I have a problem. An inexplicable need. An innate compulsion.
See, I have a big heart and I’m a good listener. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, that’s just the way I am. And no, that’s not my problem.
My problem is that when people confide in me, when they share their problems, I have this overwhelming urge not only to comfort that person and listen, but to fix their problem for them. I take on the problems of others as my own. This, according to my counselor, is the very core of codependency. The need to control every thing.
When he first worded codependency thusly I thought to myself, “He’s nuts. I’m no control freak.” And I’m really not. I have never tried to dictate to anyone other my children how to do anything and everything. But over time, analyzing all of my past situations, I’ve realized my counselor is correct. It’s just a different sort of control. When people share their troubles with me, I don’t feel understanding and apologizing are ever enough. I always feel compelled to do more. I feel inadequate because I can’t do more. I’ll be damned if I don’t try anyhow.
Of course, my friends assure me that merely listening means the world to them and that my empathy is more than enough, but that never pacifies me. I’m still left feeling as if I haven’t done enough. That I’m not a good enough friend. That I should be doing more to help those who need my help.
I’m assuming their problems.
Lately, I’ve had an easier time letting go of these things. I’m analyzing them after the fact and realizing just how asinine my feelings are a lot of times. I mean, were our positions reversed, my friends wouldn’t be able to do anything for me. They can do nothing to properly medicate me for my depression. They can do nothing to eliminate the devastating sense of failure I feel for getting divorced a second time. There was nothing they could physically do to mend my broken heart. But they listened. They empathized. They distracted me from my self-loathing thoughts. They made me laugh. It saved me. Now I just need to realize that when I return the favor that I don’t need to do any more than that unless specifically asked.
In looking back at my failed relationships, before counseling I would reason that I was duped into those relationships by the other person. And to an extent I was. At the same time, however, I was also satisfying my need to fix problems that aren’t my own. With my first wife, she was a financially destitute single mother unable to pay her bills and feed her children. I took it upon myself to solve her problems by moving in with her and assisting with the bills. She, of course, ensnared me by using attempts and threats of suicide, guilting me into staying, but it was still ultimately my decision to make. Then I became trapped. With my second wife, she was broken by her brother’s suicide and I was doing everything I could to fix her in any way I could. She never asked me to fix her, but I felt like it was my responsibility and I tried. I tried so hard. True, I did fall in love with her, unlike my first wife, but it was my need to fix her that ultimately led me there.
This all came to a head last night. All these realizations crashed down on me like a tsunami making landfall. I was talking to a friend who was having her antidepressant changed after only a month on her current one. She wasn’t very happy about it. I apologized for her situation and immediately set to task with suggestions and doing everything I could think of to solve her problem for her. I even mentioned that I felt like I needed to be doing more even though she’s told me repeatedly that just listening means the world to her.
Then I realized – there’s not a damn thing I can do. I can’t change her medication back. I can’t change her doctor. I can’t cure her. I can’t do anything to rectify the situation just as she can do nothing to rectify mine. Listening and being empathetic is really all I can do. All she wants me to do. And it really is enough, even if it doesn’t feel like it. I know when I’m venting my frustrations I don’t expect anyone to swoop in and save me. She certainly doesn’t expect that from me. None of my friends do and that’s why they are awesome.
So now that I’ve realized this I have work to do. I need to somehow learn what I can control and what I can’t. I need to learn that only my problems are my problems. If someone asks then I’ll be more than happy to help, but I need not assume someone’s problem just because of some incomprehensible desire to solve it. It’s not my job to fix you, it’s yours.
Another life lesson learned at the school of Hard Knocks. Fuck that place.