I was talking to a friend recently who has been having a dreadful time recently in relation to some work she's been doing. She told me that someone had given her some advice which she thought was quite useful. Her friend told her "never want more for people than they want for themselves". On the face of it, it sounds like pretty good advice. But as I started to think about it a bit more I wondered how that would play out in different situations. For example, what about abusive relationships? If you are in a relationship where your self esteem and self confidence have been systematically dismantled, how much can you really want for yourself?
So, I've come up with something that I think is more holistic: "meet people where they are and journey with them to where they need to be". I was working with a client a while back and we were supposed to be making a safety plan. I explained what a safety plan was and why she needed one. I walked her through the various options available to her and basically felt like I had done a great job of giving her the information she needed, to make a decision. After our session, she 'disappeared' for weeks. I couldn't reach her by phone and she didn't turn up for sessions. When she finally re-surfaced she told me that the session had freaked her out so much that she had run. What happened? I made a classic mistake. I thought information was what she needed and that once she had it, she would be ready to start the journey. In actual fact she was really only just coming to terms with the fact that she was in an abusive relationship. What I had asked her to do was like kitting my 4 year old out with a suit and briefcase and telling her to go to work, because I had explained what work was. Somehow, I don't think that's going to fly! However, I learned a valuable lesson here, which has helped me to be more effective with her and other clients. I should have paid more attention to where she was at. I should have found out what she was capable of absorbing /accepting at every stage and worked with her on that basis.
Secondly, as people in the helping profession, we need to remember that it's not about us, it's about the client. What they want, what they need. One of my biggest frustrations as a prosecutor was that women weren't always interested in having the perpetrator prosecuted for his crime. Once I got with the programme on domestic abuse, I was ready to prosecute every perpetrator and was definitely after a conviction! Imagine my dismay when women would come to me and say they didn't want the perpetrator prosecuted because they still loved him or because he said he would change and she wanted to give him one more chance. In my head, when I heard that, I was like "chance smance, it's prosecution for you matey!". I couldn't understand it because I was like a person looking through a telescope from the wrong end. I thought it was about me and my abilities as a prosecutor. I was so wrong. It was and always should be about the victim. What she wants, what she needs, what the safest option is for her and her children. That's why the victim focused approach to tackling domestic abuse is the most holistic one in my view.
Lastly, although I genuinely believe that the best expression of our lives is found in helping others, there are times when we have to step back and wait. We have to step back and wait sometimes, because the person we want to help is not yet able to receive that help. If the person you want to help is still firmly in denial about their situation, you can give all the help you want but it it won't make a difference. A long while ago, I was involved in an intervention for a friend, who was in an abusive situation ( I think we'd all watched too much bad tv, because we were in there like the SAS!) Surprisingly or actually, unsurprisingly she point blank refused our help. She refuted any suggestion that the relationship was abusive and we ended up leaving, feeling quite deflated. She had not come to terms with the fact that she was in an abusive relationship and we didn't realise that this was standard behaviour for a victim in such a situation.
So, no matter what you want for someone else, if they aren't ready to make the journey, they won't and you can't make them- no matter how much you want to. As frustrating as that may be, remember it's not about you, it's about them. All you can do, is step back and offer whatever support they are willing to accept. It's far more important that you keep the lines of communication open, so that when she is ready to reach out, hopefully she will will reach out to you.
Are you a woman who wants to start the journey back to wholeness, but doesn't know how? are you a person who wants to support someone on that journey, but doesn't know how? Contact us on +234 706 335 0864 or through the website and we can support you.
Until next week, be healthy, be whole and go well.