Are you surrounded by people who share their problems with you?
I used to be.
I was always offering to help others. Even if they didn’t ask outright. If they told me their problem, they needed help, right?
Someone needs information? Hold on, let me google that for you.
Someone needs to unburden themselves? Here are my ears, I’m listening.
Someone needs help with thinking something through? Use my brain, don’t trouble yourself.
Someone needs to know how to do something? Let me research it and I’ll tell you.
Want some free advice? Here it is, don’t pay me, it’s a pleasure to help.
In some ways, I enjoyed the role. I felt useful. Smart. Needed. And to be fair, I learnt a lot from finding out stuff for others.
I spent years in sales and marketing training and development; and as a mother of three I was used to holding out my hand to help others solve a problem.
But it gets to the stage when your help gets taken for granted. And your own life suffers because of the mental load you’re taking off others limits your time and capabilities to help yourself.
One day, I met with a friend, who’s a psychotherapist. We chatted about our lives, and I had a grumble about how taken for granted I felt by others.
She looked at me thoughtfully, and then, without a word, she picked up a pen from the table and held it out to me.
After a few seconds, I lifted my hand and took the pen from her.
She said to me “Did you want that pen?”
I replied “No, not really”.
She asked “So why did you take it?”
I thought for a few seconds and then said “I thought I was supposed to take it.”
She replied ” People are holding out their troubles. They’re not really asking you to take them. You should only take them if you want or need to take them. They’ll get along without your help or suffering.”
The penny dropped. I was just having a moan to her, but I didn’t expect her to do anything about it. And many people are the same – just because they’re telling you their problems doesn’t mean they expect you to solve them.
People in my life still hold out their pens to me – but instead of taking it from them, I know I can choose which pen I take. I don’t have to take their pen. I can distance myself from their issues and help them sort their problems, but I don’t have to jump in there and sort it for them.
Learn to choose your pens wisely.