Feeling alone is a common human condition. Add feeling misunderstood and the problem multiplies. I became a helpaholic to gain a sense of belonging, however misguided that notion was! The more I did for people, the more I felt I was a part of things. What it set up was a pattern of me giving and not noticing that I wasn’t in fair exchange. This is one of the most difficult things I have had to learn in my life:
Step 10: Learn to Actively Receive
That may sound strange, but it is true. Helpaholics are much more skilled at giving than receiving!
And we’ve all heard the adage: it is better to give than receive. Problem is, when you take something that is true and over-do it, it can really backfire on you!!!
Since this is my confessional, I’ll start with one of my first areas of how this applies to me.
Not realizing help is available…
By being so ready to help others, I could easily start down a path with a sense that I am fully responsible for situations and outcomes and not take advantage of the enumerable people around me who want to contribute, participate, give me help. In that moment, it doesn’t occur to me that help is available. I actually end up alienating people because they see me as so in charge, so capable, that there is no room for them. Then they “give up” and expect me to handle things!
Another important aspect of this: when we ask others for help, often they like it! When I call my friend Lida and say I need help with something her immediate response is: “I’m on the job! What do you need?” She has told me many times over how great it feels to be needed! We know we can count on each other. But if I limit my asking for help to her, I don’t get to experience the wisdom of others, and they don’t get to feel valued when I ask them for help.
What I realized recently is that it comes across as a form of arrogance when I don’t reach out to people. It sets me up as some kind of “above it all” person. Which is definitely NOT the case! I get caught up in my own difficulties just like everyone else. But if I don’t talk about them, if I don’t reach out and ask for advice, feedback or support, people assume I’ve got it all handled.
Being so focused on doing, I lose track of how to just “be there”
When we’re on a mission, that is pretty much all we think about. We’re focused, moving toward achieving our goal. I can get like that in my helpaholic phase. So I’m less likely to pick up signals of what is really going on around me. I might not hear what someone is saying, only what I think they are saying.
It takes me out of the present. It keeps me from a natural flow of give and take. When I’m in that state, I might get so focused on someone else’s needs, I pay no attention to my own! And I get into a state of “human doing” instead of “human being.” It also hampers my ability to be present for someone who just wants to vent about what’s going on, not listen to any suggestions about how to fix it! I have found that my unwanted ideas actually become irritating, the same as when others get into “fix-it” mode with me. We both feel more at ease when we listen and be supportive.
Dating and the art of being so nice that I end up trapped….
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with being nice. But the way I learned to be nice was to take care of others. And that certainly applied to men! As I explained in a previous step, I grew up in a culture where women’s lives revolved around men. Much to the surprise of many people who only know me as a business woman, or outspoken activist, when it came to being in a relationship it was almost as if a button got pushed and I’m thinking about what nice meal I can cook for him, or being way too tolerant of what he wanted to watch on TV, or rearranging my schedule to fit his.
It pains me to say that those behaviors weren’t forced on my part. They were automatic!
And now that I am looking back, with some wisdom of age, I see that it caused me to attract men who responded quite happily to that kind of treatment, and then expected it to continue ad-infinitum!
Which meant I would eventually tire of the situation, get frustrated and stop seeing that person. It doesn’t take me as long to break the pattern as it used to, but I have to admit that I am not as interested in dating as I was when I was younger. I’m still open to meeting a great guy, just not anxious about it. Hence, I feel really glad to be home watching TV, doing what I want to do!
I have actually put myself at risk by not letting people help me!
When I had ankle replacement surgery in 2004, I let people help me do things I absolutely couldn’t do — like drive me to doctor appointments, etc. I had a ramp built so I could scoot around the house on my Roll-A-Bout and I got a little cocky thinking I could do everything. I decided to empty the dishwasher and as I leaned into a cabinet with my right leg extended out behind me I careened down toward the floor. I was able to fall in a way that didn’t damage my ankle, but as I sat there, by myself at 8 pm, knowing there was no one nearby to help me, I felt like an idiot. All the what-ifs started racing through my mind—especially the one where I could have destroyed the surgery I had undergone a few days before.
I started asking my son to come at least a few days a week to help cook for me and keep my house in order. It really scared me to realize how close I came to a disaster.
I wish I could say that I have solved this issue completely, but judging from the difficulty I had in writing this piece I see I still have a way to go in opening up to be more receptive. I’m not interested in become overly needy, however, I can clearly see that over-doing my “self-sufficiency” is just as big a detriment to my living the life I would love to live.
Which leads us right into our next Step…..