Last month I took a morning walk to take a moment to breathe and pray and this was the question that settled in my heart. Why, Niki, do people want to hold on to a person that does not want to be held?
That is a loaded question and not swiftly answered. As I ruminated on it with every step I took, I knew that it was a question I needed to seriously consider. It is one thing if a person is clinging to you for survival and they desperately and truly want help. But why hold on to someone who is dead weight in your arms or even worse, kicking and screaming their way out of them? Can’t the person holding on see that they just took an elbow to the rib, a fist to the eye or a kick to the stomach? They’re not even holding on yet we insist. We insist on not letting them go.
Why is that? Why don’t we let go?
Because it seems like you are giving up. When you have exhausted all of your resources, time, energy, money, and let’s get real here…patience, and you have to say “no” or even send them on their way you feel like a failure. What kind of person “gives up” on a family member or a friend that is in obvious distress? It’s hard to look in the mirror as a mom, a dad, a brother, a sister (you fill in the blank) and to honestly admit that you have laid it all out there and somebody else has got to step in. The lie is that you are giving up. It is not giving up. It is giving OVER. That is a big difference. You love this person so much (and you and others involved) that it’s time to let go and let God and others do their work. You’ve done yours. Now let them do theirs. God has promised to never leave or forsake them (Hebrews 13:5). He will always be with them wherever they go. When you give over you haven’t abandoned them. God is walking with them through this storm and you are there too praying and trusting God to do the work that you cannot do.
Because that makes you a bad parent/relative/friend. If I stop helping them I am a bad parent. If I stop rescuing them I am a bad relative. If I am not there for them I am a bad friend. If I were just doing more then I could help them. If I just gave them one more chance or one more opportunity they would get better. If I don’t give them that chance, I may be missing a moment where they will turn around. Then, it will be my fault that they don’t get better.
Letting go of someone who is not ready for help does not make you a bad person. It does not mean that you don’t love them. If you can stop for a moment and rehearse the pattern of the person living in chaos, you will see that your one more chance will most likely end up in flames. Again. Because guess what? They aren’t ready for help. They’ve been backed into a corner and have nowhere else to go and they are in full blown survival mode. So, your one more chance is only extending their stay in the chaos, and now you are camped with them in it. They will not hit their rock bottom with you cushioning the fall. And truth be told, even if you let go there is no guarantee they will ever hit their rock bottom. Meaning, that place where they wake up and will do anything to change and find true healing. Letting go actually makes you a good parent. A good relative. A good spouse. A good friend. Letting go helps them reach a place where they are motivated from the inside to get help.
Because no one knows them like you do. But I know all of the in’s and out’s. I know all of their struggles and their history. I get why they act like that or make bad choices or aren’t responsible. Someone else won’t get that, and won’t give them the right counsel…I could go on and on. Maybe it would be better for someone to NOT know them like you do so they can cut through all of the smokescreens and speak some truth. Not that you don’t speak truth, but sometimes truth is better heard from someone completely removed from the situation. Isn’t it a little bit prideful to think you are the only one that can help them because you “get” them? The truth is whether you like it or not it’s pretty easy to get manipulated by someone you love. Let someone without any attachment present them the truth and be unwavering. Yes, you can get to that point (unwavering), but it’s never easy. You don’t have to do this alone. Honestly, the longer you walk this journey you may find that you don’t know the person like you thought you did. Survival is a powerful shield that covers up and protects. What you can do is rest in the knowledge that God knows them inside and out. He knows them better than they know themselves. Psalm 139 says that He knows everything about us including our thoughts and what we are going to say before we say it. Maybe we don’t know the person like we thought we did but God surely does. That is a comforting thought as you are in the process of letting go and can be a focus of your prayers for this person.
Because you don’t have healthy boundaries. This is the biggest obstacle to letting go, and in my opinion, it is the most important thing you can do in the relationship. You need to set healthy boundaries. It is mandatory. If you do not set healthy boundaries, you will never have peace and you will never be able to let go. Here is an example of healthy boundaries:
“Hey, can you pick me up so I can go to an appointment? I really need to go.”
You: “I can pick you up after I run some errands. I’m able to take you to the appointment but I’m not able to give you a ride after.”
