Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fix You

When I hear about problems, my tendency is to want to fix, find a solution, provide an answer. This is part of my job, of course, and comes with being a parent, a friend, or a partner. If my child comes home in tears about something, first I want to go mama bear on whoever made them cry, then I want to find a solution to their issue. If a patient has anxiety, I want to offer sound ways to overcome it. But sometimes, that's not what the person needs.
I have learned to recognize when someone is asking for help finding a solution and when they simply want an ear to hear them. This isn't always easy, because I have had to sit on my hands when I had good advice to offer, but the time wasn't right. In the case of grief, telling someone about a grief support group can be very helpful. But if all they want is to tell the story of their loss, it could be intrusive and unkind to cut them short to talk about counseling. Better to listen and respond to their words, maybe hand them a card with a phone number as they leave, and let them think about it another time. This is listening and responding to the need in front of you.
The same is true with my children. Not every friend drama requires a dissection of how they could have responded differently. Most of these things work themselves out over time, and offering advice when they only want to be hugged is not the best use of my mothering. I am still working on this one, because I want the best for them, and don't want them to repeat mistakes that I've made growing up. Sometimes they need to learn their own lessons, sometimes they just need to be distracted by a fun game, and sometimes they just need a cuddle. I have to learn to navigate these tides a little differently if it's my son versus my daughter (yes, the drama runs in the family...). Their needs also seem to change on a weekly basis, and I'm certain what I've learned to do this week won't work next month!
Sometimes there simply are no solutions for the problems we face. I cannot fix my patients' unemployment, bad marriage or history of childhood abuse. I can help them heal and cope, but I can't make it go away. I also can't help everyone. I have found myself repeating the same suggestions to the same clients time after time, knowing they will never follow through, and also knowing that my advice could truly help them. Today, I shelved the suggestions and just listened. My patient seemed to relax more as we talked, and she left looking lighter. I think I finally gave her what she needed from me. Attention. Kindness. Understanding. Without judgement. She didn't leave with a fix for her problems, but she left feeling better. I felt better afterwards, too. Sometimes silence and an open ear are all the solutions we need to offer.

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