Mental Health Matters: Releasing the Need to Help

Do you think you should wait for someone to ask for your help or do you think you should offer unsolicited help if it looks and sounds as if the person needs it?

Up until August, I thought the latter. If I knew specifics of a friend’s or family member’s situation, why wouldn’t I just help, without their needing to request support?

Two recent incidents have caused me to rethink this approach.


Incident #1: One of my stepmother’s grandsons was murdered. Someone he’d gone out with shot him eleven times, resulting in his death. Most of her family lives 1,100 miles away and, as most retirees, my stepmother is on a budget. She’d need to buy a plane ticket and due to COVID, she needed to stay in a hotel while visiting. As she shared her needs, I felt the urge to help.

Five years ago, I functioned in a similar way with her. When my father died, I paid for her plane ticket back to Chicago so she could have a second memorial for him, something she deemed necessary.

Two years ago, I sprang into action again. She’d called to tell me about her breast cancer diagnosis. They’d botched her surgery but wouldn’t listen to her painful pleas. Her oldest daughter and granddaughter weren’t in a space to help her. She wasn’t eating or sleeping well. Although she didn’t ask, I packed up my car and my youngest daughter and I drove five hours to take her grocery shopping, cook dinner, speak with authority to nurses, and be with her pre- and post-surgery.

She seemed to need my help, so I gave it, unsolicited.

This time, I just listened. And when she finished telling me about her plans, I said one thing, “Let me know if you need anything.”

She agreed, and I didn’t hear from her until weeks after she’d traveled to see her family, attended the funeral, and safely returned home. Guess she was okay without my assistance.


Incident #2: I have a sister friend, who quit her job about two years ago. I don’t know the specifics of how she makes money and it’s not my place to detail them here. Let’s just say she’s lived with the consequences of someone who quit her job without securing other employment. She also has an elementary-school-aged daughter.

Though she didn’t ask, I thought it fitting to “help” by sending school-supply money. I convinced Dwight to also contribute. I say convince because he didn’t understand why I or we would be giving her anything, especially unsolicited. “If someone needs your help,” he said, “they’ll ask.”

Imagine my surprise, when I saw my little sister friend living her best vacation life on social media. Subsequently, I did what I’ve learned to do…ask a question. I asked her if she needed the money we’d sent. Her answer was no.

Then, I reflected on how I ended up inserting myself in the first place.

I’d made judgments and assumptions leading up to sending money. I judged her current circumstance as negative and assumed she required my assistance. It’s never my place to judge another person’s situation, and it’s certainly not necessary for me to step in and “save” them from something I’ve deemed negative, whether they’re in distress or not.

In the codependent conversation, this is called caretaking or compulsive helping. Like other concepts, the difference between just helping and compulsive helping is the helper’s intent and need to be needed.

It feels good to be needed. I’ll admit I’ve liked being seen as the person whom others can depend on, even without asking. In the past, it meant I mattered. But as Dr. Lefever says, it’s arrogant; it presumes you know what’s better for someone more than they do. How can I ever know what’s better for someone more than they do?

How can I ever know what’s better for someone more than they do?

kegarland

This revelation literally happened two months ago, so it’s a new way of being in relationship with people. But I’m pretty sure I’m going to do the following:

  • Listen without the intent to solve someone’s “problem.”
  • Wait for the person to ask for help.
  • Think about why I want to help; is it self-serving?

I’ll provide an update once it’s become a seamless part of how I function.

I know this one may be a little controversial, especially because we’ve been conditioned, encouraged even, to help one another, so let me know your opinion. Do you wait for someone to ask for help or do you offer unsolicited help?


3 Ways to Develop Self-Worth

How to Establish 4 Types of Boundaries

No More People Pleasing!

Mental Health Matters: No More People Pleasing!

My mother used to tell a story of when I was in pre-k. When she picked me up, the children played on the lawn, pretending to cross a bridge. I was the bridge. I lay flat on the grass, while my friends walked on me.

Even at four years old, I demonstrated the lengths I’d go through to be liked. My desire only increased as I aged.

By the time Dwight and I met, it was easy to switch out a short, honey-blonde hairstyle for longer, brown tresses he’d once commented he preferred. I traded my red lipstick for a natural brown color and stopped wearing bright green shorts for plain, denim ones. I faded into the background of life to ensure he’d always like me, ignoring the fact that he liked me when we met.

I’d mastered people pleasing beyond marriage.

In 2016, my director invited me to a party seventy-two miles away in the city where I work. I didn’t want to go for a few reasons:

  1. The party was Saturday and I received an invitation Wednesday.
  2. It was seventy-two miles away.
  3. I only knew the host.

