Thursday, October 2, 2008

Compassion - Can You Care Too Much?

A dear friend came to me the other day upset after a visit to the doctor's office. It seems that yet another ailment has reared its head. Her list of serious illnesses continues to grow and even her doc's think stress has a lot to do with it. Lori (not her real name) has difficulties with her family. Lori is a giver. It's that simple. The other day I went to visit her and told her I'd bring lunch--the idea being she'd have to do nothing. I even brought plates and silverware, so she'd have no dishes. By the time I arrived, she had more food already on the table than a small army could finish. Well, maybe not that much, but way more than we could tackle!

Oddly, she knows that all of this giving is bringing on countless health problems. Members of her family flock around her--even her mother--in part, I think, because Lori is just so easy to be around and does so much for others. Like an alcoholic with liver disease who takes another drink, Lori just can't stop giving of herself. She gives and gives until there's nothing left, and then she gives some more.

When I suggested she stop doing so much for others, she voiced concern. "How can I stop doing so much and still be a compassionate person?"

Does compassion imply giving what you no longer have to others? Is it compassionate to injure yourself for another's sake? Are you really helping that other person?

Since her family acts like energy vampires hoovering around her and demanding everything she has, I question if Lori can learn to give less in such an environment. Over the last 40 years, it's only gotten worse, not better. Sort of like a drug addict trying to heal while staying in a drug house.

My suggestion was to separate from these draining relationships until she felt stronger and healthier. Then with awareness of how much to give, slowly re-enter these people into her life. However, it's challenging (if not impossible) to tell your mother, kids, spouse, and sisters that you're taking a break from them all!

I don't claim to have the answer; maybe there's a different answer for each of us. But it does make sense to me that to be compassionate means to honestly look at what is best for all involved--including yourself! Once you have learned what you can about yourself and done what you can for the other person, if the situation remains draining and unhealthy, it's time to end it--maybe not forever, but for now. End it with love and compassion in your heart, but end it. I do believe this is the most caring act -- tough love.


Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

1 comment:

Darcy said...

BOY can I identify with Lori! I think often as women we are taught that we are selfish or not worth as much if we are not being someone else's caretaker. It's written so intricately and deeply into the fabric of our society (more or less so depending on your upbringing) which is what makes it extremely difficult to reverse.

I think there should be a 12-step program for women who are addicted to caretaking to the detriment of themselves. I would sign up!! :)