The hardest part of growing up is realising that not all things can be fixed.
I remember being so small and thinking that everything could be fixed. My mom managed to sew my teddy bear back together after a dog had shredded its head and, if she could fix that, I figured she could fix anything. Eventually, I learned that she had been unable to fix my teddy bear but had cut apart the remnants to use as a pattern to make me a new one. Over the years, my mom returned to that pattern many times to repair or replace after my beloved fabric companion met another unthinkable fate or simply wore out from too much use. The scraps of fabric that had been my original teddy bear now lie next to the recreation, tucked away in my treasure chest. She didn’t fix it, but she made things better.
My family was never good at emotions, communication or demonstrating positive behaviours. It is not that my parents didn’t love me; they just weren’t sure how it was done. They were (and still are) immensely damaged people who never escaped the survival mode that they entered to protect themselves as children. Problems were a sign of weakness and never to be displayed or discussed. I grew up keeping all my negative feelings in check and never letting anyone see my vulnerabilities.
Fast-forward through many years of therapy and a plethora of platonic and romantic relationships that never quite seemed to feel right, and I find myself at a new point in life. I now understand that there are many things in life that I cannot fix, but there is something that I can do to make them better. The exercise of speaking my problems out loud releases some of their taboo nature and allows me to feel that I am not dealing with them alone. Knowing that there is someone else sharing the knowledge that burdens me lightens the load and makes it easier to continue moving forward.
Unfortunately, the act of venting can place undue stress on the listener to try and come up with a solution for your unsolvable problem. When a loved one comes to you with a problem, it is natural to want to help them and to ease their suffering. Being unable to “fix it” makes the listener feel as though they have failed to support you adequately. Even worse, they may start putting forward solutions at a time when you are not in a position to receive them with any sort of grace. Then you are upset that they didn’t listen to you and they are upset at your ungrateful reception to their advice. Acknowledging the nature of your dilemma is key to receiving the kind of support that you want.
Asking for help is good and healthy but you need to be clear about the type of help you are requesting. Do you want me to fix it; or do you want me to listen?