“Okay…thanks. I have other things planned though and I need a ride after.”
You: “Okay. Well, you can always reschedule if this time doesn’t work for you.”
You need to know what you are and are not okay with, and stick to your guns for the sake of your family; so you aren’t raging mad with bitterness at the person in your life. A conversation like this could really get someone in a tizzy if they do not have healthy boundaries. Unhealthy boundaries would have you rearrange the whole day and drop everything to rescue this person. That is not peaceful for you and may plant seeds of resentment. Try taking a moment to look at your schedule and offer something you are okay with. Throwing your life and schedule to the wind for a non-emergency situation will not foster peace; it will cultivate anger. It’s not your fault or problem that they don’t have a car or don’t live close to work or that they’ve burned all of their bridges and have no one else to help them. They put themselves there. Of course you need to be aware of what is a true emergency of physical health, etc. That is different. But if the crisis has shown up before, it will probably show up again, and you aren’t responsible to rescue someone due to their poor planning and bad choices. If you know what you are okay with doing and offer that you have shown clear boundaries. That is something you can live with.
Because you want your kid/friend/whoever to like you. This has got to stop. If you live like this you will never be able to say no and you will never have boundaries. Who cares if they like you or not? You know you love them and you know you aren’t going anywhere. You also know their pattern and eventually there will be no one left in their life at that moment to help but you on the sidelines with your healthy, loving boundaries. So, if currently they don’t like you, there is a good chance they will later on. It’s not about having people like us. It’s about living in truth and being healthy for you and for them. That may not be their normal but it is your normal. Throw this attitude of needing people to like you to the wind and just live in truth. If you don’t, you will camp out here for a long time not doing what you should be doing because you are afraid someone won’t like or love you anymore. That will be a prison and a terrible place to be. You literally have handed authority over to them especially if they live in your home. If you are walking on egg shells around someone, or are afraid to speak up, then that is your HUGE RED FLAG waving wildly at you to change course direction.
God can help you break that power. You need to open your mouth and speak truth, even if you are shaking in your boots and don’t want to do it. The Bible says that God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). He hasn’t! Take note when you are walking in fear. That emotion is not from the Lord. Take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) and speak the truth because that is where you will find peace. When you speak truth you can stand firm on what you know no matter what the person’s response is. Lies topple and fall but truth withstands any onslaught that comes against it. Sometimes you need to do life afraid. Being afraid doesn’t mean you don’t do the right thing. You do the right thing afraid and as you keep doing that you will see your boundaries come into place and peace settle in your heart. You will take back your power and know the strength of walking in truth.
So, why is it absolutely necessary for us to let go?
Because you are enabling. No one wants to hear that you are enabling someone you love, helping keep them in their chaotic cycle. No one. But it’s true. If you are enabling you are part of the problem. Do you really want that responsibility? If you always rescue them, they aren’t learning. Now, they might not learn if you don’t rescue them, but they most certainly won’t if you do. For example:
“Mom, can you loan me money? I need to pay for my phone. I can pay you back in five days.”
Mom: “Well, I guess so.”
That is enabling! Try this instead:
“Mom, can you loan me money? I need to pay for my phone. I can pay you back in five days?”
Mom: “What happened to your money for your phone?”
“I’m not sure.”
Mom: “Well maybe next time you will budget your money better so you won’t have to be without your phone. Don’t worry, five days won’t be that long.”
The longer you bail people out of their self-imposed problems, the longer they will stay right there. Why should the person in the above example ever be responsible for their phone if they know Mom will always bail them out? The answer is they won’t be. You have got to stop enabling bad behavior and you need to begin cultivating good choices.
You cannot fix them. The only person you can truly change is yourself. You cannot change other people. I might need to say that again. You. Cannot. Change. Other. People. That should be a huge relief to you. Most people living in complete and utter chaos have deep and complex issues that you simply cannot fix. Only God can do that, and only they can make the decision to surrender and get help. Them and them alone. You can be available. You can talk over options with them. You can pray. You can show them the way. You can do what you are supposed to do, but fixing them shouldn’t be on the list. You will live in eternal conflict if you take that on because they will not come through for you. It has got to be a heart change, not a behavior change. You cannot renew their mind. God is the only one that can wash over them and change them from the inside out (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 5:26) and they have to let Him. Behavior change is ALWAYS temporary. You are not responsible for their journey. They are.
