Question : My sister is married and living away from home. But she isn’t happy. She confides in me and tells me of all the difficulties that she faces with her husband and in-laws. She seems to be stuck and helpless. I also feel that she is not telling me many of the things that she is actually going through, and I somehow get a feeling that she is going through a very abusive marriage. I really want to help her change her situation, but I do not know how to help her.
Seeing her go through all of this, I too feel very stuck and helpless. Can you please help me to guide her through this tough phase?
Answer : It is very painful to see our family suffer and feel absolutely helpless and stuck through their suffering. Our love for them wants to rush out and do anything to help them get out of the mess. Unfortunately, we can’t always rescue the ones we love.
What I wish to share with you today is something very generic. However, I believe that this understanding is applicable to everybody who feels stuck.
In this case, I see that your sister is stuck and helpless. And you too are feeling stuck and helpless. I deeply believe helping yourself is the most important way of helping the other. I would suggest that you read through what I have to say and apply it to yourself; and then relay this to your sister as well, so that she can apply it to herself.
A lot of people go through very trying circumstances. A lot of people get caught up helplessly in situations that are not their fault at all. Sometimes we hear of abusive bosses who plainly use their power and authority to take advantage of the employee in grossly unfair ways. Sometimes we meet people stuck in a relationship or marriage that has turned very vengeful and vindictive. And sometimes we hear of people who are just a victim of very unhealthy parenting – victims to their parents’ failed relationship.
Knowing how dark and insensitive the human heart can sometimes get, I have seen and heard extremely sorry stories in each of the above situations. And my eyes have brimmed quite a few times to see people in sheer agony and pain at the hands of someone else. My heart goes out to them and cries with them.
But when these people come to me seeking help, as a therapist I have no option but to eventually bring them to the reality of the situation.
And the reality of the situation is that they are stuck in a vicious cycle. This cycle can go on for a long time. If one wishes to change the situation, there are basically two-steps to consider.
STEP 1 – “IS THERE SOMETHING THAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT THE SITUATION?”
Can you step out of the relationship?
Can you approach someone (your parents or some authority-figure) that will be able to intervene and rescue you from the situation?
Can you approach someone who will be able to bring the abuser/offender under control?
Can you go to the HR at your office and file a complaint on harassment?
Can you do something to get yourself out of the misery?
Can you fight back and stand up for yourself?
Can you take charge of the situation in some way?
If Yes, how can you go about it?
What support would you like in order to take this step? Whose support would you like in order to take this step?
Do you need to meet a counselor/therapist to work through your fears and find courage?
STEP 2 – “IF THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT, THEN SHALL WE FIGURE OUT A NEW ATTITUDE TO DEAL WITH THE SITUATION?”
So if you feel that there is absolutely nothing you can do about your situation, what can you do now, in order to get through this situation, for as long as it lasts, in a better way?
How can we live with less bitterness, less pain and less sorrow?
Can we find some sort of inner strength and resilience to be able to handle the situation?
Maybe this situation is an unfolding of Karma.
Perhaps this situation has something deeper to teach you?
Perhaps this situation is your gateway into exploring your own Spiritual-Self?
What can you learn from this?
How can you find your inner-peace?
And as you are going through Step 2, if it does not seem to make sense and resonate with you, then it only means that you need to go back to Step 1 and look at it carefully again.
When one cannot get through these 2 steps, our mind goes into a loop and goes into what some psychologists call as the “Victim Mentality”.
The Victim-Mentality is the mental space where the person complains, whines and blames. This is the space where the person starts to feel stuck and helpless. It is a very natural state for the mind to get into when it has been through trauma for a long period of time.
However, once the mind has started identifying itself as a ‘stuck and helpless victim of life’, it is sometimes a spiraling black hole thereafter.
The best way to help yourself when you are stuck and helpless is to find help.
Meet a therapist or a counselor.
There are lots of people and groups in the helping field.
There are lots of online groups that work anonymously and rescue/support people in tough phases.
Seek help on any forum. Systematically chart out your plan for a good life.
NOTE : The questions and answers in this series are compilations of discussions during therapeutic sessions with my clients. These are not generic pieces of advice. I am deeply aware that these answers can seem way too simplistic for people actually going through similar situations. Please comment or connect with me if you find yourself grappling with something I have expressed.