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me first means sometimes the answer is no

No. Just no. That is my answer. No explanation needed—at least there shouldn’t be one needed.

For the third time in a just a couple of weeks, someone I am not incredibly close to has reached out for help. Each time it has been someone I would chalk up in the acquaintance category—not quiet a friend. Technically I would say we are friends, but they haven’t been people with whom I am in regular contact.

That said, it isn’t the fact that they are asking for help that bothers me. I genuinely like to help people whenever and however I can—even a stranger. What frustrates me about each of these three situations is that these are people I haven’t spoken with in many months. Again, fine. However, each of them, after months of no contact, are only reaching out for help. They are each people who—the last time we spoke—were reaching out for help. These are people who ONLY reach out to me when they need or want something from me.

Over the past couple of years I have been learning many important life lessons and this situation relates to one I am seeing happen more and more often. I like to help people. I am a people person and people pleaser—often to my own detriment. I have used the analogy of buckets of water where we are constantly giving out and replenishing buckets. Relationships, whatever their form (platonic, familial, romantic, occupational, etc.) should have some sort of balance. Not complete equilibrium, but at least something approaching a give-take. If the relationship is one-sided you will end up with a bucket that is overflowing and making a mess or your bucket will be empty—neither of which is ideal.

I have recognized many things in my life where I was giving out more than I was ever getting in return. In order to compensate, I was using water from other buckets to both keep them from overflowing while keeping others from running dry. The misappropriation isn’t healthy either. Often, these situations were painful to deal with in the moment. Recognizing that I needed to eliminate a bucket—or having it eliminated for me—wasn’t always easy. In time, however, I learned and recognized that it was actually a very good thing. Learning this, I have been able to take a look at more of my buckets and recognize others that not only could, but SHOULD be eliminated. This cleansing has been most helpful in my overall mental and emotional health.

The first in this recent string of instances caught me off guard a little. I was, quite literally, incapable of helping the individual. I came away from the incident grateful I was unable to lend assistance because it allowed me to recognize the bigger picture of what “helping” actually would have done.

What has struck me about each of the recent events is also how my lack of assistance has been turned around into a guilt trip as if my inability (or unwillingness) to help is somehow behind their problem. It hasn’t mattered what the help was (and each was different, not just a single issue like money), I was somehow a terrible person because I couldn’t help in the situation. Never mind that in each situation I had a valid reason (not excuse) for my inability to offer assistance. In an instant, with my no, I went from “potential savior, friend, confidante, trusted partner, fill-in-the-blank benefactor” to “despised creator and perpetuator of my frustration and negative life experience.”


Because I can’t rescue you—whatever form that may take—I am somehow a terrible person? You have created your own situation and because someone else is unable (or unwilling) to “save” you, it is somehow their fault. We are all the creators of our own life. No one else. Other people may have influence, but ultimately you create your reality.

On top of the guilt trip each of these people sent to me, I was also pushed for explanation. A simple, I can’t help you right now was not good enough. In one instance my response was actually that I couldn’t right that moment, but I could the next day. The suggested solution? Switch whatever was happening right now to tomorrow so I could help them immediately.

No. Just no.

I was forced to explain and justify why that was not a valid option—beyond the surface reason that this “emergency request” was simply unacceptable. It was not enough that I had prior commitments I couldn’t change, I had to justify HOW and WHY I they were unchangeable.

I’m sorry you are in a bind. I’m sorry you have made the choices that have brought you to this very moment in your life. I am sorry you felt like I was the best (and only) person who could help you. I’m sorry you haven’t spoken to me in 6 months and now when you reach out I am unable to ‘be there’ for you, but I can’t. I have to show up for myself right now. I have to show up for myself first and always. If I don’t show up for myself first I will never be able to show up for anyone else… ever.

So, no. In this moment I choose to show up for me first. While I regret that it may make you angry and I may not hear from you for another 6 months (or ever again), I choose me first. Oddly, this is a difficult concept for me and I have to consciously do it in these situations. It is foreign to me because it feels selfish. I feel like I am letting someone else down. Guess what? Sometimes I am letting someone else down. I am, however, learning to show up for me first. I cannot continue to help others at the expense of losing myself.

It may seem a little selfish, but too long I have lingered in the extreme of putting myself second, or third, or last. Too long I have given more than I had and found my bucket not only empty, but absent completely. I gave away everything I had leaving absolutely nothing for myself.

I recognize and believe there are times when I can, will, and SHOULD give up everything. If someone in my family or a close friend needed everything I had, I would certainly make the sacrifice for that loved one. Those exceptions, though, must be just that—exceptions. I can’t have every person (every bucket) in my life set higher than mine hoping for the “run off”—whatever is left over, because there will end up being none left over for me.

Still, in this moment, it breaks my heart knowing there are three people I have been unable to help, but I truly appreciate the valuable lessons I am learning from these situations where I CANNOT help. It is allowing me to see the true nature, the other side, of human nature. I have seen the benefit in saying no, even if it has been because I have HAD to say no when my heart and gut wanted to say yes.

Perhaps that is the real reason these things have happened in such relatively close succession—so I can learn a lesson. So I can learn to take a minute, take a step back and look at whether my help is actually warranted and/or truly beneficial. Perhaps my help is actually only enabling something or someone else. Perhaps my help is only perpetuating a cycle with a person who is using and taking advantage of my generosity.

I cannot, I will not, continue to give more than I have.

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