Here’s a conundrum: a colleague shared a problem and asked advice of the members of a small organization in which I’m involved. This person also included information regarding what I see as a MUCH bigger problem, a life-level problem. I want to offer support, but things stop me.
We were told that this person dreams of having a college degree. They are in relationship with a partner who occupies the same home as the person and some offspring, and the partner pays quite a bit of the living costs, enabling the petitioner to pursue their dream. But this partner is abusive, mentally ill, and unmedicated.
I’m stymied by the perception that the life-level problem is something to be endured in pursuit of a dream. This sounds, to a non-mental-health-professional who has only seen and heard anecdotal evidence of abuse, like a classic case of the abused enabling the abuser. I can’t tell if the email I received is meant as the larger cry for help that has my stomach in knots, or is a cry to justify enabling what sounds like a very difficult, unhealthy situation.
I began a reply, first via the listserv, then scaled back to a private response, and finally, I chucked the whole thing. Much as my heart goes out to this person and their offspring, and even to the unmedicated abuser who might not be abusive if on the proper meds, I’m loath to be drawn into the vortex of a person’s desire to justify what appear to me to be very unhealthy choices.
Where do we draw the line in helping others? I’ve often posited that giving someone the help we think they need isn’t useful – they need it and will likely only accept it on their own terms – but this situation takes the question to a very different level. Had this request for advice come from someone with whom I’ve shared air, rather than a virtual-based colleague, I’d try to help them deal with the underlying problem, tell them to stop justifying their staying in an abusive situation because it might – *might* – help them realize a dream, someplace down the road.
Maybe the problem is our very affluent society’s insistence that we follow our dreams to the point that we lose sight of our reality and health. Common sense would dictate running far and fast from that situation, at least my version of common sense, but it doesn’t sound like common sense is what’s being asked for.
And then there’s my cowardice.
Much as my heart goes out, I’ve had recent big lessons about steering clear clear clear of those who view the inside of a hollowed-out tree as the entire forest. I’ll send out all the good energy and clarity that I can, and try not to beat myself up for not doing more. I’ll hope that this person gets real help to fix the underlying problems and to get the offspring out of that situation.
And I’ll invoke the Buddhist forgiveness prayer, and try to forgive myself for keeping my own counsel.
graphic by David Baker
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