It has taken me most of my life to realize that the problems of others, the problems of the world, the problems of problems of problems past, are not necessarily mine to carry every day on stooped shoulders. Part of getting healthier with Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), is setting boundaries.
Ok, it’s not just part of it, it is CENTERED around making healthy boundaries with the people you come into contact every day, with people you don’t even know, with the world. I have realized over the last year of DBT that, in some of my personal relationships, I would personally take on the weight that is on others’ shoulders and make it my own.
Not only is this completely unnecessary, it is damaging to the relationship and to the other person, as well as (hello!!) damaging to the self. If I have a friend who is struggling, it does neither of us any good if I spend mass amounts of time worrying about how to “fix” that person’s problem. Chances are, that person doesn’t even WANT me to “fix” the problem, she just needs an ear.
Very rarely in life should we take on others’ problems as our own and go about “fixing.” For one thing, my “fix” to your problem, maybe be a “fix” that you can’t tolerate or can’t sustain in the long run. What I have learned is that, while it is fine to give advice from time to time (depending on the subject matter and how close you are to said person, to name a few restrictions), what is much more important is building that other person up, regardless of what exactly they are going through, and letting that person know that you support them and that you believe that things CAN get better, and perhaps most importantly, that things are not necessarily their fault or that they are not a “bad person” because things are going a certain way.
People need validation, reassurance, a kind word, a loving touch — not for you to solve their personal crises, or even necessarily to make suggestions as to how THEY might going about solving their personal crises. It is very important to practice nonjudgmental stance with peers, family, romantic mates, nearly everyone. You might be thinking in your head, “how did this idjit get into this pickle?” but of course, you saying that out loud is going to help no one.
And if you think that over and over in your head, and judge a person’s actions or inactions about a particular matter, all sorts of gross and inappropriate judgements may sow themselves into your brain, and that will make supporting this person all the more difficult. It is only very recently that I had an instance where I thought I was “helping” someone with their problem, and it turned out that they very much resented my advice and insight into the subject.
I thought by giving advice as to what I would do in a situation would somehow fit their somewhat similar situation, but people are different, inside, and out, and MY solutions would not in any way work for the other person as solutions.. People are simply too different. This is when I realized that, what I needed to do, rather than give direct advice about a situation, was to keep my opinions to myself and be there for the person only in a validating matter. Validate the other person’s feelings and fears, help them to feel not alone (but not by bringing up my own somewhat similar issue), and most important, to stop judging how the other person was handling the situation and to turn the mind toward loving kindness and away from judgment.
In the end, my cessation of giving this person concrete advice and stopping voicing judgement likely saved the relationship. Things will not always be so clear, circumstances will not always be so dire, repercussions not always so large. I am not in any way saying to never, ever give advice to another person about something (granted, as long as you know your correct facts) they are going through, but what I am saying is that most people, myself included, benefit more from having another person to validate, listen, provide a shoulder than from being directed on what it is exactly they should do next to handle the situation. Building people up instead of tearing them down takes conscious thought and hard work, but is very worth it, for all parties, in the end.