Dear Lucy: I have a friend who has had back trouble for some 20 years following an accident. She has back pain and has gone to lots of doctors and is overweight from lack of exercise. She has now started exploring alternative therapies that she won't do. The problem is that she is so negative, whiney and mean and has nothing good to say about anything or anybody. I help her out a lot, travel with her and work hard to be her friend and support. But she really doesn't want to be well. She just wants to complain. I hate to desert her but it's making me sick! I am the only one left who caters to her and is there for her. Any ideas. – Pained
Dear Pained: I think this is about both of you. She has set her boundaries for healing and you need to set some boundaries for helping.
About her: Many of us have a low threshold for pain and it's worse when we have to live with it daily. It can make you irritable and short tempered. But there are lots of things out there for pain beyond drugs.
There is exercise with gentle progressive movement; diet control; prayer and meditation; opportunities to reach out to others by phone, letters and other acts of encouragement. These don't have to be expensive. However, they require three big things...righteous desire, discipline and patience. And often these are the big lessons that chronic conditions come to teach us.
Righteous desire is about the need to want to do what's right for ourselves and for others. Even when we have physical challenges we can still find ways to be present for others. Health conditions that linger sometimes have secondary benefits that folk don't want to give up. The attention, the control of others, the not having to work, the excuses, holding others hostage to you...all of these are benefits that become a part of one's identity. Who would she be if suddenly she was no longer this sick, angry, helpless, dependent, controlling person?
As for you, who would you be if you were no longer the "saint" who gets to tolerate her and whine in your own way about it? Where is the glory in caring for someone and growing internal resentment that you have to hide? Maybe you signed on to help and be a friend but not at the cost of nurturing bitterness in your soul.
Why expose yourself to a toxic personality? Are you a helper or an enabler? Are you a rescuer? If you were not busy rescuing her, what would you be doing? Rescuing someone else? How do you take care of yourself and refresh or clear the toxicity from your own system? Negativity can be poisonous.
Begin to speak the truth to your friend. Ask her if she truly wants to heal. Ask her if she wants to find some alternative ways to entertain herself and serve others. As for you, perhaps you may find ways to help her from a respectable distance. Maybe you can take pencil and paper when you visit and have a letter-writing day with her. Or get the church sick list and have a phone-calling day. Have a "turn off the TV day." Have a Gratitude Day. Get creative and have a prayer day for your city, the weather, our schools. Taking our minds off of ourselves, or our need to rescue, is therapeutic.
It's time for both of you to set boundaries. Get wood, nails and a hammer and build the fence. Better yet, ask God to put a hedge around both of you!
(For help with the feelings that get in the way of prayer and peace of mind, get Lucy's new book, "BE NOT ANXIOUS." Order it directly from her at 901-907-0260 or go to her web site www.heartworks4u.com.)