By seeing Mum as a defenseless victim and treating her as though she was one, I can see, in retrospect, we might have made her think she was one… my absolute love for Mum had evolved throughout my childhood, to the point where I wanted to protect her from any further heartbreak…
What Mum needed from me, and those closest to her, was love and support, not our protection.
Tammy Williams’s words in the book she wrote with her mother, Lesley Williams, “Not Just Black and White”.
How often do we disempower people we love despite our best intentions?
How often, in ‘protecting’, are we perpetuating their victim myth?
How often, in being ‘empathetic’, are we taking away someone else’s power?
It’s easy to see in the parents who come to me, whose child is anxious or angry. Overprotection is an incredibly destructive thing. It teaches a child that they’re not safe, and that their judgement is faulty. It teaches them that they can’t fend for themselves. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, when they develop anxiety.
It’s also clear in the way so many people are viewed as they grow older. They’re so often seen as less capable, their opinions less valid, their judgement less sound. It has disempowerment and disrespect written all over it, even if our primary intention is to protect them. Giving people a little extra help when they need it is one thing. Disempowering them, another.
There are better ways.
In order to truly support people to grow and recognize their strength, capability and extraordinary resilience we need, as Tammy wrote, to love and support, but not to save them. The worst thing we can do for someone we love is to see them as a victim, or to buy into their own victim myth.
Of course children need to be brought up understanding healthy boundaries and understanding consequences, but they also need the freedom to make their own mistakes and learn from them. They need to know, as they grow older, that we have faith in them and their judgement. We have a strange, misguided notion that we can protect them from pain. We can’t.
Someone close to me had worked like a dog for 10 years with her husband on their farm. Then, after one bad year, they were back where they started, financially – in debt. She spoke to her father about it, upset, bitter, feeling hard done by and beaten. Her father said to her: “Have faith!” She looked at him, incredulous, and asked: “In what?!”. Surprised, he looked at her and said: “In yourself, of course.” From that moment she began to forge her path to success. There was no “poor you”. There was no “let me help”. But there was faith in her and her capabilities.
It’s a matter of stopping taking on responsibility for others which doesn’t belong to us. It’s a matter of giving people back their responsibility for self so that they can step into their own power, grow their faith in themselves and develop self-belief. And we’re there as their supporters, with love, and with faith in them. Having a little bit of faith in someone goes a long, long way.
How do you perceive those you love?
Is that truly loving to them?
Can you give them back what doesn’t belong to you?