I discussed it with a friend of mine, who insisted I should attend because of work politics, and…well, because I was invited.

To be clear, I had a good time. In fact, I wrote about it here. But why did I go? Although attending had nothing to do with work, I wanted to be seen as a good employee and a well-liked person. I also didn’t want to disappoint the host.

People pleasing ruled again.

That year, I also published The Unhappy Wife. The number of friends, family, and bloggers who read and wrote unsolicited reviews surprised me. Everyone engaged, except…my husband*.

By self-admission, Dwight reads one book a year. Additionally, he’s not fond of creative nonfiction. But I didn’t care. I obsessed over the idea of him reading and reviewing my book. I needed his opinion. I wouldn’t let it go until I knew what he thought.

I’d argue most of us would want our significant other to read our work. However, something more was happening here. I sought external validation in the form of praise, which is another form of people pleasing.

That was four years ago.

Developing self-worth and establishing boundaries have compelled me to stop living to please others. These three ideas work together.

Because I value myself, I no longer seek external validation. Though I’d like for my husband to read my words, I don’t ask anymore. If he reads this blog or latest publication, I’m excited when he mentions it, but I don’t need him to perform an act to make me feel good about myself.

Because I’d created time and personal boundaries, I knew when my director invited me to another party, I didn’t have to go. I didn’t need to spend three hours on the road and another few hours socializing with strangers to prove I was a good co-worker, associate, or friend. Another strategy I’ve mastered is not explaining my decision. As Oprah once emphasized, “No is a complete sentence.”

Because I’d worked on knowing myself and developing a sense of identity, I’ve returned to wearing red lipstick for no other reason than I like it. Bright colors have crept back into my wardrobe because I like them. And I wear my natural hair in a unique short precision cut because I like it. Each decision is a manifestation of my personality, which is now clear to me.

Here are other actions that have been helpful:

  • I take my time to answer when someone asks me to do something. Let me sleep on it is a useful phrase.
  • I prioritize my own needs over others’ feelings. If staying at a hotel is more relaxing than someone’s house, then I do that.
  • I make more decisions based on emotional, professional, or personal effects and fewer on how I will be perceived.

Finally, I now know the most important person who needs to like me is…me. Others’ affection is a bonus. Releasing people-pleasing behaviors is a third practice that’s helped me to be less codependent.

Finally, I now know the most important person who needs to like me is…me.

kegarland

Let me know if you’d add anything else that’s been helpful for you.

*Dwight read The Unhappy Wife about five months after publication and it taught me an invaluable lesson about external validation.

3 Ways to Develop Self-Worth

How to Establish 4 Types of Boundaries

Mental Health Matters: How to Establish 4 Types of Boundaries

A couple weeks ago, I shared how developing self-worth has helped me be less codependent. This week, I’ll discuss how maintaining four types of boundaries has been useful:

Relationship: Relationship boundaries seem to be the most common. This kind of boundary is mostly discussed within romantic relationships, but over the past five years or so, I’ve developed relationship boundaries with existing friendships. The BFF breakup I recently re-blogged, where I realized I didn’t like to be my friend’s therapist, is a great example. To avoid slipping into a psychologist’s role, I rarely give others advice when asked. Instead, my go-to answer is you know what you should do. Not only does this answer embody my firmly held belief that most of us do have the internal guidance required to live, it also keeps me from establishing relationships where folks constantly lean on me to help them solve their problems.

Time: The next type of boundary isn’t discussed as frequently, and I suspect it’s because people in relationship feel entitled to copious amounts of one another’s time. Take phone conversations, for example. They aren’t really my thing, but I recognize them as something many people enjoy as a way to preserve relationships. However, seldom do I want to talk on the phone, and even when I want to, most days, my lifestyle doesn’t allow for lengthy dialogue. So, friends get a time boundary. Sometimes this looks telling the person ahead of the call that I will only have X number of minutes to speak. Other days, it’s someone asking me if I have ten minutes to answer a question or hear a story. Either way, time boundaries are set, and friendships are intact.

Personal: Personal boundaries are my favorite because they’re unique to each of us. An example of this occurred three years ago. My grandmother wanted visit. My answer was no. I didn’t offer her a reason, but for blogging purposes, here’s why: It was August. My semester begins in August. My oldest daughter was moving to another city. My youngest daughter was beginning her second year of high school. Dwight and I were looking for a house every Saturday and Sunday. There was too much going on and I’d just begun understanding that when life is too much, anxiety kicks in. The last thing I needed was my then 90-year-old Grannie wanting to be involved in all of the things and asking 1,999 questions while doing so. Nope. That’s what a personal boundary is: personal based on your needs.

