Sorrows, Sorrows... Prayers: Letting People Help Their Damn Selves
Updated: Jun 8
Hi, my name is Jasmyn and I am a recovering martyr.
I'm not sure what happened to me in my past that made me this way. Maybe it's in my nature to help others. Maybe it was this idea instilled in me at school or in my place of worship that lending a helping hand without question is akin to good behavior, if not outright holiness.
Or maybe it's the inner fear of others falling off the proverbial cliff if I don't run at breakneck speed to pull them back, or worse: being labeled as *gasp* SELFISH.
So, I threw myself into being the first one to raise my hand and volunteer as tribute to enter into people's problems, ranging from minor inconveniences to five-alarm fires (much of which were, frankly, the result of their own poor planning, poor choices, and glaring lack of accountability). I also piled pressure onto myself to consistently have my own stuff together and slap away any helping hands, lest I develop a reputation as an agent of wahala and chaos.
Ironically, this was not an expectation I placed upon my peers. I allowed them to be incompetent and incapable while giving myself little room to make mistakes and beating myself up at the slightest error. I found myself burning through gas, money, and time only to see these same people not get their shit together after getting the help they needed. This would set my rage ablaze, which I hid under the this veneer of a smile followed by my refrain of "No worries, it's all good."
Naturally, I eventually arrived at the three-way intersection of weary, resentful, and over it.
It took me the privilege of writing some copy for a brilliant podcast episode that shook me awake into why my regular practice of setting myself on fire to keep others warm was toxic AF.
In reality, my compulsion to help others wasn't always coming from a genuine place. It came from this inner need of seeking validation and reward. I got my sense of self worth by being seen as a hero, but when I didn't get the accolades or the returned favor I'd feel a way (and not a good way).
So I conducted a little experiment: what if I started saying "no" and stopped showing up when the bat signal was in the sky? What if I decided to not help... on purpose?
What if I wasn't available to give someone a ride, or not able to come in, or simply shrugged when someone came to me with problem XYZ with the expectation of me to solve it even though I wasn't even there to create it?
I believe this is what Gen-Z refers to as the "villain era." In any case, I was ready to be labeled as the "bad girl" if it meant getting something good out of it.
I did this for a solid month. I stopped picking up my phone on the first ring. I stopped texting back immediately. I put some boundaries in place and for every "yes" I said "no" at least three more times, even if I was available.
"I don't want to" became a perfectly justifiable reason and I used it more often than not (that is, if I offered an explanation at all).
The results were threefold:
I found that in the absence of me offering a solution, people managed to find a way to resolved their dilemmas. By taking a little longer to respond to that email, or asking "What do you plan on doing?" or by simply letting the phone go to voicemail, the people that I'd usually run to save would put on their own capes and deal with their obstacles without me having to step in and save the day. Indeed, their world didn't come crashing down in my absence.
Many of those "friendships" became awfully quiet once I removed myself as a solution. The one time I said "no," I was persona non-grata in their universe, thus exposing the fact that our relationship was merely a one-way transaction and based on my labor (physical, emotional, or otherwise) rather than a mutual connection. I was more than happy to release them and wish them well on their journey out of my life.
I reclaimed an obscene amount of time and sanity. Making this small edit enabled me to actually care for my own needs, get some much-enjoyed rest and recovery in my day to day, and brought me peace of mind that I can only describe as bliss.
This is not to say that I will never lend a helping hand ever again. Anyone who knows me is aware of how I adore my family, how much I volunteer at my church, and how often I make myself available to assist. However, I am making myself available to assist where I can and when I feel like it, not out of misguided compulsion.
No more bending over backwards in hopes that I get a parade in my favor, only to barely get acknowledged and even become expected to clean up other able-bodied people's messes.
It's a tough lesson for me to learn, but the fact remains: adults are capable of being their own heroes more often than not when they have no other choice.
Therefore, I am strategically removing myself as a choice. Y'all be safe out there.