Being compassionate and being ‘the wounded healer’ and wanting to help others is a good thing to do. But be careful you don’t overdo it in terms of being a doormat. You should never come away from an experience in compassion feeling used, spent, foolish, tired, or drained. And certainly you should never feel you have been taken advantage of.
Several years back, a local I knew and liked came knocking on my door in a rainstorm. Let’s call him The Farrier. I knew, as did everyone in town, he was recently on the outs with his boss/landlord. He had been kicked out of the place he had been staying, and lost his job. He was at rock bottom. I could not turn him away in the rain. Looking back, he had it timed just right, how could a person turn someone away in a downpour? Once I realized he needed more than shelter from this storm, I made it clear, this was to be temporary. I offered him three months stay, as long as he helped himself to get ahead in the world, not just lay around sleeping. He needed to earn his keep in working toward his future. I stressed it was more important that he work toward his future, than do chores around my home.
At first things went well. He started gathering firewood in the mountains to sell, and he was a farrier, so he had employable skills. He kept his part of the house clean. His needs were few. But I let things go too far too fast. He wanted to constantly borrow my car—a total no no in my book. He needed money all the time, and ate me out of house and home. After only a week his teenaged son and him were reunited. This really complicated things to say the least. His son did not live at my home, but he visited often and of course I had to drive him back and forth, usually a 60 mile round trip. I already drove 84 miles a day round trip Monday through Friday for work. On weekends I strive to never get in my car at all because I am burnt out from driving to work and back.
A few weeks later, on my birthday (just after Christmas) the Farrier’s son called me. He wanted to come live with us. Us? Us who? There is no us. I said no, flat out. I think that was the first time in my life the word no came out of my mouth so quickly and so definitively. I patted myself on the back for that one small victory. A few weeks earlier I had been diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia, an extremely painful, nerve condition. I spent most of my time in bed, in the fetal position trying to figure out how I would have the energy, mental or emotional capacity to carry on with my job and my life. My family was far way, and I needed them. I could hardly manage my own life, much less take on another person in need. Instead of feeling cared for and nurtured, I was the caregiver to two very needy users.
They were nice to me to my face, but together they made my house look like a tornado hit it. They listened to music that was extremely rude toward women, and never helped with a thing. I fed their unending hunger, allowed them to do laundry, shower, and socialize at my place as if it were a flop house. Things were totally out of control within one week of these two reuniting. The son didn’t live with me but it sure felt like it! He was out of school and had no plans of returning—a high school dropout.
The factor that really kept me from kicking both of them out was this 15 year-old kid’s mother had kicked him out and given up on parenting him. All he had was his dad, who didn’t have the financial or mental capacity to deal with him. Emotionally speaking his dad was at the level of a 12 year old. He treated his son like a buddy, not offering any discipline. What would happen to him if I kicked his dad out? Where would they stay? What would they live on? His dad had given up on any sort of employment. He was flat broke. He’d be on drugs so fast and I didn’t want that to happen. Yet I hated myself and them for making me feel like the world’s biggest doormat. When I did suggest they clean up, etc. the change was short lived and things reverted back to chaos and drama. How to resolve this?
Before I gave them both the heave-ho, my compassionate side agonized with my rational side. I kept rolling this problem over and over in my head. How could I deal with this successfully, give this guy and his son the platform and foundation they needed for a better start in life, and not be some sort of jerk by bossing them around and bitching about their behavior and being some sort of drill sergeant? I don’t have children and didn’t want to become a parent in my late 50s! I knew nothing about it. Some part of me deep down sought approval and acceptance from them, from outside myself. This was also something in me that needed adjusting in a big way. That was all mixed up in this drama playing out that I was very much a part of. Things definitely needed to change, and fast. With my neuralgia, I needed the least amount of stress possible. Now I had the worst stress possible and it was constant. The discussion in my head went like this.
“They are nice, but they are nice moochers. I have this flaw, this thing where I feel that I have rehearsed what I’m going to say to them about getting out, and I feel it with conviction, and I know it is what I must do. But when I see them, I totally go the other way to make them happy and I don’t know why I cave in. Perhaps being nice is a smoother road? Less controversy? Easier? I’ll be accepted and liked? I feel like I’m too much of a doormat. But if I’m not a doormat, where is my compassion? I’m trying to find a good way around it that feels like it is…how to say…. organic? Natural? Good for me and lasting?”