Conversational: Finally, it is important to set boundaries around what you will and will not discuss. Though it may seem as if there is no topic I won’t share via blog, believe it or not, conversational boundaries exist in this space. Ya’ll can’t know everything. Similarly, I have conversational boundaries with my in-real-life friends, depending on the person. I’ve learned not to talk about anything too serious with a friend I’ve known since senior year, because when I do, he jokes about the subject and never follows-up to see if or how it was resolved. We’re friends, but he’s demonstrated he doesn’t want to hear all that. I only have one or two people with whom I’ll talk about my marriage. Everyone else has proven they can’t handle anything perceived as negativity about Dwight, whom they believe to be an unflawed human being. Conversational boundaries ensure I avoid what feels like toxicity and instead include love and support from the appropriate person. This is not to say I avoid hard conversations, but rather, all topics are not for all relationships.

Relationship, time, personal, and conversational boundaries have supported healthier ways for me to be in relationship with others. Relationship boundaries help me to define how I want to be someone’s friend of family member. Time boundaries ensure I’m not giving too much of myself or asking others to unfairly give of themselves. Personal boundaries allow me to know when to prioritize my needs, and conversational ones help me to not share topics with those who do not have the capacity to deal, while also allowing me to know with whom I can engage.

I hope exemplifying these boundaries helps. Let me know if anything resonates with you.

3 Ways to Develop Self-Worth

No More People Pleasing!

Mental Health Matters: Codependence

I discovered the idea of codependence last year around August. I was displeased with my daughter’s choice of boyfriend, as I had been in the past, and was looking for reasons why she seemed to have fallen in love with the same personality – again. Google is one of my best friends, so I used it to search for specific traits that I’d noticed in both her current and former beau.

No matter what phrases I used, codependence popped up. So, I clicked on a link and read the characteristics:

Low self-esteem

People pleasing

Poor boundaries

Reactivity

Caretaking

Control

Dysfunctional communication

Obsessions

Dependency

Denial

Problems with intimacy

Painful emotions

codependencyJeez Louise! You know those movies that show people’s lives flashing before their eyes prior to their deaths? That’s how I felt reading this list of descriptions. It was as if someone had written an outline of my life. I stopped worrying about my daughter and the men she’d chosen and instead began reflecting on myself and the choices I’d made from childhood through adulthood. The proverbial light bulb went off and I realized (as my sister once said) I’d been codependent as f—k!

From the low self-worth of abandonment to the eventual numbing of painful emotions established in adolescence and further perpetuated as a grown woman, I exhibited each codependent trait. I was stunned, but suddenly, my life made sense.

While most wouldn’t describe me as a people-pleaser, there were specific people I rarely told, “no.” My grandmother was one. The example I repeatedly describe is when she’d told me that she wanted me (and the rest of our family) home for Christmas. We could do what we wanted for other holidays, but December 25th was different. So, even though Dwight and I moved our family a thousand miles away, we drove up and down the interstate every other year for seventeen years with our daughters in tow just because I thought I had to and also because I feared telling her no. I’m not sure what I thought would happen if I said, “We’re not coming,” but I avoided the conversation and disappointing her for almost two decades, all while ignoring how the situation affected my family and me.

Another way codependency showed up in my life is through a lack of boundaries. I could write another twelve posts about this, but I’ll just share two specifics. Prior to 2014, I had no personal boundaries “based on awareness of my own unique needs.” It’s easy to do this when you’re unclear about who you are. How could I know what I needed if I didn’t know who I was as an individual or what I liked? As a result, whatever others liked, I liked. Whatever they wanted to do, I did. You’d never hear me say, “No. I’m not doing that!” It was more like, “Sure. I’m down with anything.”

Similarly, I had very few relationship boundaries. I’ve written before about the ease with which I can become friends with others. However, in the past, I’ve also befriended former students, even when they were still under my tutelage. Years ago, each one had access to me through my cellphone, where we’d chat for hours, discussing their personal business, and depending on what was happening in my life, mine too. I wanted to be a “caring teacher,” but blurred lines and unresolved issues, helped me to become a codependent one as well.

As a current teacher educator, of course, I advise against this; it’s unprofessional. However, reflecting on those ten years, it’s clear that poor boundaries permeated both my personal and professional life in another attempt to prove I mattered.

