Considering Others

I like to make people happy. That’s the good side of the young me trying to constantly seek my dad’s approval. I like fixing problems for people. I like being useful and good at my job. I like adding value and making people’s lives better. Apparently it’s a middle child thing too, since we middle children don’t get enough attention. The bad side is that I usually put the needs of others before mine. I’ll go into work when I should stay home and recover from my cold. I’ll rearrange my schedule and greatly inconvenience myself so I’m not late to meet someone. I’ll light myself on fire to keep someone warm.

A strength is a weakness if you look at it from the other side. A weakness is also a strength when you use it right. One of my bigger strengths is my ability to empathize with others. I’m certainly not the best at it, but I’m working hard on it and I’m a lot better than I used to be. It becomes a weakness when I overdo it. When I so closely align with another person’s emotions, I can very easily and unknowingly put their situation above mine. That’s kind of what compassion is until it becomes like Stockholm’s Syndrome, where you care more about your captors even though you’re their victim. That’s what kept me in connection with my family so long. I can bend over backwards so far for people only to feel betrayed when they don’t do the same for me. It’s unfair to me that I give so much of myself when they didn’t ask, and it’s unfair to expect them to reciprocate. Who’s going to refuse when I freely give so much free attention and support? At the same time, it’s not cool to take and not give back, so that’s a bad on both parts. I went out recently with people who were only looking out for their own fun, whereas I like to make sure everyone has fun. Sad!

We need to place all the people in our lives in the right categories. Some are good for heart-to-heart conversations, some are good for getting wild and reckless, some are better in a group, some are better in small doses. Certain friends can span multiple categories, which is what I think qualifies someone as a good friend. Best friends are the ones that fill the most. The best relationships aren’t necessarily the ones where you have to fit into all the different circles, but they’re the ones that fit into more and more areas as you grow closer. I’ve had terrible results making work friends into outside-of-work friends, but that’s alright if I don’t try too hard to make the relationships into something they aren’t meant to be. Some friends are better over coffee than beer, and vice versa. I have some amazing friends that I can’t really have a solid one-on-one talk with. Some school friends only remain school friends, and you can only ever talk about those good old times way back when. More broadly, some relationships can only continue while looking towards the past. Where I’ve gotten into trouble was trying too hard to fit people into categories where they didn’t fit in. I’ve invited shy people to events where they didn’t know anyone and where they wouldn’t have enjoyed the activities anyways. I have some good friends in the city whom I could technically see pretty often, whereas I actually visit my besties in Edmonton more often. This one customer asked how I felt working on Canada Day long weekend. I told them I’d spent a lot of time in the past few years sticking my neck out to make time for friends, so I didn’t mind working that weekend, especially since I enjoy my team and my job. I said it was getting harder to see friends as they were all moving on to do their own things when it felt like they weren’t trying as hard to see me. He asked how old I was, and then he laughed when I replied. "Wait until you turn 50."

Doing things on my own. I’ve been burned by my family for so long that it’s still hard to trust my closest family and friends. That’s not fair to me or to my new family of choice. I’m placing responsibility on them for actions taken by different people, and I become more isolated as I refuse to open up. (I understand if you don’t believe that I don’t open up to people when all I do is talk about my problems.) That means that a lot of responsibilities stop with me. I have to be the one to answer for everything at the end of the day. That’s all well and good, but I’m too weak. I’m still crumbling under the pressure of marriage, work, health, and relationships that I’ve fallen ill with a cold. I’m not strong enough. I don’t mean to be hard on myself for catching a virus, but what it means to me is that my walls are generally too rigid, leaving me too protected and isolated. I’ve forgotten that only Jesus can truly be my strength because I’m only made of dust. The last year has been hard as I’ve slowly learned by trial and error that I can’t do it all on my own. I can’t be ultimately responsible for everything. Trying to juggle everything only ends with me feeling crushed. I can’t suspect everyone of trying to hurt me when only a few people treated me that way. Trauma makes it more complicated than simply trying to relax or lighten up.

Forgiveness. Relationships can only exist when there’s a consistent and evenly distributed agreement to forgive. I need a lot of support right now, and I’m resisting trying to make Carrie pay me back for all the things I did to help her during her four years in school. She certainly did a lot for me during that time as well, but when I slip and I try to make her help me because of all the things I did for her and blah blah blah, then trouble arises. Sometimes I feel like a parent that gave up their dreams for their kids and constantly reminds them of all of their sacrifices. I need to be self-sufficient in my own life and trust that I will eventually reap what I sow. It’s a fine line between taking ownership for my life versus depending on others. I know that keeping score in my marriage leads to nothing but trouble, but I also know that it requires give and take. I need to be responsible for myself, but I have to let others take care of me. Forgiveness is necessary to keep relationships alive, but too much leads straight to the danger zone. I’m lost.

As it stands this week, I’m focusing too much on others and I’m not prioritizing myself. I shouldn’t even be going to work in my current state because it’s selfish to put others at risk of catching my cold. I care way too much what others are feeling, and I need to assert myself and take care of myself first before I can give to others. It’s like in the pre-flight safety demonstration how they say that in the event of the cabin losing air pressure, you should put your own oxygen mask on first before helping anyone else. I need some air.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le