This is a case study taken from Chapter 16 of How Kind People Get Tough
Ava sought out my help because she was suffering from severe anxiety. Anxiety is often the body’s way of saying to us: ‘You’ve got too much stress in your life—it’s time to do something about it!’
The stress may be linked to our day-to-day life, or even events from the distant past that haven’t been resolved. Often, it’s a combination of past and present.
I taught Ava some anxiety reduction techniques, such as ways to regain control of her runaway thoughts and EFT to manage her overwhelming panic. We also explored what was going on in her life that could be contributing to her stress.
Ava told me that she was very concerned about her relationship with her daughter Gill. Gill, a single mum of twins, was always struggling and short of funds. She was in the habit of asking Ava for money, and Ava was in the habit of giving it to her. Ava was retired and living on a very small pension; she really couldn’t afford to keep bailing her daughter out.
In fact, Ava was even coming for her sessions infrequently because she lacked the funds to pay for regular sessions. I was tempted to give her a discount because I very much wanted her to get the benefit of regular sessions. However, I had to be very intentional and stand firm with Ava, so that she in turn would be encouraged to stand firm with Gill.
There was a pattern.
Whenever Gill borrowed money from Ava, she would promise to pay the money back in instalments. Sometimes she would pay some of it back, but then the payments would stop. She never repaid the full amount, and Ava just didn’t feel able to ask her for it.
I was curious. I asked her why not. Ava explained that she’d made mistakes when Gill was growing up. She didn’t feel she’d been a good enough mother, and she felt so guilty about that. Now she felt that it was her responsibility to try to make it up to Gill.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with helping out family members, and to a certain extent, no matter what their age, our kids will always be ‘our kids’. That’s just human nature. But there comes a time when we must set some limits. Ava needed to stop rescuing Gill and find ways to support her instead.
Are You Supporting or Rescuing?
When we care about someone, we want to make sure they’re secure and happy: of course! The problem is that we can get muddled up between supporting someone and rescuing them.
To support someone means empowering them to help themselves. It also means taking into consideration our own needs as well as theirs.
On the other hand, rescuing someone means rushing in and fixing things for that person, regardless of our own needs. This is often when things can get out of control—we can end up feeling overwhelmed by their demands.
By pretending that everything was OK, whilst quietly worrying, Ava wasn’t being authentic with Gill. And because she was so consumed with guilt from Gill’s childhood, she wasn’t now giving Gill the opportunity to mature and reach her potential.
Ava realised that bailing Gill out all the time wasn’t ever going to be a real solution; she needed to encourage Gill to take responsibility for herself. Hard as it might be, it was time to find courage and speak her truth.
Ava wanted to be more intentional about how she would manage things the next time Gill asked her for money. The problem was that she’d been down that road before. She’d often told Gill that this was the last time she would lend her money, and that she needed to be paid back. Gill would seem to understand and agree, but then nothing would change. I wondered how I could help Ava come up with some boundaries that would be clear for Gill.
In chapter 10 ‘How to be Heard’, we looked at how speaking to people in their own language can make a huge difference in being heard by them. For example, if we can identify that they are visual, auditory or kinaesthetic, we can then match our own language style to theirs—I see, I hear you, I feel and so on.
Alongside language styles, it’s also interesting to consider how we operate in the world. We experience this life through thinking, feeling, and taking action. Most of us have strengths in one or two of these areas. Those who are great at managing their emotions and mastering their thoughts may be weaker in taking action. Those who are good at monitoring their thoughts and taking action may not be so strong in managing and understanding emotions.
It’s worth noting that if you keep telling someone how you feel and what you think, but nothing ever changes, it could well be that they’re more action-oriented. They need to see something actually happening in order to understand the importance of it. Action-oriented people don’t tend to pick up on very general concepts nor is it helpful to paint a picture for them. They also find it hard to grasp when, for example, you describe how you feel about an issue, because that doesn’t give them any clue as to what needs to be done to fix the problem.
Ava saw that Gill was, indeed, an action-oriented person, and that she needed to use actions to make her point clearer to Gill. She came up with a plan.
A week or so later, Gill asked her for more money. Ava gave it to her and told her that there would be no more after that. She assuaged her feelings of guilt by reminding Gill that if she was ever desperate, she could always stay with her—that there would always be a roof for her— but no more money would be forthcoming.
Things were fine for a few weeks, until Gill ran out of money again, and again asked Ava to bail her out. But this time Ava said no.
At first, there were a few uncomfortable phone calls. In time though, Gill stopped asking Ava for money, as she came to terms with taking more responsibility for her own finances. Ava also took action by helping Gill make an appointment with a money-management advice centre, and she accompanied her to the meeting.
I had so much admiration for Ava for taking the courage to be assertive with her daughter. Gill wasn’t a bad person; she just had no confidence with money, and the mixed messages she’d been getting from Ava had simply made it easier for her to carry on asking to be rescued.
In a relatively short time, mother and daughter became happier.Their relationship grew closer, as Ava let go of past guilt, and Gill became more of an adult friend to Ava, rather than remaining a needy child.
It can be remarkable how rapidly things can shift when we are a little more intentional about how we approach the difficulties in our relationships. Do remember, though, that learning to be more assertive is like building a muscle. You may well need to make a few attempts at your new way of being before you see the results you want. Keep going. Every time you take the courage to be the authentic you, you’ll grow a little more confident. Practice makes permanent!
Based on over 25 years of teaching people how to say no, find the courage to speak up, ask for respect and have much better relationships.
How Kind People Get Tough is packed full of case studies, tools, tips, and techniques. This much-loved book also includes your free Companion Resources to help you put those skills into practice.