I have got a big to explore with you today that helps you keep your relationships in a healthy zone right about now. And that is: You don’t get to say how the people you love are handling stress. You do get to talk with them about how they’re handling their stress, but you don’t get to tell them how to do it.
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Here’s An Example
My 12 year old daughter has had a very interesting coping mechanism—she spent the first several days of quarantine spending hours a day attempting to brush out a wig. Long, curly wig, Professor Trelawney costume. Loved that thing.
Everything we did, we could hear the sch sch sch.
Finding hairs all over the house.
Could have said don’t do that.
But who am I to say? No wig is more important than my daughter’s mental health.
I offered to help her comb it out. Not interested.
Everyone Is Handling Covid Life Differently- And That’s OK
We all have a lot of feelings about the things our partners, kids, and whoever else we might be quarantining with are dealing with corona life. Willing to bet a lot of those feelings are of the judgmental nature. Or maybe bewildered. Or maybe even angry.
Add to that the fact that you know these people pretty well. You may think that you know what they need perhaps even more than they do. It can feel so painfully obvious that if they would just do this one thing, everything would be better And you love them and you want them to feel better. So maybe you try telling them what to do.
Yeah, um, how does that go over??
My suggestion to you is that you give everyone a really wide berth right now. So long as it’s not hurting people or putting other people at risk, let them have at it.
How People Deal Is Not Your Business
Byron Katie who has written many many books and teaches something she calls The Work, which is a really profound way of questioning the validity of your own thoughts, says there are three kinds of business…. How other people deal is not your business. It’s theirs.
Of course, how their coping mechanism effects you IS your business. So you can absolutely communicate that using I statements, like “I feel x and y when you do z, can we figure out a way to address that?”
But really, you want to tend to your business. If you don’t like how they’re handling stress, make sure you’re doing stuff to cope with yours. Because that’s how we influence people the most —through our actions, and our energy. So let them see you modeling the way. Share how much better the things you’re doing are helping you feel. Better yet, just model it—you don’t have to go yammering on about how great your home yoga practice made you feel, because that’s a turnoff, right? And, honestly, the more you take care of your own stress, the less likely you are to be irritated by how they’re handling stress themselves. Reducing stress is a great way to get into the “live and let live” state of mind.
So, in addition to taking care of your own danged stress levels, here’s your tiny assignment:
Ask How You Can Help
The next time you see that someone you love is feeling stressed out about something, do these two things.
- Let them know you can see that they’re upset, by saying something like, I can see that this is stressing you out. Sometimes just validating someone’s feelings is enough to help it lift.
- Ask them how you can help. You’re not trying to swoop in and fix, and you’re not trying to tell them what to do. You’re showing you care, you’re letting them maintain agency over their problem, and you’re simply asking if there’s some way you could help out. Then listen to what they say. MAYBE you suggest something specific and let them say yes or no, (if they really seem like they’re at a loss for thinking clearly). But really you don’t need to.
So, again, the two things you say are “I can see that you’re feeling stressed about this.” and “How can I help.” You can do that, right? And if they ask for something that seems really silly to you, like they say you could get them fabric softener to help them comb out their wig, well, I say, do it to whatever extent you can. Maybe all you can do at that moment is say, I’ll put it on the list for the next time I go to the store. And that’s enough. You’re not trying to move heaven and earth. You’re just trying to help them feel heard and loved, two things that always help.
Be sure to come back tomorrow, when I’m talking about how to be around your kids all day without losing your mind or crushing your spirit.