One of the worst feelings I have ever experienced is helplessness! We have all felt this, probably many times in our lives. Someone we love is going through a hard time for whatever reason and we want to help…we want to ease their pain. Sometimes, it IS possible to help…to make our loved ones feel better. Maybe we can even help them find the solutions they need to solve whatever problem they may have at the time.
Unfortunately, sometimes we cannot help at all. This may be because there is no solution. If a loved one is suffering from a terminal disease, there is no way that we can save them. Yes, we can do everything in our power to make the rest of their time as pain-free and pleasant as possible. But we cannot change the outcome. In the end, a terminal disease ends in death. Even if we know that we did everything we could to help, we still have this terrible feeling of helplessness.
When the problem is not one with a “terminal” ending, we try even harder…because the problem “could” be solved…sometimes in many different ways. But in the end, if the problem is not “ours” then often the solution is one that has to come from the one who is going through the “rough time”. We can give advice, if asked. We can give emotional support. We can express our unconditional love. But ultimately, since the problem is not ours, it is not ours to solve. Nor is it ours to stress or worry about. But we DO! When you love someone, be it a relative, a good friend, or a spouse, it is so very hard to separate yourself from the situation. It is very difficult to sit back and do nothing…or what seems to be “not enough”.
The worst emotional pain I have ever experienced is when I have had to watch my son go through difficult times. Any mother will know exactly how this feels. Your “baby”…and any child of yours will always be your “baby” no matter how old he or she is, is hurting and you can do nothing to “fix” it. You can tell him how much you love him. You can tell him you are there for him. You can give advice, if asked. Then you just have to sit back and let him handle things. Of course I am now talking about an adult child. My son is a grown man…a brilliant, talented grown man. He is a man with a family of his own.
In my situation, my son has had to handle some things that no one should ever have to handle. Growing up with a depressed, alcoholic father (a wonderful, but troubled man) was not easy. If things had been different, I might have been able to leave the marriage and make a life for my son and myself. But things were such that it was not possible to do so. So, I stayed and my son grew up not wanting his friends to come to his house and see what his dad was like. That was very difficult. I felt helpless. Whether this was because I was not able or willing to let people know what was going on or if it was just because I felt that I should be able to handle it on my own, I am still not sure. But if I had to do it all over again, I would make a different choice.
There was also a horrible feeling of helplessness due to my husband’s depression and alcoholism. I wanted to help…I even felt that it was essential that I help him realize that he had to help himself. I was unable to convince him. I now understand that he, himself, felt helpless. Watching anyone you love lose all hope and have no ability to seek the help he needs is devastating…to all concerned.
Then came my husband’s suicide. My son had to deal with that and it was NOT easy or pleasant. Although our lives became easier, in a way, there was so much hurt and anger and just not understanding why such a thing would have happened, that it took a very long time for him to come to terms with it. Again, I felt totally helpless. My son, at the time, was an adult, living in British Columbia. He was visiting us at the time my husband took his life. I am still not sure if that made things better or worse for him. He was out with friends at the time of the suicide, but came home as soon as I told him what happened. I think that he was much more comfort to me than I was to him.
I also experienced this feeling of helplessness when I realized that my relationship with the love of my life was failing. It had taken me so many years to find him and I had never been so happy. There was no way that I was not going to fight for this relationship. Yet in doing so I, and no one else, was responsible for pushing so hard that there was no choice but to end things. I learned a lot from this experience, but if I had it to do all over again I would not repeat the mistakes I made.
When you feel helpless about your own situation there IS always something that you can do. But this, not being able to help your child, is the worst kind of helplessness! I think it is extremely important that when you are in this situation you reach out to those people in your life who you know are there for you…who can help you with the emotional support. What I have recently learned is that sometimes the support you need comes from people you would never have expected to be there for you. It is also very important to let you child or whoever is going through the rough time, know that they can reach out to others as well…to find someone to talk to, open up to, who might be able to alleviate the pain. Someone who might have strategies or ideas that have not yet been considered.
Most of us tend to take on the emotional pain of those we love even though we do understand that we have absolutely no control over their situations. We cannot make anyone, as much as we may want to do so, change their beliefs about what is, or is not possible for them. All the desire in the world will not make it possible. Yet we continually try. I believe it is human nature to take care of those we love. I am glad that this is true because the alternative is unacceptable to me…a world where we do not care enough about each other that we just stop trying to help. So, we, or at least I, keep trying to “fix” things for our loved ones.
Most importantly, whenever you are feeling helpless because you cannot solve a loved one’s problems, remember that you are not alone and that this is not unique to you. We have all been there. As much as we do not want those we love to suffer, given time, they will figure things out for themselves. Jus BE THERE for them and make sure they know you are there!