On Carrying Other People’s Burdens

Photo by LN Dangol on Pexels.com

I found this image and I thought it was perfect for what I wanted to write about today. Seeing it made me really sad, animal labour deeply hurts me. But it also made me sad because of what it represents for us people as a symbol: carrying other people’s problems on our backs.

To start, I would like to address a misconception that we have been bearing on our shoulders because of social and cultural impositions, and that is that self-care is an act of pure selfishness, and that we are in this world to serve others.

First of all, I’m not saying that we should not be of service to other people, that we shouldn’t try to help others, tu put our skills and knowledge to good use, that we shouldn’t share ourselves or who we are. What I’m saying is that we should not confuse serving others with being at the mercy of other people’s whims, that we should not extract every last drop of juice out of out souls and bodies without properly nurturing ourselves, that we should be of service out of love, for our life’s purpose and for our fellow humans, not due to a sense of perverse obligation because society says that’s how it should be.

Serving other people should come from our freedom to do so, the same as any loving relationship. I help you from a place of deep knowing that I chose to improve and develop my own natural gifts and that I freely give them away because it is like this that I give back to life what life has given to me.

It is not possible to be a healthy, fulfilled human being if you keep giving to others but you don’t take the chance to replenish yourself. It is true that there are trying times when you might not have the option to look after yourself or to give yourself the kind of self-love and rest that you require and deserve. But you need to know that you cannot continue like this indefinitely. If you don’t see to yourself that your basic physical and emotional needs are met, bitterness will start seeping its way into your life, slowly at first, then like a river. One day you will suddenly notice that all you can see and feel around you are bitterness and resentment and you might not even know why.

The will to be at the service of others must come from a place of deep love and respect within us. If I help you in any kind of way, it is from the abundance of my heart, from a place of joy because I have skills that allow me to do something for you that you cannot do for yourself. And you, in turn, with other abilities available to you, will be able to give to others that which you have harvested from your own efforts.

Women are especially vulnerable to this deeply engrained idea that they should be serving others round the clock. Sometimes it isn’t even necessary for anyone to tell you that it is your obligation to help and to serve others, you just do it automatically. It can be quite a compulsion. I know I have done it many times myself. I see someone who I think needs help (sometimes they really don’t need anything, others they might need help but they hadn’t even noticed yet) and I jump to the rescue, again and again.

Doing this has given me many times a perverse sense of satisfaction: I am a good person, I help others, I’m selfless. But helping other people on end has left me depleted quite a few times and also feeling angry and resentful, especially at times when I need help myself, because there is no one around me ready to detect my moments of weakness or despair and ready to give me anything I need. But why should they?

Most people are paying more attention to themselves than to the outside world. We are, at some time or another, going throught different kinds of challenges, and we are too deep in our problems to suddenly have the realisation that some other person is going through personal challenges.

Also, it has happened to me that I feel hurt because someone didn’t do what I would have wanted them to, only to realise that I don’t even know what I need or want. So how on earth do I expect other people to give me something that I need when I don’t even know myself? It’s like going to a shop and stand there looking at the shop assistant, getting increasingly angry and upset that they are not giving me what I need. Perhaps if you opened your mouth…

I have seen, in myself and other people, that we choose to carry other people’s problems because it is a way of avoiding dealing with our own problems or with going about satisfying our own needs. We have a tremendous list of all the things we need to do for other people and we get upset when someone insinuates the obvious: that the only person in the entire universe who is not in the list is ourselves.

We justify this by saying that it is our parents, our partners, our children, friends, and a long, long etcetera. What we need to learn to differentiate is that while these people might need out help for different reasons (our parent might be too old, our children need our help and protection, our partners need our support, etc.) they cannot own us, or our whole vital energy, ALL of the time. There are things I might be obligated to help them with but there will always be things that these people will need (to learn) to solve by themselves, according to their own ability.

It might be hard at first, for us and for them, to get used to the fact that we are not picking up every little single thing that they drop (figuratively), that they need to make themselves responsible for a great chunk of their lives.

And we, in turn, need to learn not to bend down everytime these people drop something (figuratively, too). We need to learn to tell the difference between a genuine need for help and support, and what can only be considered abuse and laziness.

As I have said before, the hardest part of it all will be for you to train yourself to set these boundaries and respect them, so that other people will learn to respect them too.

Should you want to know a little bit more about how to set healthy boundaries with the people around you, you might want to read my two previous posts, “How to Set Boundaries” and “How to Set Boundaries (Part 2)“.

Thank you for reading.

Love and blessings!!


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