Growing up I definitely took on the role of peacemaker in my family, taking care of everyone's needs and reducing conflict. As I approached my early twenties, this morphed into wanting to save people (and the world). Somehow I was convinced that was my job. I could see other people's suffering so wasn't it my responsibility to rescue them - even if they didn't want to be rescued?
This belief persisted even into my early thirties as I began to deepen my spiritual practice. I remember having a conversation with my friend Lily around this time. I wanted to help my parents- each in a slightly different way- but primarily for both of them to live with more joy and less anxiety around security and safety. I said something to Lily like, "but I have to. It's my job to help my mother understand. I mean if I don't, who will?"
She just looked at me and replied, "It's not your job."
Huh. That was like a mini revelation. Really? I don't have to help them? I soon discovered that she was right. The only job I did actually have was to help myself and maybe, I reasoned, if I did that, showed my loved ones my own transformation, I could set an example and then they might be inspired to change too.
After that conversation, I pretty much got off of the savior wagon but as with all things, old habits die hard and my need to help people continued only in different ways. I created healthy avenues for it by doing service work and being a teacher, therapist and life coach. But I have definitely come face to face with situations where I have tried to push my agenda onto others and have had the door shut in my face.
Most of the time that's when my help seems to be unwanted. The number one most challenging person this happened with over and over again was my sister, Melissa. Because even though Lily reminded me saving my family wasn't my job, it was really hard for me to give up on Melissa. She was my baby sister and for most of her life suffered greatly with depression. I made countless suggestions over the years from joining clubs to moving but it all fell on deaf ears. Even my mom and many of her friends and acquaintances tried too - with professional coaching, resume writing, dating, social skills training... Mel wouldn't hear any of it.
But in the end, here's what I learned. We can truly only help ourselves. We all have to do the work. If someone I love suffers but refuses to change or even see there is another way, nothing I say or do will make a difference. And let me tell you, I HATE this. It makes me feel helpless, inadequate and frustrated.
So then is it really about me, that I want to feel special and important, valued or vital? That is certainly an important question I have to ask myself when I come face to face with the "I don't want your help" situation. When I do take that step back, it gives me time to question and understand more deeply. In that process, I have come to see that I can't help someone when she is not willing to be helped. Being a do-er this can be hard. Instead sometimes those situations call for other responses - things like listening, being present and loving someone just as they are, in their place of pain or suffering. I have also learned not to judge my loved one for refusing to change. Sometimes we simply aren't ready or the pain is familiar, comfortable and gives life purpose. Again, instead of labeling it, I can simply accept it.
Like with everything, the only way I seem to get clarity is by asking for guidance and praying for the words, actions or non-actions. Then I can trust that God will work through me and resolve this situation in everyone's highest and best good. I'm not actually the do-er, God is. I am merely the vessel for divine grace to flow through me. That clarity allows me to see she will sort it out in her own time and in her own way. After all, she's the one in charge of her own life.