Friday, January 20, 2017

When Loving Support Encounters Discouragement and Frustration

One of the more noble aspects of being human is the capacity to be compassionate and supportive to others. It is human nature to want to help a spouse, partner, adult child, relative, or friend who is experiencing a setback in life, is facing a health or financial crisis, is having difficulty starting a career or achieving independence. But what if your efforts to be supportive to a loved one start to take a toll on you? What if all your efforts leave you increasingly uncertain about your loved one’s true intentions, more doubtful that the other will make good decisions, do the right thing. What if, in spite of your best intentions, you start to wonder if you are not part of the problem? 

How do you maintain a supportive relationship with someone experiencing difficulties in life without becoming discouraged and getting dragged down by that person’s problems?  A first step can be to identify signs that your support efforts have crossed over to enabling.  Here are some of the more common signs that I’ve encountered in my work with clients struggling with this challenge:

· Discouragement and a sense of hopelessness continues to grow in spite of all your efforts and love.

· The person is not progressing in terms of bettering him/herself, improving his/her life, and you find yourself bailing them out of one bad situation after another.

· Your relationship with the person you are helping seems one-sided; the other is giving nothing back.

· You are neglecting your own needs (e.g. health, exercise, healthy eating, financial, or social-recreational) in your efforts to help.

· Your feelings of guilt or shame about the loved one’s problems, or behavior causes you to isolate yourself, withdraw from people who know and care about you.

· You’re covering up, lying for the person you’re trying to help, protecting that person from the consequences of his/her actions-decisions. 
· Even though you do not want this, resentment towards the person you are helping continues to grow; you are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain patience-compassion towards the other; or you are walking on eggshells around the person trying to keep peace. 
· People who know and care about you are expressing concern that the help you’re providing is too much for you; they worry about the toll they see it taking on you.
If you find you are experiencing some of these signs, it may be time for you to step back and re-examine your role with your loved one. It can be a time to ask yourself questions such as:
· How do I step back without abandoning the person I care about?
· What help can I offer that doesn’t just depend on me?
· What changes can I make that might motivate the person I care about to do more for him/herself?
· What are the limits to what I can offer so I am not dragged down by the other’s problems?
· How can I take better care of myself?
· Where can I look for support in my efforts to find a healthy balance in my efforts to help and take care of myself?
These are not easy questions to answer when it involves someone you love and care deeply about and that person is jeopardizing his/her future. It is often helpful to confide in trusted family or friends about your struggles. In many cases, it is helpful to have a support group or a therapist as resources for developing a more balanced approach to this challenge. A support group or therapist can help you decide how to be available to help within reason, to resolve uncertainty about your limits to the help you are willing to provide, and to gain peace of mind that you are doing the best you can.

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