How to Help When Life is Complicated

Uncategorized Sep 25, 2018
Life is complicated. 
I know. 
It's complicted and frustrating and hard to sort out sometimes. 
Why do things that should be a speed bump seem like a 14,000 ft peak? 
Why do some issues go away and some follow us all the days of our life? 
It's complicated. 
When my husband, Shawn and I were first married, we took a mutual friend out for dinner and a show. While we were at dinner, she began talking about how frustrated she was that she couldn't get over a certain issue. I can't remember the exact scenario, but I think it went something like this: "Why is it so much harder for me to forgive, to let go, to release the other person?"  when she dug deeper, her real question was "What is wrong with me? Why does it seem like other people sail through these issues, or at the very least get through them faster than I seem to?" 
At that moment, Shawn said one of the most profound things I have ever heard in my life:
"I do these puzzles"  He said, "they have a rope tied through a piece of wood, usually there is a bead or a hoop or something laced through the rope. Your job is to get the bead/hoop off. The puzzles range in difficulty from 1-10. At first glance, the puzzles can look exactly the same, but one can be rated a level one and the other a nine or ten. It is hard to tell why they are even different.  If you look closer though, you will see that one has an extra knot and that makes the puzzle so much more complicated."

Then he went on to say, "To an outsider, your issue looks like it is a one or two, where really, because of what you have been through so far in your life, it bumps the issue up to a 9 or a 10 for difficulty. Basically,  you just have an extra knot" 
So smart right??  
I have come back to that word picture so many times since that night, for myself and for others. 
Who gave us the grand timeline of what is supposed to be a big deal and what isn't? Most of the time, I think maybe we are just trying to get through whatever is going on so we can escape being the needy one, the sad one or the complicated one. (Just me? Ok, maybe) 
Overall, I think most of us are interested in looking like we have it all together. We want to be the reliable one who is in control and not difficult to work with. 
What happens when we can't be the reliable person? What about when our insecurities rise up and make a fool of us? How do we handle irrational but oh,  so real fears? 
What do we do when we, the people we love, or the people we are trying to help have "an extra knot"? 
I want to be clear that I am not a professional counsellor, but I have been the people business since my early 20's. I also know a thing or two about complicated people because I am one of those people. ‚Äč
Most of us are not professional counsellors, but we care and we want to help. So, if you can stay with me, I have a few thoughts about those knots. 
What are the extra knots? Where do they come from? 
It's who we are: I have come to see that we are a mixed bag of what we are born with, what we go through, and how we navigate with both of those factors. 
Here is an example: 
Some people are Cadillacs in life, with great shock absorbers and a smooth ride. Some people (I am looking in the mirror here), ride through life like a Jeep. Is there a bump in the road? A pebble? "Brace for impact!!". Ev-ery-thing feels like a big deal. 
These are the people that likely have to work through anxiety issues. Life flies fast at their senses. They "feel" things in an atmosphere, like 'it's creepy here, let's go", or they read body language and pick up on nuance in conversation. 
It can be a super power when used to help others. It is the drive of empathy and compassion. It is also the super strong sense of whether a person is being honest and transparent or not. Or it could become concrete blocks on our feet if we use it on ourselves.  Thoughts like, "What is that person thinking? Why did they look at me like that? What did they mean by that?" or the never ending list of "what if's" and hypothetical situations. 
A "super-feeler" Jeep, may drive a Cadillac crazy because they make such a big deal out of everything. 
It's an extra knot. 
Add to that the things that happen in life...

What we go through: 

In the case of our friend, she is a Jeep. She has also been through a lot in her life. She had a volatile childhood (to put it mildly). When she hits a bump, she has to sort through super complicated issues like fear of rejection, anger,  and abandonment. 
In other cases, a person may have been in the normal range as far as family goes, but they were bullied or didn't do well in school. Maybe they went through an ugly breakup with someone they deeply loved, or they struggle to make sense of why life is the way it is. 
It is who we are + what has happened to us that equals how we are going to handle life. 
So what do we do? 
Maybe we should start with what we shouldn't do.


