Helping others is a wonderful thing…except when we use it as a way to avoid our own discomfort. We don’t like our own feelings of anger, envy, pain, etc…so sometimes we’d rather:
…help other people with theirs.
Isn’t that a great distraction? It’s also productive, isn’t it? But its insidious, unintended effect can be that we use our interest in other people’s lives to avoid our own.
You either know or have been one of them. These beautiful, helpful souls, the helpful neighbour or friend who’s always going the extra mile.
If we’re one of them, it feels great. We are told how helpful we are.
It looks great on the outside too. We are being generous & kind.
No doubt, we’re helping because we genuinely DO care. There are a lot of people needing help right now.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing but if it comes at the expense of our own inner well being –
it’s not really helping.
Checking in: Am I helping others to avoid my feelings?
If we aren’t in touch with our own level of wellness. If we’re falling apart in our personal structure while we ‘keep’ the structures of others intact (which we aren’t), we may want to ask ourselves:
- Where could my energy be better used?
- What is my motivation for all this helping anyway?
- Am I escaping what I don’t want to see inside of myself?
- What is the fear here?
At one time in my life, having the answers was a CORNERSTONE of keeping my self-confidence intact. If I could provide the answers for someone else. If I could tidy up their world, I could justify avoiding my own slightly (unbeknownst to me at the time) disastrous inner-world.
I could get my fixing-hit by making something else look pretty without having to face my own demons in the process.
Because how Unmotivating fixing my own house is!
IT’S A SLOG!
No one is there cheering me on. No one is rewarding me (externally) for my efforts. Much easier & more rewarding to help other people with their demons.
Welcome to the trap of external focus! When we focus on things outside of ourselves, keeping ourselves endlessly busy, etc… we don’t have to look at, face or clean up the inside.
It’s a form of procrastination & self-sabotage. It keeps the environment around us tidy, yes, but the trap is that we deny ourselves learning and progressing inwardly.
Ultimately we end up feeling overwhelmed, uncertain & a whole lot of resentment.
It’s scary to face our own fears & pain, but in the long run, it serves us more to experience some short-term pain, than the insidious long-term pain that avoidance creates.
Our brain loves it when we make decisions that involve going toward something instead of away from something. Avoidance of any sort creates a sense of mistrust in ourselves. So that we can break this cycle, we might ask:
– “How do I want to feel? Have I ever considered that I’m allowed to decide what I want to feel?
– Am I avoiding my own mess by cleaning up the messes of others? Short term, it might feel good, but how does that make me feel in the long run?
– How long will this othering-gratification be enough for me?”
– Do I want to investigate where some things may need healing instead of spending energy avoiding it?
– Could I invest in myself & brave my own inner messy world?
– Can I consider what might be different in my life if I hit the PAUSE button & took some time to reflect?
– What might change if I do reflect & start pulling back the curtain on the mess I’m hiding under the rug, bed, sofa… in my own house?
– How much extra energy might I find if I turn some of that outward-focused energy INwards?
LEARN MORE STRATEGIES on facing your negative emotions here: Accepting Negative Emotions: 6 Ways to Face Not Deny Them.
What is my resistance to turning within and Helping ME first?
My response to how unmotivating it is to be our own cheerleader & inner-house-fixer.
My response to how discouraging it can be to light our own fires (that DO NEED us) & how tempting it is instead to focus on all of the ones around us that “need” us (they don’t).
I compare it to Tom Hanks – when he successfully lit his first fire in the movie Castaway (if you haven’t yet—watch it).
MY RESPONSE TO ALL OF THAT DISCOURAGEMENT? I SAY:
Lighting our own fires is the work. If I’m honest, it is boring and sucky half the time.
BUT I PUT MY HEAD ON MY PILLOW AT THE END OF THE DAY, BURNED MATCH IN HAND, KNOWING I JUST STOOD FOR MYSELF.
I didn’t wait for someone to hand me a light.
I didn’t consult with anyone about the type of match or lighter to use or which wood burns brightest & best.
I didn’t try to control someone else’s fire and then stand there all day fanning their flames in a BRUTAL, VAIN ATTEMPT to feel that’s a replacement for my own.
No. I lit my own.
Yup. I’m a bit burnished & sooty-faced. Some days I’m dripping wet because my fire got all sorts of out of control and I almost burned the house down. But I did it myself.
Tom Hanks stranded on the island: this is the image I give myself at the end of the day. I’m alone on the island. No one is coming. I did it alone.
No one cheers me on, sees it, or hears me, but I built this freaking thing, and damn it, I’m proud.
My messy self and me. At the end of the day, we can rest in that.
LEARN MORE STRATEGIES that will help you handle face your fears here: How To Face Your Fears & Build Resilience.