A Dignified Approach

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“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” ~ Albert Einstein

A close family member of mine is suffering and he has been suffering for as long as I can remember. The trauma and pain of his childhood has followed him throughout his life, and as it is unresolved, it is further amplified in his old age.

Over the many years of our relationship, I have tried to step in and ‘fix’ the situation. I have acted as his constant source of counsel and support, listening to his concerns and complaints. I have intervened and tried to ‘help’ him take action. And yet, the situation never changes, it never improves. It only swirls around in a deep, toxic mess: repeating and repeating and repeating itself. Upon reflection, I am not sure that anything I have done has ever really helped, it may have just enabled him to stay.

When discussing this situation with my counsellor, she wisely advised me, “You must allow him the dignity of his own suffering.” The dignity of his own suffering. What a concept. What does this mean? Firstly, he is a fully grown man and he chooses to remain firmly rooted in his current state. He stays where he is, and how he is, even if I cannot understand why. Living in pain is his place of comfort. I need to respect that choice.

Secondly, I am learning that it is not my job to ‘fix’ anyone or anything outside of myself. I need to remind myself stay in my own lane. As I wrote about a few weeks ago, I am a high-functioning co-dependent, which means that I have disordered boundaries. As a child, I was taught to become overly invested in the feeling states, decisions, outcomes, and circumstances of the people in my life; and this approach has been to the detriment of my own internal peace and wellbeing. 

I recently made the difficult decision to step away from the dynamic described above. Not from the relationship itself but from my traditional role of enabler and confident. I set a strong boundary about what topics we can discuss and not; and rather than trying to find solutions, I am turning the question back upon him. “What do you think is the right thing to do?” I encourage him to trust his inner knowing.

It is hard, as we are learning a new way of being in relationship with one another, after spending over thirty years in the same dysfunctional dance. He does not like it and neither do I. I have to let go and watch him flounder. I worry that he will slip under the water but I cannot throw him a line. I have to trust in his strength and resilience. I must believe that he will swim, if given the opportunity: or accept the possibility that he may not. The bottom line is none of it is within my control. All I can do is keep showing up, holding my boundaries, and finding a way to love him and myself at the same time.

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