1. Assume everyone is just like us. 

Total pet peeve here, but it is really not helpful to say things like "well, that just shouldn't be a big deal" or "get over it".
I decided long ago, I don't get to decide what someone else's big deal is. 
The truth is, it may not be a big deal to us, but if its a big deal to them, it's a deal. Assessing it's size, big deal or not is really not helpful. 
No one is just like you. No one is like me (phew). Putting life through my grid and coming to a conclusion about how someone else is handling life is not helpful, compassionate or kind. 

2. Give pat answers. 

Complicted issues are not solved with one word answers. Pat answers usually sound like "Well, you just shouldn't be that way" or "Just don't think like that". 
This is not helpful. People are the way they are, and they are likely talking about it because they want help. If you don't have an answer, just say so. It is better to say "I wish I could help, but I don't know how", than to throw out a simple answer for a complicated problem. 

3. Get irritated. 

This is the tough one. When issues are rooted in insecurity and anxiety, they often come from struggling with rejection issues. If someone seems Irritated, it can inflame those issues and make them infinitely worse. 
The bottom line is that none of us can fix or heal insecurity in another person. But we can help and we can certainly not make it worse. 
Being vulnerable involves risk. Even if you can't help, you can tell someone you are proud of them for being vulnerable. 
Ok, so what helps? 
There are probably a lot of things that professionals can do here, but I am talking to friends and family that want to offer support. Here are a few thoughts...
What helps when life is complicated?


1. Care.

You thought I was going to say listen didn't you? Tricked you. 
Listening is super important, but you actually can't listen if you don't care. 
We are all busy. We are all by nature, self absorbed. It takes great strength to actually care about another person and want what is best for them. 
Care shows up in little ways and big ways. Dropping everything and being there for someone is really important sometimes, but not always neccessary.  A simple text message to say you are thinking of them or praying for them goes a long way. 
Other simple things like a hug, a phone call, a quick note or flowers on their doorstep sends the message "Hey, its tough right now, you are not alone". 
The world will be changed by people who actually care. 

2. Listen. 

Listen to understand, not to fix. Hear the whole story. Don't listen half way and then offer a treatment plan. You could end up offering aspirin for cancer and it won't help.  Sometimes issues are just plain complicated and they take time to resolve. 

3. Help. 

Help in the context of the relationship. If you have enought context in the relationship, offer suggestions or advice and. If you don't have that relationship, but you still care, do what you can. 
It is cliche by now to say that men are fixers and women just want to be heard. Sure, it's true sometimes, but I have to tell Shawn that I want help and he is allowed to throw out solutions that will help me fix the problem. Do what comes naturally to you, in the context of what is helpful. 
If your gift is listening, do that. If your gift is pratical, make something, If you are coach/cheerleader -type, offer encouragement. You get the picture...we all do our part. 

4. Be a safe place.

We all crave to be understood. It is hard to access that feeling when we don't even understand ourselves. Sometimes, we just need someone else to take a look at our tangled mess and help us get untangled.
When you love someone, it includes loving thier mess.
People know it when you are willing to love them in spite of the mess. Love does not stand, hands on hips, foot tapping impatiently, saying "get on with it, we have places to go!". Love says "how can I help?" 
Our presence in other people's lives should say "you are welcome here, faults and all".
I am sure there is so much more to say, but I will leave it there for now. 
The truth is, we will all give help sometimes and we will all need help sometimes. We grow together and life is good. 
My friend, to this day is still a complicated person. Full of joy and artistry, but has to work hard to stay on top of anxiety and her other triggers. I love her. The thing I love most about her is that from her, I learned almost all of this. 
I also learned about myself. 
I learned that it is ok to be messy, to not have everything in tidy little boxes. No one fits in those little boxes anyway. 
Let's be real and human. Let's leave room for others to be complicated and love them anyway. 
Maybe this is what Jesus meant when He said in Matthew 22:39
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 
Loving others takes work, but it is the only thing in the end, that actually matters. 
We might as well be great at it. 

 XOXO - Keri

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