You risk sacrificing your marriage/children/other relationships. Being at odds with one another regarding how to deal with a difficult person can bring quite a bit of division in a marriage or other relationships. Until you learn to walk in unity and play on the same team you will have conflict. A decision to not sacrifice a spouse to solve someone else’s problems needs to be made. When you get on the same page regarding what you will and will not do for the person in your life that lives in chaos, it is freeing. Unity equals freedom. If you are a parent it is the same thing. Make a decision not to sacrifice everyone else and their schedules every time a self-manufactured “crisis” arises. Unless it is a true emergency, your schedule should not change unless you all agree . That means that you don’t cancel a birthday party, a date, a vacation because someone calls crying, they are stuck somewhere or they don’t know what to do with a particular situation. Keep boundaries firm and trust that the one that you love is firmly in God’s hands. Isaiah 49:16 says that God’s chosen people are engraved on the palms of His hands. That’s a pretty great image. God has got this. You just need to do your part. Nothing more, nothing less or you could really end up hurting the people around you.
You don’t want to be doing this the rest of your life…do you? Because you will. If you want to get on their roller coaster and ride it all day long into the sunset, you certainly can, and they probably would love to have you along for the ride. My mom spoke some wise advice to me a few years back regarding unhealthy relationships. She said, “So, let’s say a person is going around a mountain again. You can run around the mountain with them or pack them a lunch.” That was my mom’s way of saying, “Off you go and here is a bit of encouragement for YOUR journey. However, I will not be going on the journey with you.” So her question to me was what should I do? Go around that mountain or pack the lunch? My answer was you should probably pack them a lunch. So, if you have someone in your life going around the mountain again, chances are you’ve already seen that mountain and you don’t need a second look. Pack them a lunch.
Do you still want to be holding their hand in 10 years with no forward progress? For your sake and theirs the answer should be no. They need to find help and healing and we should do everything healthy to point them in that direction. You want them to be well and whole and you don’t want to be the person that gets in the way of that healing because you are enabling. They might not be any different in 10 years no matter what you do. But at least you know that you have done what you should do. Nobody knows what the future holds except God, but the possibility is there for healing. Every day you can look to God for what you are supposed to do in your particular situation. We are to trust in the Lord with all of our heart and lean not on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). Sometimes the things we are asked to do don’t make sense in our mind but we can trust God who knows all, that it is the right thing to do. Then, when you trust, you can rest in peace that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing. The other person may just want to keep surviving. They may want healing. That’s their journey, not yours. You have your own journey.
Nobody said this would be easy.
This isn’t an easy process and with all of these things there must be a healthy dose of compassion for the person living in chaos. Remember where this person came from. Remember what they have gone through and what they have suffered. Remembering helps so much to keep the compassion alive as you lovingly stop enabling them and erect healthy boundaries for you and your family.
Every person and situation is different. That is why it is so important that you prayerfully take things to the Lord and seek help in every direction so you can better help the one you love and yourself. Reaching out for support from your church, counselor, doctor, mental health professional, support group, etc. is key to helping you help them. You also need to know your limits and establish your healthy boundaries so you can walk in truth and love at all times during this journey with your loved one(s).
On the airlines they tell you to put on your oxygen mask first and then assist others. You won’t be any help if you put theirs on first and then pass out. Put your oxygen mask on first. Find someone safe you can talk to and gain support from. Get your sleep. Keep a balanced schedule. Go to your doctor if you need to. Slow down. Take a breather. Do something for yourself. Get in the Bible and let it be your anchor. Take your burdens to the Lord and leave them there (again and again). Keep your eye on Him during the storm. Pray. When you can’t pray (because there may be times you just can’t) have someone else pray for you and/or with you. Ask for help. Keep on letting go.
For the person that you love who is struggling, remember that the chaos is comfortable and familiar because that is where they feel they belong. However, you don’t and you don’t have to go there with them. That might be their normal but it isn’t yours. You don’t belong in the chaos and ultimately they don’t belong there either. They just don’t know it yet.
– Niki Breeser Tschirgi