One of the key indicators of people who are constantly breathing-in (Breathing In and Out: One Idea for Avoiding Burn Out), is their inability to accept help. Often they are the first people to put their hand-up when someone else needs something done, often they are the most loyal and wonderful friends, and they also don’t want to bother others or cause a fuss. Sometimes they’re the kind of person who feels embarrassed when they can’t ‘do it all.’ Yet, living in our isolated little boxes struggling with all the stressors and strains of modern life is not how we are meant to live. When our brains are working as they were intended to work, we are comfortable with times of stillness and we are comfortable relying on other people.
Since we unplugged the electronics and plugged in the children, we’ve got rid of the rubbish toys and bought more lego. One of the side-effects of so much lego, is that I am often asked to print of instructions for alternative models. At one such time the Hare was busily taking sheets of paper out of the printer and slipping them into a clear-sleeve folder when the Owl offered to help. The Hare was clearly not keeping up with the printer and I had one of those, oohhhh that’s so cute moments. But the Hare really struggled with the whole idea. He is a classic kid for not breathing-out, well, not often breathing-out unless we’ve created a set space for it to happen. He is constantly busy, an early (5.30am is not uncommon) riser and his brain is always 10 steps ahead of anything going on at the time. Yes, he is exhausting to live with (gorgeous, charming, fun, and exhausting). So really, I shouldn’t have been surprised that he initially struggled to accept help from his younger brother.
The three way conversation, with me as conductor, resulted in the following insights: the Hare found the offer to help to be intrusive – not useful; and he found the loss of control over placing the papers in the correct order – difficult. After a few minutes though, he accepted his brother’s help and the task went ahead swimmingly. He was gracious and truly grateful. It was an OMG moment for me on another level – I too have times when I interpret offers of help as either intrusive or ‘taking over’.
Like the ability to breathe-out (stop and do nothing, not even read or drink a coffee, for 10 minutes) the ability to ask for and/or accept help is a struggle if we are programmed to expect constant stress as our normal state. For example, the amount of busy-ness and rushing around a child experiences in the first years of life, or the amount of noise they have in their home – becomes their template for later life. The level of stress (as the baby interprets it, not the adults) experienced in those early years is what they think of as normal, and constantly try to recreate or exceed. Those with a highly adventurous-social streak who find it particularly hard to stop anyway, can become workaholics. Those with a sensitive-reclusive streak can become completely overwhelmed.
Perhaps it’s worth reflecting on how stressful our early life was, and to take the time to consider how easily we spend time in stillness each day, or how well we accept help. Is help an intrusion? Does help cause discomfort or embarrassment?
Human brains are adaptable, we can change. I’ve heard it said that it takes 28 days to create a habit. If change is what you want, start small: three minutes a day sitting still doing nothing; accept one offer of help in the next month – and build it up from there. There’s no hurry. Truly. 😉
Ref: The Developing Mind, Daniel J Siegel
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