I had a lot of conversations with a lot of people during last week’s Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) and as a result a few things mulled through my mind. It’s funny how things you already sort of know in life some how get the spot light on them and as a result you recognise that whilst you know something on a theory level, and whole heartedly agree with it, it turn’s out you aren’t actually living it, even though you would like to or thought you were. Seeing things in a new light offers a new inspired invitation to renew your choices and you gain a whole new clarity.
One of the things that came out for me personally last week is that old tendency of mine that many of you can probably relate to…. that of being a people pleaser. And when that comes along side a deep caring for people and wanting to help reduce anyone’s suffering before you know it you have promised or given energy you don’t have, and you have neglected your own needs.
Last week one of the things I covered as part of MHAW was that it’s good to talk and it’s good to be there for each other. I mean that, but perhaps I should have added a but or an and to the sentence. It’s something that I think we all need to be aware of in the growing conversations around mental health….
Like me, you are no doubt someone that wants to be there for those that you care about and for anyone that needs help. This is something that I would hope we all could be to and for each other. There are two very important buts or ands to add though….
Firstly, you can’t help someone that isn’t also trying to help themselves. Of course when someone is having a hard time it can be very difficult for them to see the wood for the trees or to have the energy to help themselves, but at some level there will be a desire to do so, even if they are struggling to. There are some people though who are not trying to help themselves and quite happily, albeit unknowingly, survive from using other people as their pick me up. They don’t actually want to find sustainable, solution based ways to live, or to get out of their problems. They really want to remain in a drama cycle and feed off anyone happy enough to support that.
Likewise there are some people who genuinely do want to improve their life and get out of the struggles they face, but they keep making choices over and over again that don’t support that. Action speaks louder than words as they say. When dealing with these people you can of course try to offer help and be a supportive ear but if you find yourself on a loop with them and you are starting to get drained in the process then maybe you need to put some space between you and them. It can be hard seeing someone hit rock bottom and you can spend much of your energy trying to prevent that from happening, for them, but sometimes rock bottom is a self empowering launch pad.
Maybe ask yourself the question….am I leaning on someone instead of taking self empowering action? Am I making myself a victim instead of making empowering choices?
If you are the one others lean on ask yourself if you are helping to create something sustainable in the long run? (and there is a clue here…..if you feel in any way slightly resentful, or massively resentful, then you are probably in a loop) Which leads me to the second but or and….
Help others all you like…..but it is pointless if you burn yourself out in the process. If you burn out you can’t help anyone. Whilst it is good to be there for others you need to be there for yourself too. I get a lot of people ask me to meet up for a coffee, lunch or a catch up and of course it’s a lovely and enjoyable thing to do. Some of those that ask me only do so when I know they need a pick me up and I am the one that seemingly does that for them. I don’t mind doing so, but I will also say no when I don’t have the energy. Sometimes I say yes though even when inside is saying no. It’s on these occasions I have to check in with myself and ask why I am doing that. There are many layers to why we do what we do and whilst many people pleasers, myself included, genuinely want to be there for people and help them, we need to see the less obvious drivers behind our choices. Do we seek approval? Do we want to be seen as a good person? Is there a reason we ignore our own needs and emotional feelings?
Other people ask you for your time and energy and then mess you about left, right and centre cancelling plans often at the last minute. Whilst that is often because they are in chaos and are all over the place, they are also not respecting your time and energy, whether they realise it or not. If they don’t respect your time and energy then you should do! Learn to help others through a balance of self respect, and sometimes that means saying no.
When I first started to do 1:2:1’s I used to do a lot for free or at a reduced rate to help those that couldn’t afford it but wanted it. I can tell you two things I have learnt over the years from doing that. 1) The ones that I did appointments for free for were the ones that cancelled the most or didn’t show up at all. 2) The ones that I discounted would happily spend their money elsewhere on other things.
I think there is a lesson in self worth there 😉 and to a greater degree anytime we offer ‘discount’ – the clue is in the word itself….’dis-count!’ When someone asks you for discount it might be worth asking yourself how much they value you, and your answer to them might well show how much you value yourself.
Anyway, I digress… Back to MHAW…Whilst we are moving into greater conversation about mental health and supporting each other I would like to encourage everyone to remember that whilst it is a move in the right direction for those struggling to openly seek help and support, nobody is there to ‘do it for anyone else’ – it is about actively supporting and encouraging people to make the choices that support and sustain themselves in a self empowering way.
If we don’t keep that in mind those that are giving the mental health first aid will become those that need it.
We all need help sometimes and it is both humble and a reminder of humility to accept that in ourselves, and whilst it is of great benefit to help each other along, it is an even greater act of service to someone to self empower them rather than to enable a way of existing that keeps all disempowered and is ultimately unsustainable.
Last week was a good reminder to me that I can’t be all things to all people. That I have to walk my wellbeing talk and say no sometimes. And I have to deepen my enquiry into asking the question to myself ‘when I happily spend so much time and energy helping others to create their dreams, am I spending enough time and energy creating my own?’
The takeaway – help others to help themselves, and help yourself.