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How To “Find the Proper Edge”

By Christine Cronin, MSW, LCSW-C

How often do you find yourself in situations where you don’t know whether to speak up, to help someone with a problem they are having, or to walk away? Probably more than you’d like!

I offer the following examples: Someone in your family asks to borrow a considerable sum of money. Or someone wants a favor from you. Or you have difficulty coping with a family member who has a mental health issue and is not doing anything to help themselves. It may be that a friend surprises everyone with the announcement that they are going to elope or move to another state or suddenly quit their job to earn money in an alternative way. Perhaps a loved one has an addiction that is both painful to witness and incredibly stressful. 

You ask yourself: Do I help? Am I enabling questionable behavior if I don’t say anything? Am I being overly controlling and intrusive if I do get involved? Am I being unnecessarily protective or negatively wielding my power by showing concern at all? Where is that invisible “proper edge?”

This is incredibly challenging stuff, especially when we want to help but the person “in need” of support doesn’t want our help. Here are some reflections that may help you untangle your thoughts and feelings: 

  • Was I asked to give my opinion or to get involved? 
  • Am I being evaluative or judgmental about the other person’s behavior? 
  • What might be the “unintended consequences” of my getting involved? 
  • Am I trying to control the outcome? 
  • Am I getting involved because of my own anxiety or fears? 
  • Is there any anger or urge to “fix” the problem because I feel that my solution is best?

The most supportive thing to do may just be to “let go.” However, this may feel inadequate given the situation. It can seem so counter-intuitive to just let “natural consequences” happen. But when we involve ourselves in other people’s lives, we may be disrespecting and diminishing their autonomy. We take away that person’s ability to figure things out. We intrude in the learning process that happens by making a wrong or unwise decision. Each of us is human. We each learn from our mistakes and grow stronger in working to untangle mistakes. We each must learn to trust ourselves.

I recall how my children learned to walk. I was a cheerleader for each of them. I was a nervous mother and a proud parent. Each child alone had to figure out how to balance and take steps, growing stronger little by little. I remember that each child fell more times than each initially was successful. Ultimately, each did learn by instinctively trusting their inner compass.

Trust your friend or family member to find their way. If you are invited to help, please do so. But step back and “let go” when you are asked to listen while the other person vents. Their problem may not be your baggage to carry! 

Christine Cronin, MSW, LCSW-C is a Senior Clinical Therapist at Jewish Community Services.

Jewish Community Services (JCS) is dedicated to providing programs and services that help people of all ages and backgrounds achieve their goals and enhance their wellbeing.

To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.

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