When Is It Okay to Pull Back?

Not many things make me happier than helping someone – especially a close friend or family member. Helping out brings me a sense of purpose. There is a breaking  point however where it goes from meaningful to flat out annoying. I do not mind listening to someone a few times and offering suggestions or resources. When someone consistently comes to me for the same issues over and over again, it becomes cumbersome. They sometimes expect me to have a magic wand to fix everything. It irks me nonetheless.

This happened recently with a family member who called me every day complaining about their relationship. His girlfriend was a “sick” individual to say the least. She often engaged in stealing, lying, and drugs. My family member kept asking me what to do. I offered my perspective and gave some resources. After hearing the stories for the tenth time, I retracted my active listener status for a more passive role. It became increasingly difficult to listen to him. This was someone I would go to the end of the world for, but I kept in mind my own emotional boundaries.

A few days ago, he called me in a panic. Erratically, he proclaimed, “I’m tired of her shit. I told her to pack her bags and leave.” I would be lying if I said I was not happy or relieved. The headache could finally go away.

The next day he called me. His voice clearly shaken. He had no money until the next day when his check arrived. I offered to send thinly dollars via money transfer. This war nothing unusual, and he always paid me back.

An hour goes by, and he calls me back. This time his voice is loud. His yelling is not directed at me, but a store clerk instead. They had not given him his money. I overheard another voice in the background. It was his girlfriend’s.

My heart sank. The glimmer of hope I had from the day prior immediately disappeared. I hung up the phone without even saying goodbye. I felt stupid. I felt about two inches tall. I made a mistake I commonly made. I get my hopes up too fast and set unrealistic expectations for myself and the relationship. I thought to myself, “Here I go again.” I clammed up and did not want to talk to anyone.

I went to Starbucks and completed paperwork for the next few hours to distract myself. I cancelled my plans for that night. I was in no state of mind to socialize with others. I reached out to one person who was able to provide me with some encouragement, but I was emotionally drained by that point. I went home and laid in bed. I engaged myself in an internal tug-of-war about how to approach the weekend’s agenda. I had four clients to see, Mother’s Day dinner, someone to tutor, and a BBQ to attend.

As shitty as I felt, I trudged forward. I fulfilled all of my responsibilities minus one cancelled appointment. That in itself was an accomplishment.

Monday morning rolled around. I woke up a few minutes before my alarm went off. I begrudgingly rolled over to turn it off before the little menace sounded. I stared at the clock contemplating my existence. I decided to cancel my first appointment. An hour later, my second appointment cancelled. The early afternoon crept up on me.  I cancelled my next two appointments and laid there until three thirty in the afternoon. It felt so wrong but so right. For shits and giggles, I looked at my calendar to see the last day I was off like this. I counted backwards from today. One… two… TEN! I worked ten days straight!

Both instances highlight a questions I struggle with. When is it appropriate to pull back? I would have to say two major factors come into play when making this determination. The first is intention. What is the reason that I am taking a break? In the past, there have been plenty of times where my depressive mood and distorted thinking won. The self-defeating thought made me feel worthless , and I believed it. I felt like I did not deserve to be happy. Therefore, my intentions were to validate this skewed reality and support the irrationals beliefs associated with it. Or I was avoiding the situation that triggered this funk to start.  In the past few days, the purpose of pulling back was providing myself time to heal. Just like an injury like a broken bone  your spirit, mind, and feelings require the same rest. Both times this time allowed me to rationalize what happened and what was really going through my mind and heart. The time allowed my heart and mind’s energy to be restored and revitalized.

The other precipitating factor is self control. When the time comes, what is your plan to get back into the groove of things? A lot easier said than done. Taking a break feels nice. It is relaxing and comfortable. It is easy to grow complacent. As long as you can ensure that there is a system of checks and balances in place, then you will be okay. This could be setting a time frame, having people check in on you, or having concrete steps in place. Ultimately though, you are the one in control of when it ends.

Give yourself a break.

– The Caring Counselor

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