He did all he could to save his mom but realized you shouldn’t always help people in need.
“F#%k!” There was no better word to describe how I felt at that moment as I sat on my bed feeling dazed and confused while trying to understand what I had just heard. My mother had returned to her abusive relationship with my father once again. It had just been a week since I had driven her to a woman’s shelter and a few days since I lied to my father about it despite his empty threats on my life. I thought she had finally broken away from my father’s psychological grip. I had thought the shelter would have provided her the resources needed to become strong enough to live without him. I was wrong, and I felt like a failure because of it.
During the next couple of months I swung emotionally between self hatred and exasperation with my mother as she contacted me several more times asking for help. Sadly each time she’d return to my father and I’d be left distressed. This push and pull would lead to a depressive relapse and suicidal ideations.
Since I had attempted suicide twice before I quickly realize I needed as much help as my mother. Once I came to this conclusion I focused on my own needs because I couldn’t help anyone if I was in the grave. After recovering, I realized the importance of attending college away from home. Partly for the education and mostly for a new start. This commitment would be tested as I prepared to leave for college
A few days before my scheduled departure my mother came to visit me. She looked like she’d been up for days as she greeted me with a nervous smile. I hadn’t seen her for a month and the last time I did I called the cops because she was with my dad so it was a bit awkward to say the least. The first thing that came out of her mouth was a plea.
“Please don’t call the cops. The last time you did your father almost got into an accident.”
I didn’t know what to say. I really didn’t care what happened to my dad, however, I didn’t like the idea of my mother in the car so I signaled that I wouldn’t. What came next has stuck with me for the past thirteen years.
“Son, I’m not sure when I’ll see you again but I just wanted to tell you that I love you. I’m happy that you’re going to college. I know you going do good. Now if anything happens to me please don’t blame yourself. It’s my choice to stay with your dad.”
Tears rolled from my eyes as I pictured the worse case scenario and all I could say was, “OK.” Shaking, I give my mom a big hug and wonder if this is the last time I’d see her.
After we parted with “I love you” she hurried off as my dad beeped the horn for her to return. I was left in her wake with a broken heart. I know my mom didn’t mean to make it hard for me to leave but she did. Despite this bad-timed heart to heart I took my mom’s advice and didn’t worry. I would hold on to that conversation as I attended college, and even though my mother was suffering back home, I was able to remember her words, “Don’t blame yourself, it was my choice”.
Based on my personal situation I believe there are three reasons why people should think twice before helping others who need help.
1. Some people need to hit rock bottom. You see there are situations where we can become flotation devices for other people. I’m referring to people in your life that you constantly help and despite your best efforts they haven’t changed. It could be a loved one who keeps using drugs and despite their promises they still can’t stop using. You give them money for food and bills just to learn that they’ve spent it on drugs. You’ve become their life line and no matter what they do you won’t let them hit rock bottom.
What do you do if this is you?
You stop helping them and let them hit rock bottom. This does’t mean you disown them or turn your back on them forever. If they truly have a desire to change then you should help them but only you know if it’s the same old lie and if you have a relationship like this you know when the person is just feeding you what you want to hear. Now there is a risk that their rock bottom may be permanent, however, you can’t live their life for them. You have to trust that you’ve done all you could and give them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes by letting them feel the full consequences of their decisions.
2. You need to protect yourself from being burnt out. For those of you who can relate to my story understand that helping someone who needs help can drain you of your resources both financially and emotionally. Now it would be worth it if you could see a change occurring in the people you love, however, when that doesn’t happen you’re left frustrated. This frustration can lead to anger, which can cause problems in your relationship with the person you want to help as well as those who are in your life.
Don’t let that happen. I know in my case I drove myself into the depths of despair, which almost led to a permeant rock bottom for me. This doesn’t have to be the case and ultimately if you are feeling drained by your relationship with this person you need to take a break from it. Take a breath because if you really want to help them you can’t if you’re in need of help as well. So be selfish and take care of yourself first so that when they are ready to change you can be there as a strong support.
3. Change only happens when they want it. When my mother came to me for help she needed to change. She was in a toxic relationship and her life needed a revision but she wasn’t ready. She wasn’t prepared for the consequences of what leaving my father would mean for her and her children. I don’t blame my mother for staying because I know she was scared of him and what he could do to her or us kids. In the end, she needed help but she hadn’t gotten to the point where she wanted the help. She wasn’t willing to pay the possible consequences for her decision to get out of her relationship.
On the other hand, there are those of you out there who are trying to help someone that should and needs to change but you know they don’t want to. Not because it’s a life and death situation but the source is a lack of motivation. These people are not ready to change. They may tell you they would like to but there are not motivated enough to make the necessary sacrifices in their life. You should avoid helping these people because no matter the support you provide they will probably end up regressing back to their original state. They will only want to change when they can no longer rely on others to help them.
I know for those of us who are in these types of situations it’s hard to say “no” to helping others in need. For some it goes against your moral compass, which is commendable, however, there are times when doing the right thing means not helping at all. I know it’s hard and you worry about what might happen if you don’t help them. I know cause I asked those same questions when I moved away from my mother. The situation may not get better and sadly some may turn tragic, however, I can testify there is hope and in my situation my mother found her “want” to change. Today she is stronger then ever because she helped herself. She overcame the abusive relationship and found her voice, which has gotten stronger over time.
People can change but sometimes they need to do it on their own and it could take time but we just need to be patient. We need to realize that we are all stewards of our lives. There may be times when we are needed to correct someones course but in the end we can never steer someone else’s life. So be mindful when someone asks you for help. Ask yourself if they need it or want it? If you do this you’ll be able to help someone whether or not you do anything.
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Photo: Flickr/Ian Sane