I’ve done therapy off and on for a few years now, hoping to self-improve and learn some better coping mechanisms. Sometimes, I honestly didn’t feel like I was getting much bang for my buck in my steeply-priced sessions. But over the years I’ve still accumulated a few gems of wisdom, that I feel the need to share sometimes.
In one particular session, I was lamenting how disappointed I was in some of my friends, co-workers, and family members. Specifically, it was after my dad had died, and I was really disappointed that people weren’t giving me the sympathy, support and attention I felt I deserved. Some people I had considered to be friends had failed to even offer simple condolences – and I was deeply wounded.
I was kind of surprised when she told me, rather bluntly, that it was up to me to take care of myself, and it wasn’t any one else’s “job” to help me grieve. At the time it had kind of rubbed me the wrong way, and I shut down. I mean, give me a break – I was clearly in the mood to rant and feel validated, but instead I felt as though I was the one who had failed in some way!
After a significant amount of time and reflection on my part, I have now (somewhat) come to terms with at least the basis of what she was trying to tell me.
First, was that of *course* it was nice to depend on people in life. Ideally, we have friends and family who support us when we are down, and can give us a helping hand. Everyone needs that. But life isn’t always ideal. People let us down, and sometimes (un-knowingly) drop the ball. And when this happens, ultimately it’s up to me to make sure that I’m going to pull through. I mean really, what was the alternative? Letting myself sink into a dark depression and then blaming everyone else for not doing enough? That doesn’t exactly sound right, either.
Initially it seemed like she was re-hashing the cliché that “the only person you can truly depend on is yourself”. But it’s true – and more complex, once you break it down. She pointed out a couple of things to me.
The first, was that I might not have actually articulated to people how unhappy I was at the time. Maybe I had never really asked for help, or communicated what I needed. Instead I was just harbouring resentment for un-met yet *un-communicated* needs. And damnit…I have to admit that was partly my bad.
She also helped me understand that this didn’t mean that I wasn’t allowed to be hurt or upset by other people’s actions, or in this case inaction. I didn’t have to repress those feelings or be angry at myself for having them (sometimes, they were justified). And, furthermore, if I felt so severely let down by a person, maybe it was time to re-consider the parameters of the relationship as a whole. If these people had let me down at a time like this, were they really the good friends I thought they were, etc.
Anyway. I’ve actually started to apply this “it’s my job” attitude to a lot of aspects in my life, even the seemingly trivial things, and it’s kind of game changing for me.
For example: I apply it at work. Let’s say I ask a colleague for help with a project I’m stuck on, and am met with a half-ass shrug before they change the topic or proceed to walk away. Chances are I’m going to be frustrated and disappointed. But does that mean I give up and don’t solve the problem? No. In the end, I’ll have to still sort it out myself. Or maybe I’ll seek out someone else’s assistance, and make a mental note that I shouldn’t count on the original person to be my go-to next time.
The other day I even applied it to a smaller, fairly minute dilemma when talking to a friend about a disagreement I was having with a third friend. I was experiencing guilt and distress, and kind of hoping that said friend would re-assure me and give some advice. But she was having none of that, and only responded to my text messages with simple “lol”s and other such fillers, while continually changing the topic to herself. I was fuming on the inside, but then paused, and asked myself if I was really going to get what I needed from this person.
I also challenged my thinking with a few questions: is it really her job to make me feel better right now? Is it her job to help me come to a decision? Is it her job to agree with me? Maybe. While I would have certainly appreciated a bit more thought to her replies or a bit more effort on her part, I realized I had made the same mistakes that I always did: I didn’t really emphasize to her that I was seeking advice. I could have communicated (more clearly) how stressed I was over the situation. Or, better yet, maybe this was something I could have worked out on my own, made my own decision, and made *myself* feel better, instead of needing external validation.
I’ll re-iterate that this isn’t about never asking people for help, or acting like you don’t need help. We all do, at some point or another. And it’s absolutely awesome when people pull through. But when they don’t, I’m trying to take a bit more responsibility, and behave a little more proactively going forward. It wastes a lot of time and energy to be upset, place blame, and hold grudges. And sometimes, depending too much on other people relinquishes a lot of the control we have can and should be having over our own well-being. All said and done, I’m feeling a little more empowered 😉