If someone lies in the bed they made, you don’t have to tuck them in; but you don’t have to hop in bed with them either.
It’s sad when the consequences of one’s choices, especially someone we love, leads them down a path of self-destruction. Of course, it’s not up to you to continue throwing it in their face and reminding them of it. However, letting their hardship interfere with your happiness only leads to further self-destruction—yours. And when you allow their hardship to drag you down, you remove yourself from the ability of ever truly helping them. For when you jump in bed alongside of them, which includes pity and guilt, you essentially have tucked them in very tightly, as well as yourself. This has negative ripple effects on your health and general life satisfaction.
When someone you love continues to repeat self-destructive behavior, it may be hard to separate yourself from feeling pity or guilt. This is because, as I have spoken often about our primitive nature run by what I call the automatic brain (AB), our innate tendency is to fight or flee anything our brain processes as danger or vulnerability. We all have universal dangers, which I have broken into three components or folders: the danger of being one-upped, the danger of the unknown, and the danger of losing love. What becomes dangerous to us, i.e. what fills up our AB danger folders, depends on our life experience.
When we throw in someone’s face, “you made your bed, now you got to lie in it” that is our AB fighting or fleeing the danger of being one-upped or taken advantage of by this person. Many doctors respond to patients this way when feeling the patient’s lifestyle is the reason for their illness.
However, when we enable one who continually self-sabotages, we in essence are fighting and fleeing the danger of losing their love. Feeling constant guilt and pity also comes from this brain. Usually an arbitrary set of rules—commonly a smattering of religious laws and unwritten family “values”, sets the base; so that when we violate them it makes us feel vulnerable to some higher authority. All these reactions mean we are reacting and being controlled by our primitive AB, and therefore, happiness escapes us.
Here are seven steps to living a joyful, productive life despite the self-inflicted hardship of a loved one.
- Never let your disappointment or anger influence how you communicate with this person
- When you are experiencing any type of happiness in your life, don’t think about the person. If your thoughts begin to lead you there (as will be the reflex of your AB), don’t engage them
- When you find yourself with this person, be with them 100% in the moment, as though nothing happened in the past
- If you have opportunity to help them, do so; however, not at the expense of yourself or your family
- Understand that continual self-destructive behavior is evidence of fight or flight (AB behavior) and likely has resulted from some type of trauma (maybe not overt) from their childhood
- Keep your own house in order first, so that you will be an example as well as a potential resource if the time comes when you can actually help the person
- Come to peace with the idea that the time may never come
Although it may be hard, I am confident that following these steps will help you not only function, but thrive, despite a loved one’s challenges. Doing so will elevate your mental, physical, and spiritual health.
Spoiler Alert: Then My House Burned Down
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