How do you manage the incessant desire to protect or save your family members?
The need to want to ‘save’ your mother? Your father? Your siblings?
And when you’ve given up on your toxic parent … the next boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend?
How do we manage that?
For me, I think it started as a child, … where I was raised to believe that someone else’s well-being was my responsibility.
It definitely carried over onto my siblings, … my friendships, my co-workers, my bosses and most of my relationships, too.
I constantly felt a ton of pressure and (unknown) anxiety around making sure everyone else was okay.
I loved being that person that people could go to but this was beyond that.
I felt extraordinarily in charge of finding a solution to whatever the issue was at that time for each person in my life.
Especially as I got older and the reality of my home situation started becoming clearer and clearer.
I knew things with my mom were super fucked.
I knew that I didn’t like her and that I couldn’t wait to get away from her … but I still couldn’t shake the codependency.
I wanted to figure it out for her.
I always felt I could find the answer and then she would ‘be better.’
I could find the right article and then she would get it.
I could find a job for her that I hope she’d actually keep.
I could teach her how to be a friend so she could enjoy life more.
I could find her the cheapest insurance so she could take care of her health.
Each and every day … just brainstorming a way for her to get healthier.
And then it started carrying over into my siblings and then my friendships…
Either saving them from themselves or wanting to protect them from feeling any of the pain that I was feeling or had previously felt.
This eternal obligation that because I was ‘strong’ that I had to take care of them.
Here’s what I learned …
Most importantly I learned that while I am a super woman … I’m not super human.
Doing this and that and being here there and everywhere in between, … was slowly depleting the motivation I needed for myself to get out of my own situation.
In addition to that, being so focused on helping other people was also a way for me to avoid my own shit. The more drama and chaos someone else was experiencing, the more I found myself being involved. They need me, I thought. Could have been a form of self-sabotage because I didn’t feel worthy of a better life. A way or excuse to justify why I didn’t have the time, energy or the money to do what it was that was required of me to get out of my own rock and a hard place.
I also realized that there’s nothing like a good ego fix for someone who doesn’t really think highly of themselves at all (old me) than having people around me who always looked to me as a huge resource. (this helped me avoid all of my own insecurities.)
Secondly, … when it comes to toxic people, there is a HUGE difference between support and enabling.
I let 100+ instances of the same shit happen for so many years, … because I thought that’s what support was when in fact I was enabling the same behavior to keep happening.
I was also breaking down any credit I ever had with myself that I had any personal standards and wouldn’t put up with being disrespected. All talk and no walk was brutal to my own self-trust.
Thirdly, … as I started to understand the concept of emotional boundaries – I realized that even though I was attracting people who were used to relying on others to come up with solutions, … I was in fact crossing an emotional boundary and assuming a role in that I knew what was best for them each time I tried to give them a solution. I only recently truly understood this and have worked on simply encouraging other people to come up with their own solutions. I do this by asking better questions and simply holding space because it’s more loving to encourage someone to trust themselves than it is to create a dependency on you for all the answers.
Fourthly, … wanting change for someone more than they want it for themselves, is a fucking nightmare. You also don’t want someone to change for you because then the ‘change’ isn’t sustainable and you’ll run through the same bs shortly after. (believe me, I’ve been there.)
Lastly, … and this one was major for me; the more that I learned lessons for someone, the more that I took their pain on as my own in order to protect or save them, … I was actually interrupting THEIR process.
I was interrupting their learning opportunity.
And I was ultimately communicating with them that I didn’t trust them to handle it. (even if I didn’t trust them to handle their emotions, it still didn’t mean that it was my job to do it for them.)
I don’t want and have never wanted anyone to go through anything that will cause them pain but it’s ultimately their path and I can be a good person without taking on emotions that do not belong to me.
It’s been a relief to realize;
I don’t need to be the problem solver to be loved.
Focusing on my own life is not being selfish.
I don’t need people to need me in order to alleviate any fear of abandonment.
I am not in charge of anyone else’s process.
I am not in charge of anyone else’s decision making.
I am not in control of whether or not someone ‘learns their lessons.’
I am not responsible for anyone else’s happiness or well-being.
You can’t save anyone.
Yes, you can be there. Yes, you can be supportive.
Yes, you can ask questions and follow up.
Yes, you can be compassionate and be that listener you’ve always wanted in your own life.
But, … it’s important that we realize that someone else’s situation isn’t ours to manage or regulate.
People will change when they want to change.
People will put in the work when they want to put in the work.
People will heal when they choose to heal.
It just is what it is.
And if someone is making you feel guilty as you change your role in these dynamics, … have that conversation.
Be clear. Be open. And be honest about what you want and how you would like things to change.
But you shouldn’t have to repeat yourself too much or feel bad about it.
We are grown ups now.
We need to put all the extra attention and dedication we’ve given to others, … back into us in order to truly comprehend what a healthy balance looks like.
And when it comes to other siblings being around your toxic parent and you’re stressed too death about saving them from worst case scenario, …
Here’s my best suggestion:
Be there. Be that support system. Help encourage them to get educated. Help them to realize their own power. But also understand that this is their process. This was meant for them just as much as it was meant for you and the most loving thing you can do is be an example of what life after narcissistic abuse can really look like.
Be the example so they don’t have to learn it all alone.
Learn how to love. How to receive love. How to listen. How to have healthy conflict. How to forgive. How to self-care. How to rest. How to build from the inside out.
Just that development alone … gives you all the strength and clarity you need to pay it forward and be that healthy support system.
And that is enough.
Though, … if it’s your toxic parent you’re trying to save –
I do empathize entirely because the guilt of walking away because of what it ‘could do’ to your parent is excruciating.
But what about you?
What about your life? Your energy? Your peace?
If you can still be a support system without compromising yourself and how you feel, then by all means.
But prioritize your peace, first. And then remember, people will change when they want to change.
And most often people stay stuck in toxic patterns because they are getting results from them.
Maybe putting up that boundary and taking back your effort is the kick in the ass they need.
But again, you can’t save anyone.
Focus on being the example and not the savior.
It’s way less stress and way more rewarding.