Dear Alice – It’s Not Your Job to Fix People0
I’ve had a volatile relationship with my younger sister for most of our lives. We are adults now and whilst things have improved there continues to be dramas. She’s been going through a tough time in the last several years since our mother died. Recently I have rented my spare room to her, and hired her to do jobs around the house. Unfortunately, dramas continue to arise and we end up fighting over small issues. I’m trying to be a good sister and look out for her but she says that I am constantly attacking her. Her reactions to me aren’t consistent and I am walking on eggshells in my own house, not knowing what will trigger her next. I thought that helping her would be a good thing but it’s only brought more chaos into my life. Why do I feel like the bad guy all the time, when I’m just trying to help? I don’t understand her; how can we be so close and yet be consistently misunderstood?
Wow! I’m sorry to hear that there is trouble at home. Looking after your family is important but it can’t come before looking after yourself. Sometimes siblings fall into a trap of assuming understanding; it is because you are so close that you may misinterpret or assume their opinion. Try giving the benefit of the doubt and stepping out of the sibling role. It may be a good idea to pause and think before replying, be more thoughtful in your responses and ask yourself “what would I say to a random person on the street in this situation?”. It appears as though people treat strangers in a politer fashion than those that are closest to us, which is inherently troublesome. Whether they are blood or not, supporting loved ones though mental health issues can be draining and potentially damaging to the relationship. In order to protect the longevity of the relationship you need to find your boundaries. At the end of the day you need to put your own needs first. It goes back to the flight policy of “put your own oxygen mask on before putting on your children’s and other passengers”. If you are running low on your social capital, giving your energy away is not the best idea. You need to be operating at your full capacity in order to be useful to others. Burning yourself into the ground emotionally is not going to help anyone and being low on social capital is going to open you up to collateral damage. The only people that are going to be upset by you putting in boundaries, are the ones that have been benefitting from you having none. Now, this one is big, and I hope that you can internalise this colloquialism… It’s not your job to fix people. This one can be so difficult to let go of, especially when caring for others is in your nature. Let go of that typical ‘Helper’ archetype, it clearly is not doing you any favours. It is true what they say, you cannot help others, you can only help them to help themselves. Sometimes you need to accept that other people’s ‘Best Self’ is not what you would have hoped for them. Perhaps it could be helpful to lower your expectations and accept that all people have a right to self-determination and their ‘Best Self’ may not be something that you like. Saying goodbye to an idea of someone, a vision of their ‘Higher Self’, can be saddening and I encourage you to mourn the loss as if it was a real person. It’s time to worry about your own behaviour and reactions, after all; the only person you have control over is yourself. I hope that this is empowering for you, and I would strongly recommend contacting Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277. Take care of yourself.