alone in that. But there comes a time in your life when you have to trade in compassion for others for compassion for yourself. I know it’s not an easy thing to do and it takes hard work and literally having to change the way you think to successfully do it, but I had a situation come up earlier where I had to put it into practice.
My ex-husband called me. From jail. I’ve known this man for 24 years. He’s the father of my oldest son. He has this way about him that is charming and charismatic. And covertly manipulative. And I’ve had compassion for him for years. Whenever he’s in a bind, I try to help him out. I still have his dog that I was supposed to dog sit for a few weeks. It’s been two years. It doesn’t matter what is going on in his life, it’s always something shitty and it’s never his fault. When he called, it was the same old story. “Man, you ain’t gonna believe what happened.” He’s said it to me so much over the last 20+ years it’s kind of like my own private inside joke when he calls. I should get it put on a t-shirt and send him one for Christmas. He could copywrite that sentence. So he calls me to tell me how he was wrongfully arrested for breaking and entering and he has a $40,000 bond. Yep, you read that right. All the zeros are meant to be there. If you know anything about the criminal justice system, then you know that when you bond out it’s for 10% of the price of your bond. I’m no math whiz, but that’s still $4,000 if my calculations are correct. He says he knows a guy who can get him out for $1000. And he knows another guy who has $500. He didn’t come right out and say it, but I think he was waiting for me to come to his rescue like I have done many, many times in the past. I also don’t know what kind of drugs he’s on to think I have $500 in bond money laying around. Hell, most days I can barely feed myself. If it weren’t for universal law and Karma I would have starved a long time ago.
Also, in the past, I would have felt bad for not being able to help. And then I would have eventually helped. But this new version of me, although I do have compassion for him as a human, I have more compassion for myself. I politely told him that he had lived his whole adult life fucking up and generally being a terrible human being. I told him I didn’t even know why I even allowed him a little bit of my time or friendship after the kind of person he had been to me and his son. And that I wished him the best of luck with his situation, but I was not the one who was going to be coming to help this time around. I need to preserve my energy and my compassion for myself.
And when I hung up the phone, I felt fine. I did not feel guilty. I did not feel sad. I was good. He was understanding of my position (which how could he not be?).
And I think a lot of us, especially women, have a tendency to want to take on the problems of the world, of our boyfriends, of our husbands, of our fathers, of our children. And we do it even when we don’t want to because that’s what is expected of us or we are made to feel guilty for not doing it. For not helping. For not interrupting our own happy and peaceful lives to deal with other people’s turmoil.
And I’m here to tell you STOP! Other people’s problems and other people’s happiness is not your problem. If everyone involved is an adult and I mean that in the literal sense of the word. If everyone involved is over 18 legally, they are not your problem anymore. Sure, it’s fine to want to help your grown children. It’s not fine to be their crutch. You are not obligated to enable them to be pieces of shit or lazy or drug addicts just because you are their mom and you feel like you need to take care of them. Same goes for your parents. Yes, they raised you. Yes, they made sacrifices (or some of them did), that was their choice. You owe them nothing. You are grown. You are under no obligation to help them when they ask. Same for your boyfriend or your husband.
Stop putting yourself last. Stop feeling bad for choosing you.
I’m not saying that you need to be selfish. And I’m not saying that you should never help people. What I am saying is that the more you help those who refuse to help themselves, the more they rely on you and the more they will guilt you into being their savior. And the truth is, the only one who can save them is them.