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Hope, Help, and Plan B

I've been listening to this woman, Brene Brown, who researches shame, what causes it, and how it affects people. She ends up looking at how people are raised and how much shame they have, so this ends up dovetailing with kids. This is how I learned about her; listening to a talk she gave on raising shame-resilient kids. I re-listen to it periodically, because each time I learn something new - and it's really good for learning how to coach myself through things. ;) (For those of you who are interested, it's "The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting" by Brene Brown. It's brilliant, funny, and totally applies to understanding yourself.)

The last time I listened to it, what really struck me was when she talked about hopefulness. It turns out that what creates hopeful people is a learned pattern of thinking. As Brene puts it, "How to Plan B something." Hopeful people have learned that if they struggle with something long enough, they will eventually succeed -- OR, they learn how to make a plan B if they can't succeed.

This brings me to me. One of the first phrases I learned to say was "I can do it myself!" This has basically been my mantra my whole life. This is hilariously funny, because I'm attracted to people who want to do it for me. At first, this is awesome. But the reality is, I want people to do it for me (aka, help) when I ask, when I'm low, when I'm blue, when I just don't wanna. The rest of the time, I can do it myself!

I've been telling Quin, "Stop helping me. It makes me feel like I'm a failure; like you think I can't do it."

A few weeks back, this came to a head. We were trying to open a bottle with a key (because we didn't have a bottle opener). I was watching Quin struggle with it, and believe me I WANTED TO HELP. Don't we all, when we watch someone struggle with something? The desire to take it and fix it for him was so strong I actually had to walk into the little hotel bathroom and make myself busy. I knew that if Quin helped me when I was trying, I would be upset. So I didn't help him.

Then came my turn. I took it, and I was struggling with it to open my own bottle. I was really enjoying the struggle. Struggling, after all, is how we find out what we're capable of. 'Can I do this? Am I this strong? If I can't do it, can I find a Plan B? There must be a way!' It's a flexing of the muscles, both physical and mental. Which is when Quin said, "Here, I'll get it for you." I was disproportionately upset to the offer of help. See, in my mind, I was enjoying flexing my muscles and seeing how strong I was. When Quin offered to help, it was like he was saying, "You're not strong enough. I will do it." I knew, of course, that's not what he meant, but according to the shame research, that is what everyone hears. (Let that sink in a minute: it's not just me. It's the majority of people.)

Several things happened: it yanked the fun right out of it, because I'd just been told (in my mind, however inadvertently) I couldn't do it. I had to stop and figure out how to refuse help. There was doubt in my own mind now, and instead of having something to enjoy, I had something to prove. I couldn't Plan B it, because if I didn't succeed at Plan A, then obviously I couldn't do it, as suggested, and instead of getting the chance to figure out another way, the "logical" course of action would be to let the person who could do it, do it.

I didn't know all this at the time. I just knew my extreme upset. I said the only thing I had figured out: "Quin, I know you're trying to help, but it makes me feel like you think I can't."

Quin got upset -- he'd just been trying to offer help -- and walked away, responding with, "You know, J, sometimes an offer of help is just that. An offer of help."

The thing is, we were both right. I started thinking about it, and thought about it for the next several weeks. In the interim, I listened to Brene Brown again and realized all of the above, plus this other thing: in not being given the chance to succeed or fail, in not being given the chance to struggle through and maybe have to come up with a Plan B, it is ALSO taking away the hopefulness that makes me think I CAN succeed.

More and more, I've been trying to not-help people. To give them the chance to succeed or to Plan B it. It's really, REALLY hard. It's easier to fix something for someone than to watch them struggle. But... "I can do it myself!" rings in my head.

I watch Jake, Quin's son, do the same thing. He gets crankier and crankier the more people help. You can almost see him throw his hands up and say, "Why should I even try?" Yesterday Quin went to fix something, and he snapped at Quin. Quin's eyebrows shot up and he looked at me mouthing, "testy." I had to smother a laugh, because Jake had been struggling with several things all in a row, and Quin kept helping. (It is especially hard not to help when your kids are struggling or, as was going on that day, you're in a hurry and need it done now so you can move onto the next thing.) He gets snappish when that happens and, since I see so much of myself in him (poor kid), I can see it coming. (Quin, having listened to the same Brene Brown stuff I did, is getting much better about letting the kids figure it out. Poor Quin is a helpful person, and struggles to see people struggle. My mom was the same, so I think I'm ultra-sensitive to it.)

On the other hand, just now Quin did the perfect kind of helping. I'm outside writing this, and he came out to check on me and see if I'd like some coffee. "No," I said, "But I'd love some hot chocolate." I have no intention of making it myself (at least not right now), I'm not struggling with it, it's just a desire. Quin made me hot chocolate and brought it out. I feel loved and pampered. Perfect. (Other perfect help is, of course, when I'm struggling and my Plan B is to ask for help. ;))

I've been pondering all this for weeks now. Mulling it over, turning it around, looking at it from a new angle. Now that I've got it all down, maybe I can go back to writing. ;)



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