Another clear way codependency manifested is through control. For much of my life, I didn’t feel as if I was in control of myself. As an only child in a family of older relatives, times were far and few between when I knew what was best for me. Also, losing my mother at sixteen and being sent away at seventeen showed me that I was in control of nothing. Anything could happen at any moment. This led to two issues: I trusted everyone’s opinion, except my own, and I eventually tried very hard to control everything around me, including other’s actions, so as not to be caught off-guard by life, ever…again.

This revelation of codependency really changed my outlook as it gave me a new way to take responsibility for myself and my behavior.

From this point on, I’ll continue to share how I developed healthier coping mechanisms, in addition to conversations with those in the field who can support us in actualizing healthier lives.

Until then, tell me…are you familiar with this term? Have you ever been codependent?

Source 1

Source 2

Monday Notes: When Being Yourself Isn’t Easy

Be yourself. Love yourself. Create boundaries. Speak your truth. Allow others to be themselves. If you’ve been following my blog for even a few weeks, then these should sound familiar. They are mantras by which I have lived over the past five years. However, I never want anyone to read these and believe that I think they’re easy. They are not. And usually I’m reminded by how challenging they are whenever a family member arrives.

This time it’s my grandmother.

img_6084Growing up, I spent a lot of time with Grannie. She was born in 1926 and holds certain opinions. One of them is that children should be seen and not heard. And if you spoke out of turn with her, you either were slapped, or told to shut up.

Much of my childhood and early adulthood I remember wanting badly to not only be heard, but also to be understood. And, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m a communicator and have a lot to say…all the time. Being around Grannie meant silence, unless I was directly spoken to. And as exaggerated as it sounds, it always felt like an assault on my spirit.

shhBecause the caveat for speaking my mind seemed to be becoming an adult, I thought surely that when “I got grown” I’d be able to use my voice with her. The answer is yes and no. It seems I can share what I believe or know is true for myself, but not at the expense of a disagreement or misunderstanding. At the age of almost 45, my insides still begin to swish around when I answer Grannie truthfully. When this happens, I remind myself that I’m an adult, whose words are important. And no matter how much I’m shaking on the inside, I take a deep breath, speak my mind, and if an argument ensues, I deal with it.

This occurred during her most recent visit. It began with a simple question: Do you want eggs and turkey bacon for breakfast?

“I want whatever you’re doing,” she answered.

“Okay,” I said. “When people visit, then I usually make breakfast.”

Just like that. The conversation shifted.

“I’m not people,” she said.

“Yes you are Grannie,” I replied. Cue shivering insides.

“I’m not people,” she repeated.

Not one for morning confrontations, I looked at her and said, “This is not a big deal. This is a yes I want breakfast or no I don’t.”

“Yes,” she said and went back to reading.

But this wasn’t over.

The conversation continued when she asked if my feelings were hurt because she didn’t attend Kesi’s graduation or my 43rd birthday event.

“Whenever people…” I began.

“There you go with the people again. I am not people. I’m special.”

She’d traded slapping and shut up for interrupting my words. At this point, I could feel myself getting angry. Instead of pushing it down as I would have in the past, I let myself be mad.

“Yes Grannie you’re special. But I treat people the same no matter what.”

“You do not treat people the same,” she said a little louder with a mouthful of eggs.

Cue shaking voice. “Grannie how are you going to tell me how I operate with others?”

Grannie paused. She seemed to be thinking about what I said. How could she really tell me how I function? She couldn’t. She doesn’t see it because she lives over a thousand miles away.

Her next words? “You might treat everybody the same, but I don’t like it.”

“Aha,” I said. “That’s what it is. You might not like it, but that doesn’t make it not true.”

“Well, you might make breakfast for everybody, but you better not make everybody your grannie,” she added.

This scenario ended with me laughing and saying, “That’s impossible. Everyone can’t be my grannie.”

I realize that I could’ve ended this conversation by simply saying, “okay” at the beginning. I understand that I could’ve stopped the discussion when it entered “I’m special” territory. But that’s not me. Years of silence have shown me that if I have something to say, then it’s okay to voice it, even if everything about the exchange is invisibly scary.

Also worth mentioning is that having unresolved issues that creep up in interactions and conversations seems to be common for everyone. But as I’ve said before on this blog, other people’s issues are not your responsibility, even if the person is your grandmother.

The only person you can ever control is you.

So, in that moment, I’m glad I controlled myself and still managed to speak my mind. Did I have more to say? Of course. Something in me still wanted to be heard. Understood. But it wasn’t going to happen that day. That’s something I realized. However, I also recognized my growth. No matter how tiny, it was significant. And this was a small success for sure because I was mostly silent for the remainder of her visit. But that’s okay too. Small victories are what have lead me towards the direction of being my true self. Who knows? Maybe next time I’ll speak up twice. Or better yet, maybe I’ll release the desire to be heard.