Internally it was a conundrum and I was conflicted. I felt one way and acted another. I know, from the outside it seems like what I should do would be obvious. The word armchair quarterback comes to mind. It’s easy to tell someone what to do if you are not involved. But it’s hard to take advice from others if you are in the thick of things. When you are exploring a Spiritual approach to life, and your core operating mode is wanting to serve others, it can be hard. When you meet people who are needy, how can you not show compassion? And how to you give without being taken advantage of? Where is that dividing line where it is easy to make a decision from? Well I figured it out with a little curiosity, openness and detective work. Always do your research!
Part of my research was reaching out to people who’s opinion I trusted. I sent my younger brother an email and asked him his advice. He always seemed much wiser than his young years, and he was removed from my life in New Mexico, so might have some insights for me. His response went something like this:
“A life of compassion is a good thing, but some folks will use you, and then your efforts are wasted. With your resources you could be helping several people. Advise they go to a shelter or some such group situation where people would be moving forward and not just mooching off of one person.”
Wise words indeed! These two people were not ‘moving forward’ at all. They delighted in being lazy and rebellious toward any authority in life. I needed that to help kick myself out of my fog where all I was doing was enabling them, and harming myself. Further research netted the follow wonderful article in Psychology Today magazine online. It’s one of my all time favorites. Is compassion for suckers? What hit me about this article was, in order to be a good caretaker, you must care for yourself first. That’s the golden rule about compassion and caring for others. Agreed! Bingo! Ah-ha! Zap me in the forehead with a 2×4! I get it! There were many other gems in this article, well worth the read.
Shortly after reading this article and the reply from my brother, I no longer felt conflicted and I knew this lopsided, dysfunctional situation had to end. Shortly after, it came to be known that The Farrier was on Meth. As soon as I found out, he was out of the house in less than 12 hours. No way in hell would that happen where I live! To be honest I was in shock and reeling from that news for some time, because there was no physical evidence of this whatsoever. Now when I hear of others not knowing a spouse, family member or friend was on meth, I get it totally. With The Farrier, I knew this was no longer my problem or my burden. I felt good about my decision, and I felt great going forward, being a wise and compassionate caregiver. Being a caregiver to yourself first is paramount.
The Farrier moved on, flopping uninvited to my sweet, non-confrontational next-door neighbor’s home for ten days. My neighbor was miserable and I urged him to ask The Farrier to leave. He was unable to out of the same misplaced sense of duty that had driven me. Then someone local took pity on them and sold them a small camper trailer. The Farrier was able to move on in his own gypsy way and set up house by asking someone else local if he could park on their property. He went further into drugs and when he wore out his welcome, became destitute and ultimately moved to another state. I have not heard of either of them since, but I wish them well. (You know that saying, don’t go away mad, just go away.)
After this last hurdle with my problems in trying to please the wrong men/people and being overly compassionate, I felt the fresh breezes of a brand new outlook on life. I no longer sought acceptance from outside myself. The breezes blew away any cobwebs from that old part of my life. To be honest it felt like many lifetimes of the wrong dynamic were being blown clear out of my life forever! I could now start being that balanced, new person I wanted to be.
Before all this happened I was not using my intuition to guide me, I was not listening to Spirit, sensing energy, setting my inner vibe or standing aside from drama until this watershed moment. This was my turning point and it felt great. It is from this point most of my foundational learnings came to me. (Look up the category Foundation Article.) This experience totally changed the direction of my life and I felt fully empowered to move forward in authenticity. Without this painful lesson, I would never have achieved this life-changing insight. I no longer feel conflicted when someone is in need. It is easier to judge if I can help them or not. I feel very in tune with All That Is, very guided by my intuition, sensing of energy and vibes, and generally feeling very much in the Universal Flow of things. 🙂
In your efforts to be a fully functional, well-balanced human being, who is caring and compassionate, don’t get stuck on the far side of compassion to where it harms you and you are not caring for yourself. This can be especially hard if it is family or a dear friend because you may get into really hot water, or not be able to see clearly, in trying to care for someone out of pure obligation. Being good to yourself first will mean giving the right kind of care to others. Be a kind soul, but don’t enable, and don’t be a doormat. Have a healthy center to operate from. Be well and prosper, and keep in touch!
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