Fixing Broken People

You don’t get to my age without seeing some bad stuff happen to good people. I mean death, divorce, serious car trouble, financial disaster, horrible jobs and bosses, and things happening to your kids. And I am pretty empathetic. I used to be a lot more empathetic. In my twenties, everything that happened to me or my friends was “The Worst Thing Ever”. I thoroughly immersed myself in the disaster du jour, and would spend days and months bemoaning things. And try to come up with coping mechanisms. And eventually, burn out on the whole problem. Especially if my good advice was rejected in favor of wallowing in the situation. Today, if the really serious bad stuff happens to you, you can count on my support for just about forever. I will be there with chicken soup and open arms, or whatever you need. But when it is not life threatening, or is a replay of the same old – same old, I am gonna cut you off at some point.

You can lose friends if you don’t protect yourself. You can’t let yourself get too drawn into their drama. Remember, Einstein said the definition of insanity is to repeat the same behavior and expect different results. And the airlines say, “Put your own oxygen mask on first”.

I had enough training in social work to be a danger to myself and others. If you’ve ever had therapy, or marital counseling, or been to a team building workshop, you have heard facilitators say things like, “And how does that make you feel?”. Or, “Hmm. What could you do about that?”, “Why do you think that is?”. “What could you do right now, that would make you feel better?” “What is the ideal outcome in this situation?”. Basically you take an emotional reading of wherever you are now, figure out where you want to be, and take baby steps towards making that happen. Well, this stuff is all fine and dandy in theory. Applying it is a whole other thing.

I have learned that most people just want someone to listen to them. They don’t want you to solve their problems, or help them solve their problems, they just want a sympathetic ear and a lot of consolation. I’m generally up for that. Until about the fiftieth rehash of the problem. Then I want to see some progress.

I read an article by Martha Beck in Oprah magazine, on this very subject. She had three ways of dealing with things, and my new favorite is the “guy” response. When faced with someone’s problem, instead of considering, advising or fixing, you just say, “Dude, you are so screwed. Have you seen my car keys?” Wow, that is so harsh. But I love it. Sure cuts down on the bemoaning end of things. And it is pretty safe to say, that person won’t be bothering you with their issues again, any time soon.

But that kind of response is only called for when you reach the end of your rope, or the person whining is one you don’t particularly care for. Usually before I reach that level of frustration, I detach. When someone I know keeps sucking all the air out of the room with their whining, I withdraw, and use behavior modification. I reward them for positive remarks, and start ignoring them, or changing the subject when they start their cycle of descent. This small change in my behavior has really improved my life. I don’t suffer the fools, I have more time to give to the people I really love, and I spend less time resenting the ones I don’t love.

When all else fails, I suggest they read “Man’s Search for Meaning”, by Victor Frankl. He was a concentration camp survivor, and the gist of his book is that the only thing you can really control in life, is how you think about things. Your thoughts determine how you feel about situations, and changing your thoughts changes your approach, acceptance or perception towards any life situation.

Hey….. that ties in with the Noetics stuff, doesn’t it? What do ya know? I feel the tug of synchronicity toying with my life.

Anyway, when all you can do is supply a shoulder to lean on, then do it. Do it willingly, with grace, and awareness. If you can’t, then that is a sign that your well has run dry, you don’t really care enough about the person, or the timing or circumstance is really off. Listen to that inner voice. Take care of yourself. That way, you won’t be the one sucking all the air out of the room.

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