 

Got Boundaries?

Well do you? Do the people with whom you interact know exactly how far they can go with you? Physically? Emotionally? Psychologically? Do you know how far you want to go with others?

I recently listened to an Iyanla Vanzant episode centered on relationships. You can find it here. In it, she suggests that we not only establish boundaries in our relationships, but that we also make those boundaries known to individuals. Another useful step is to ensure those people know what the consequence will be if they should violate your stated boundary.

I can see how this will work with children because, well, adult-child relationships definitely require boundaries. For example, my 15-year-old, Desi and I were texting one day. In it, she replied, LMAO. To which I responded, you don’t get to laugh your ass off with me ma’am. She hasn’t done it again. She tested a boundary. It failed. She learned how far she could go.

But what happens when there are two adults and something more serious? Remember Buddy? According to Iyanla’s lesson, I should have stated something like this ahead of time: Buddy, I will not tolerate drunken, violent behavior. If you become drunk and violent, then you will have to leave our home.

While I have no problem having a boundary conversation with most adults, I do wonder if I can establish boundaries and allow the person to be him or herself, simultaneously.

Stay with me here. You know I value allowing people to be whoever they are; however, if I establish a boundary, then aren’t I asking the person to not be themselves while they’re in my company? So, is it better to ask Buddy to be mindful of his drinking limit, or just not invite Buddy to the next family function? For most of my life, I’ve just done the latter. That way Buddy can be himself…at…his…home.

I suppose my question is, can you establish boundaries and allow the person to be him or herself at the same time, or are these two different philosophical ways of living life? Can the two work together?

I know this post is more questions than answers, but that’s how (my) life is most times. Let me know what you think. Which do you prefer? Are you a boundary-setter? Tell us all how you do it.

Monday Notes: Thoughts During My Facebook Break

Every year I take a 30-day Facebook break. Just like other things, I tend to use Facebook intently and intensely, so I need to deactivate every now and then.

My social media vacay is typically around the holidays, but this time August seemed to be the best time of year. I figured I wouldn’t miss the back-to-school pics, latest Donald Trump outrage, or eclipse images. I was right. The only thing I missed is my go-to for random thoughts. Instead, I used my Notes section.

img_4769Here are August’s thoughts, with a few explanations.

Boundaries help define who you are and who you are not ~ Thomas J. Leonard I forgot where I read this quote, but it was helpful. With the help of Dwight, I’d recently realized that I still have some unresolved issues with my grandmother. Part of it is a boundary issue. While I’m firm about who I am and what I’ll take from other people, with her, my boundaries look a little like jumbled up squiggly lines (sometimes). I’m going to work on that.

It is possible to only do things you WANT to do. People argue with me about this, but for me, it’s all about choices. If you’re (an adult) participating in situations that you don’t want to, then I’d suggest it’s because you made a choice to do so. Stop choosing negative and displeasing experiences, and watch how much your life will fall into a place where you’re always where you want to be.

When do you put your spirituality into practice? Well, when do you?

Life is just an exchange of energy with others and we can choose how much, what frequency, or how often we make that exchange. I wrote this comment on Reena’s blog. I forget which topic, but something she shared made me re-think how we function as people. We tend to forget that connection is important, but we don’t have to be beholden to others’ whims.

People will not combust if you say, “No.”

If you ask me to do something, and I say, “No,” and you try to convince me to do it anyway, then that’s called manipulation. Have you ever thought of it that way? I first heard a rendition of this from Oprah years ago. And once I considered it more, I agreed. This month people have asked me to do all sorts of things that I just wasn’t feeling. I’ve gotten a lot better at simply saying no. Once they go into convincing mode, it’s much easier for me to stick to my decision because I now view it as manipulation, and I definitely don’t want to be controlled. Conversely, I respect others’ decisions more readily because I also don’t want to manipulate them into doing what I’d prefer.

Relationships aren’t meant to be stressful. Period. I’ve had a few pleasant experiences with friends this month. My friend Tarra and I hung out for approximately twelve hours one day. We laughed. We ate. We drank. I fell asleep. There was no drama and no doubt that we were both in good company. Likewise, my friend Rhonda reached out to me during her annual Florida trip. We went to the beach. I got to know her sons a little more. We ate. There was also little doubt about our friendship. In my mind, this is how relationships are supposed to be…stress-free.

Let me know what you think about social media, social media breaks, blogging breaks, or any of my August thoughts.