Humans love drama. We do. Our entire entertainment system is built upon that fact. On the big screen, in the tabloids, we revel in emotionally and intellectually demanding situations and stories. We indulge in the details, the ups and downs of other people’s lives. The most enjoyable part in this is that we can disengage, we are not emotionally invested. No matter what happened in that last episode of Game of Thrones, or the details of the latest celebrity break up we can walk away unaffected. We can easily follow the Polish Proverb “It’s not my circus, not my monkeys”. Basically, it’s not my drama so I am not going to stay engaged.
However in our own lives. When the situation is about people we care about, not being engaged becomes much more difficult. I find it extremely difficult. When a friend of mine is a situation filled with drama, which hurts them it is impossible for me not to want to help. However, it can be really difficult to help without being drawn into the drama and usually getting caught in the crossfire. Recently life threw this kind of situation at me. Someone I care about is in a horrible situation, one I have been in myself and wanted my help. It is a very volatile situation and has the potential for drama written all over it. I knew this drama would be harmful to me emotionally, especially because it was so close to the bone of one of my past traumas. But I still wanted to help. It might not be my circus, but it sure as heck has one of my monkeys in it. I felt stuck in the dilemma of how could I help without getting caught and burned in the drama myself? Have you been there? If you have you will know how hard a situation this is. How do you take care of yourself and help someone else in a drama situation?
So I took a step back. I know from working with distancing myself from drama in the past, that the most important thing I could do is create firm boundaries. And from my work as a coach I also know that when helping others is that we are all responsible for our own decisions, and our own outcomes as are they for theirs. With that in mind before I helped I made myself some guidelines of how I could best serve my friend and myself. Honestly, it’s been a lifesaver. By having these guidelines to keep me true to myself, take care of me and my friend I have been able to keep both my sanity in the situation, keep myself free from negative drama and help her at the same time.
And to help if you are in the same situation here are some tips for you to create your own guidelines that will help you decide how you can help without getting caught in the drama yourself.
Is this your circus?
First and foremost take a step back and have a good look at the situation. Is this your circus (situation) or theirs? Does it affect you, your life? Ask yourself why do you want to help? And ask yourself is my help necessary? Do you really need to get involved? We all love to help people we love. But sometimes they don’t actually need us to jump in and fix things. Decide if you want or need to be involved and if you want or need to help.
How can you help?
Looking at the situation objectively how can you help, really? And equally important how does your friend want you to help? Identify what you can and can’t do. Keep in mind this is your friend’s situation to fix. You are in a support role. So unless its absolutely necessary (in a life or death type emergency) don’t jump all in as the knight in shining armor. Merlin was just as much help to King Arthur as an advisor as his knights who went on quests for him. (Sometimes more of a help actually) Outline what help you can give and are willing to give.
Look for personal triggers
If your situation is similar to mine, there may be elements of the situation that trigger you personally and emotionally. You are not going to be able to help your friend by reacting from your past situation and projecting it onto theirs. You need to know what will affect you in the situation personally and how to deal with that. You will probably need someone outside the situation to talk to about your own feelings. Remember to explain this to your friend and to choose support in someone you both trust. Preferably someone who is not involved and can be neutral and there for you.
Set the boundaries you need.
Know your boundaries. Are you willing to rehome the person if needed? Are you willing to spend your energy helping them if they are not willing to change the situation they are in? Best-selling author Dr. Brene Brown teaches the importance of setting boundaries when helping others. As she says “The most compassionate people I know also have the most well-defined boundaries,”. Before you jump in know how far you are willing to leap.
To help you check in with yourself and stick to your boundaries you can make a mantra that you repeat to yourself every time your boundary is tested to help you stick to what you can do and not overstretch yourself and your resources. Remember to let your friend know your boundaries in a gentle and caring way.
Remember this is not your journey
This is not your life journey it is theirs. Remember that in the end, as invested as you are in someone else’s happiness and success, it’s not your journey. Don’t take the situation personally. Similarly, don’t take it personally if they reject your help. People have to find their own solutions and live life at their own tempo. If you have done your best to help them from a place of love and caring you have to accept they have the right to live their life the way they live it. You can intervene but ultimately as a friend, your job is to be an honest supportive guide that is there to help them make the right choice for them.
Helping a friend who is in a challenging, or in a potentially harmful situation is a precarious business. As Dr. Kaplow a known therapist says “Always remember that it’s very easy to project your preferences, your thoughts, your values on to your friend…Our natural tendency is to look at a relationship and say internally, ‘If this were me…'” he adds. “The problem is that no matter how well you know your friend … you are now distorting the relationship dynamic.” You have to think before you speak. Keep it simple and honest. Speak from the heart, but choose your words carefully. Keep yourself strong by setting boundaries so you can truly be the best help and maintain your own strength. And know that even though you have done your best your friend may reject your help or advice.
This is their journey, you have your own. You can only be responsible for your choices. So choose to help in a way that best serves you and your friend and leave the drama to someone else.
Have a great weekend <3