Why we sometimes take care of others without being asked

Mar 29 / Rene Luisman
Caring for others is a beautiful quality, but can also seriously disrupt the dynamics between you and others. Out of love for his family, this forty-year-old man postpones his coming out time and time again. The article has been published with the permission of the coachee.
'It feels like I'm riding a bike with a misalignment in the handlebars.'

It's Friday afternoon and we're sitting across from each other in my practice. With his hands he imagines how the steering wheel pulls his body to the left. ‘To prevent the critical voice in my head from only pointing out what I am doing wrong, I have to steer firmly with the right. By focusing my attention on things that are going well. And on good days, that works out pretty well.'
His metaphor beautifully shows that you have something to do yourself if things don't go the way you want. If your bicycle shows defects, you take it to the bicycle repair shop. If your car is out of alignment, you go to the garage. But as humans, we keep trying until we get stuck and old behavior doesn't work anymore.
'How does this relate to coming out to your family?' I ask him.

'The left tells me it sucks that I waited 30 years to tell them. I've known since I was 12 that I like boys. Why am I putting it off for so long?'
'And the right?' I encourage him.
'The right tells me everyone keeps things to themselves and that's okay. But that's rational. I feel it is important to share this with them. To restore equality in the relationship. They know I struggle, and they've probably suspected for years that it's because of my sexuality. Sharing this means that we can all move on.”
'I think there is something else going on at an emotional level. In our last session you mentioned that you are so afraid that you are a burden to your parents. The love for your family is so big that you have been hiding an important part of yourself for 35 years. Not because you're afraid of their reaction, because you know by now that it's probably not too bad. But because you want the best for them and don't want to hurt them. That says a lot about how much you love them. Is that right?'
He nods.

'The love for your family is so big that you hide an important part of yourself. Not because you're afraid of their reaction. But because you want the best for them and don't want to hurt them.'
'So on the one hand you have the critical voice that says you shouldn't have waited so long. On the other hand, there is your love for them. And now you have come to a point where you yourself have been able to give your homosexuality a place and want to make them part of it.'
Unburdening each other is a theme that his whole family is familiar with. Because when you take care of the other, it doesn't have to be about you for a while. A nice distraction, with which you also take over responsibility without the other person asking for it. And the question is whether you really help yourself and the other person with this or subconsciously maintain a problem.
I stack four meditation cushions in front of him. They represent the task of telling his parents and both sisters about his homosexuality. Then I move this mountain in front of him a little bit at a time. Just like he's been doing for years.
'It took me over 30 years to put this in place. They may also need time to process it.'
'What are you doing right now?' I ask him.
'Taking care of them.'
Behind the pile of pillows I put four more pillows. One for each family member. I ask him to lift all eight of them at the same time. He looks at me in disbelief. Then he bends over and struggles to pick up all the pillows. Hidden behind an immense, unstable tower of cushions, he balances from one foot to the other.
'So this is what you do. You take all the responsibility, and you don't get any further yourself.'
I'll let it work on him for a while.

'What's your task?'
One by one he takes a pillow from the pile. One by one he returns them to the relevant family member. And the more cushions are removed, the firmer he stands again.
'There is so much love for each other in your family. All you have to do is be there when they need you.'
Wanting to spare the other is a theme that I often encounter in coaching conversations. In work, friendships, with family members or your partner. Often with the best intentions. You don't want to hurt or inconvenience the other person. So you're not telling the whole, honest story. You keep the other person at a distance or step into a role.
But by sparing the other, something shifts in equality. Making yourself taller might feel good. It makes you meaningful. And at the same time you keep the other small. You decide what the other person can or cannot wear, which is not up to you. By doing so you forget that the other person has a responsibility.
When you carry what doesn't belong to you, it takes a lot of energy. Energy you can't spend on yourself. Which stops it from flowing. That can go well for weeks, months or years. Until there comes a time when it is no longer possible. That you get stuck, frustrated or exhausted.
At that moment you have to go back to what's yours and take responsibility for your own part. Your part and nothing more. To leave what isn't yours with the other. Accept that they do it their way. Only then it can flow freely again.

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