Are you helping or just interfering?
Do you spend a lot of time limiting your own happiness by worrying about other people's crises?
The moment I realized I had to get a grip on my own worrying came after a friend called, distraught, saying her marriage was over.
I was devastated. I could hardly sleep and felt hollow for days. When we reconnected a few days later, I asked how things were going. She replied, "Oh that? That was only a fight. We're fine."
What?!! ... I was a wreck for days and they were just fine? I couldn't believe the energy I gave away to a problem that was not my own.
Spending too much time in someone else’s business is self-destructive. Interfering in situations that are not within your control creates unnecessary drama and stress, which can destroy relationships and eat away at your health.
So how do you learn how (and when) to mind your own business?
First of all, ask yourself these three questions:
- Is this my business?
- Is this someone else's business?
- Is this God's (or higher power, or universe, whatever feels comfortable) business?'
If you still cannot decide whether you're meddling, in the center of a blank piece of paper, take a pen and write down the problem. Draw a circle around it. Draw another larger circle around that problem and, within that ring, write down who is most immediately affected by the problem. Continue making rings until you see where you fall within the rings.
Let’s say you wrote down: My friend’s divorce.
Who is truly most affected by this problem? Your friend and her partner. They go into the first ring. Who is in the second ring? Their children. The third ring? Their parents. Fourth ring? Their friends.
This is how you maintain perspective and evaluate how best to respond to an upsetting situation.
If you're not in the first ring, this isn’t your drama. Your responsibility is to step back, support the people in the rings that come before you. You can help watch the kids, send over meals, listen and support your friend on her dark days. But trying to fix the problem or creating drama about how it affects you is interfering. (Their divorce isn’t about you.)
What if world hunger keeps you awake at night? Or rape culture? Or sudden cardiac death in children?
Write it down — Is it your business? Someone else’s business? God’s business? Perhaps it is a combination of all three.
Draw your rings. The fact that you're likely a distant ring from the center needn’t dampen your conviction to help. It simply sheds light on healthy ways to support victims or give to those in need or how to best help educate others. You will not solve a global issue alone. To think otherwise is self-destructive.
There are plenty of ways, however, to help those in the rings before you, which hopefully will help curtail tragedy.
What happens when crisis hits closer to home? What if your adult child or close family member is making a tragic error with their lives?
If you're close enough to the situation, you might consider them marrying the wrong person or them moving to a dangerous foreign country your business. After all, you love them. You want them their safety and happiness in life. You are wiser. You know better. And, let’s face it, you’ll have to pick up the pieces when their lives fall apart, so it's easy to think it is your business.
Write the problem down. Draw the rings. You’ll find you are not in the first ring. You are in the second. This still isn’t about you.
If you look closely, it feels like it's about you because you love them, because you are scared to death for their future and their safety. But here is the truth: it is not your business.
They are adults. You are in a different ring. Your role is to support, to love, to advise (when asked), to keep perspective, to keep the lines of communication open, but ultimately — you step back so you do not make the problem bigger.
Step back into your zone so you remain whole and able to think clearly if and when the wall does crumble. It may. It may not. Stay in your zone and support.
Staying in your own zone honors the other person’s journey.
When a friend or loved one sinks into a rabbit hole, they need someone with a clear head and perspective to sit at the top of the hole to throw them nourishment and encouragement until they can climb out themselves. Though it often feels like the most compassionate thing is to jump into the rabbit hole beside someone, it isn’t. It just traps you both, creates drama, and ultimately breeds resentment.
Their problem isn’t about you.
Remaining in your zone doesn’t mean you're aloof or rude or uncaring. Healthy boundaries are not selfish. In fact, quite the opposite.
Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is to maintain your "zone." These boundaries allow others the space to thrive in their own decision-making, their own lives. In your own space, you can provide the gift of strength, perspective and love without interfering or dramatizing or fixing.
Next time you feel your energies shifting into anxiety and your worry elevating over someone else's problems, check in with your gut. Shore up your boundaries and step back into your own zone.
Is it always comfortable maintaining boundaries? Is it always easy deciphering your zone? Maybe not. But in your own space, you'll feel less anxious and more clear-headed. Most of all, you're better able to help those around you, by looking out for them and yourself.