The Power of Not Protecting

The Power of Not Protecting
Photo by Derek Thomson / Unsplash

It has been an interesting few weeks.

Ever heard of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon? It is where you are made aware of something and suddenly it's everywhere. This is most common when you buy a car model and all of a sudden you see them every day. You may believe until then you had never seen one in your life but you would be wrong. You saw them, your brain decided it wasn't important and edited it out in real time. Since you bought one, it's now important and boom they are everywhere.

I experienced this over the last few weeks, however it wasn't with cars but with struggles. The weird part was, none of the struggles were mine.

Have I intrigued you enough to keep reading? I mean with the strange title, the mention of Baader-Meinhof and a cryptic part about struggles once removed? You should be hooked. If not well let's just say there is also a dinosaur (I have no idea how I am going to pay that off).

Over the last few weeks the same scenario has occurred:

  1. A loved one of mine has a loved one.
  2. Their loved one is going through a really challenging time and looks like they are headed towards some real pain.
  3. My loved one wants to protect their person from the pain.
  4. They have asked me for advice.

This desire to protect couldn't be any more natural. As parents, from the moment your child is born the weight of your job as a protector is palpable. This is a life so fragile that if unprotected and uncared for they will die. When the baby grows the responsibility remains but shifts ever so slightly. We still protect them from things that will bring great harm but the baby-proofing starts to slowly come off. The child is transitioning from being protected from pain to learning from pain. No parent wants their child to experience pain from bumping into a corner because they were running and not looking where they were going, but the pain is useful. Learning to look where you are going is an extremely useful skill that will serve a person for their entire life.

Knowing this, why is it so hard to see a loved one go through pain? Unlike the child bumping themselves accidentally, often we can (or think we can) solve the problems that are causing them pain. We are haunted by thoughts of 'if they only did......' or 'if I could just.....'. It's hard enough to see a loved one in pain, but when they are experiencing pain that you believe they don't have to, it's just torture. If you allow me, I would like to free you from this prison. Your job is not to protect them from pain, but to encourage them to struggle through it.

It's their pain, it chooses them, it may be because of their choices, or could be due to no fault of their own, it doesn't matter. This is what they are facing and they need to go through it because those who don't, who avoid pain at all cost, they live in a prison with no windows. I would rather be free and hurting than protected and locked up.

In writing this I have realised that I am also guilty of falling into this trap in my daily conversations. People may open up about a problem they are having and I instantly go to a solution. You know you have done it too, how often have you said "Have you tried this?", or "I heard a podcast on this". I did it recently with a friend who told me about his trouble sleeping. Instead of acknowledging his pain and the challenge he is facing I talked about what he has tried and other possible solutions. That way I could trick myself that my friend is no longer hurting because of my epic solution instead of knowing he is still in pain.

So if you find yourself in this situation can I encourage you. If your loved one is not in serious life-threatening trouble (in which case intervene immediately), but is facing a situation that could cause pain, maybe the best thing you can do is keep loving them and that is it. If they need help they will ask, and if they don't maybe they need to walk this valley alone. If you do get the opportunity to help, then focus on building them up rather than fixing this problem. Sometimes acknowledging the pain is all that is needed.

I know this is hard, I know it feels so much better to fix problems and I know it's not that much effort but this is not your fight. Be in their corner with towels, water and encouragement but let them fight and you may be amazed at what they can do.

Hey, I know it would be easier if all our loved ones were still children we could look after but we can't live in the past, we are not dinosaurs. (I flipping did it)!