It’s hard to be invested in a situation and not try to influence the process. Its usually because you think that your involvement will lead to more favourable outcomes.
I’ve witnessed individuals having this difficulty numerous times. I’ve felt this difficulty even more times. It feels absolutely terrible. I dislike it with the same intensity each and every time I experience it. The emotions involved in this aren’t the only complicated element of this situation. The complex interplay of variables makes this situation extremely difficult to handle and cope with.
When one invests emotionally in a situation, it implies that a specific outcome is preferred. It implies that the outcome will directly and indirectly influence one or more components of life and overall functioning. This article primarily explores joining someone else’s process of development or change as a co-pilot. It’s not your ride, but you are taken for the same ride. You are not the decider of things. You are the one that the other’s decisions will definitely influence. You are not the one who has to undergo changes. You are the one who might need to change by association indirectly and directly also. You are the one who’s life is impacted by the results of someone else’s direct efforts.
Examples of this are evident in all domains of being human. You might exist in connection with a child who is a picky eater. You might be connected with a person who is trying to establish a work-life balance, reconsidering their career path, trying to find more adaptive coping behaviours than substance misuse, work through their grief, deciding whether or not they want a relationship or a baby, trying a new prescription for a learning or mental health difficulty. The list goes on and on and on. On paper, all of these transitions are similar in the processes they include:
- An open exploration of circumstances;
- A trial-and-error process of trying out new things, behaviours, ways of being;
- Mistakes which are absolutely necessary for learning;
- Utilising learning and forming new steppingstones on which new behaviours and ways of being will be based.
We will not go into others’ process in depth. However, this needs to be highlighted. This is not your battle, nor your boxing ring. People must follow their own process, not yours. That is the only way to ensure that true learning will occur. True learning is the only way of transferring the new knowledge into the long term. They are allowed their own reactions and mistakes.
This is their own transition. Not yours. Your role is limited to waiting outside the ring, counting the minutes remaining to a round, until your participant of choice goes back to their corner for a well-deserved break. You give them a sip of water, tap away the blood, share some words of support to fill them with confidence and send them off to fight some more. Doing so is challenging as there is a realisation that you cannot control the ring, the punches, their concentration, decision process or adherence to the game plan. You see them get hurt and you feel pain. You feel fearful, angry, upset for not being able to prevent the hurt. This is more so when their chances seem slim to you. When your confidence in your favourable participant is shaky, supporting them might prove difficult.
Your shaky confidence might be entirely unrelated to the human being in front of you, or their context. It might have more to do with a difficulty to deal with the uncertainty of whether the preferred outcome might occur. The uncertainty might be felt in every cell of your body. I know I’ve definitely felt it in mine.
Remind yourself that what is being played in front of you is not your fight. Remind yourself what constitutes your responsibilities. What is yours and what is theirs? Give yourself the support you need to withstand the urge to jump in and take over. Challenge the belief that you might know better or know differently. Remind yourself that even if you do take over, you might succeed but only momentarily. Remind yourself that you are in essence depriving others of valuable learning and thereby prolonging their process. You need to disentangle your wishes for the desired outcome from others’ processes. For them to learn how to act differently, mistakes are absolutely necessary. Mistakes pave the way forward.
Consider activities that fill your batteries, that fill you with a sense of vitality. That is the only prescribed way of being able to remain strong in adversity. This doesn’t imply that you need to be a silent observer if you notice that your loved ones are not learning from their mistakes. Nor if they are not taking steps in the right direction. The process that you find yourself in involves many and difficult components, namely:
- Deciding what constitutes signs of progress for your common agenda, and your personal agenda. The other person will decide what constitutes progress for them.
- All agendas are equally important and valid.
- Communicating in order to share your experience of watching them go through their own transition in a non-blaming fashion.
- To do that, you need to own your experiences and trust they are doing the best they can at that moment in time.
- Coping with your own experiences and emotional reactions.
- Allowing them to experience their own emotions and have their own reactions to what they are going through.
- Holding and bracketing your own reactions regarding their difficulties.
- Analyse the information made available to you by your interactions.
After a period of time spent taking in information, preform an audit. You decide how much time you are willing to allow yourself to occupy a solely supportive role in their life. This is done bearing in mind the costs of being supportive to your wellbeing, your reserves which denote the costs you can take on prior to declaring bankruptcy. Following that you re-evaluate the process, your supporting role and what else needs to be achieved. You then reach a decision regarding your involvement, participation, and role.
That is where your strength and power to make decisions lie. I know it sounds trivial but it’s not. This constitutes the moment when things begin to change. It is one of the moments everyone experiences, and these moments don’t have to be dramatic.