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Don't Take People's Problems Away From Them

boundaries burnout negative thoughts parenting people-pleasing problem solving Aug 06, 2022
A Woman sits on the floor against a sofa in the dark, holding her face by 1388843 of Pixabay
You are a helper. You are so good at listening to people, honing in on where the difficulties are, and thinking up solutions. You are creative and full of hustle and dedicated to helping others.
So what’s the problem?
You are so good at this, in fact, that other people want you to solve their problems. All day, every day. Lots of people. This may include your family, your friends, your patients/clients, your students, your staff. They trust you, they know you are amazing.
And you take on the problem, you adopt it as yours, and then hand them the solutions. And they like them, and run off with them. Or they don’t like them, and hand them back to you, sometimes with some whining, complaining, maybe even some yelling.
And you start over.
Does this sound familiar?
For many of my fellow Physicians, my fellow Moms, and most of my clients, this pattern happens all day, every day. And because we are 1.) Helpers, 2.) Great Problem-Solvers and 3.) Usually not socialized to have great boundaries or ease in saying “no,” we often take on the problems without question.
And today, I am asking you to consider this from the perspective of the other person. Because if you are used to thinking more about other people than you are are about yourself, this may be easier to digest.
So here it is: When you routinely solve other people’s problems for them, you are taking away their opportunity to struggle with, practice and get better at solving problems themselves.
How did you get good at solving problems? You were determined, and driven to find solutions. You believed (usually) that it would take some hard work, but the outcome was worth it. This is true if you have a professional degree. This is true if you chose to become a parent and endure pregnancy and labor and breastfeeding. This is true if you excelled at a sport or an instrument, or some other high-level endeavor.
You tried. You failed sometimes. You figured it out. And here you are, an elite problem-solver.
So, yes, you can keep being a great problem-solver, and choose to take on all the problems that people come to you with. The scheduling mistakes, the lost forms/homework/soccer cleats, the “really-important-school-assignment-that-we’ve-been-working-on-all-month-but-I-need-xyz-item-tonight-because-it’s-due-tomorrow.” You can adopt those problems as your own, and then the other people can stop stressing, because kind-hearted, hard-working you always has their back.
You can let them keep their problems. You can let them experience the challenge of reviewing options, good and bad, and making decisions. You can let them find out what happens when they procrastinate and don’t complete the assignment. You can see how the office manager responds when there is no written policy in place on how much time is needed for form completion (Sports Physicals much?).
Now, if you let other people keep their problems, do you ignore them? You can, but you can also choose to do some coaching. Ask them questions, give them some direction such as “why don’t you come up with 3 ideas to solve this, and come back to me so that we can talk about it.” You can let them know what’s ok, and what’s not ok: “I’m happy to help you get supplies you need for school projects, but I need at least 3 days notice, otherwise I won’t be able to have time to go to the store.”
Will people like it when you do this? Maybe not.
Will you be helping them be better planners and better problem-solvers? Yes.
Are you communicating to them that you believe in their ability to solve problems? Yes.
When you think of the potential positive impacts of this new habit, where you help people with their problem-solving mindset (they start to believe they can do it, they try and fail and learn and grow), imagine the benefits for them.
And ultimately, huge benefits for you. You save time, mental space and emotional energy.
Isn’t that worth the discomfort of learning to say “no” to adopting the problem yourself?

Hi There!

I'm Megan. I'm a Physician and a Life Coach and a Mom. I created this blog to help other Physicians and Physician-Moms learn more about why they feel exhausted, burned-out and overwhelmed, and how to start to make changes. I hope that you enjoy what you read, and that it helps you along your journey. And hey, if you want to talk about coaching with me, I'm here for that too! I offer a free 1:1 call to see if we are a good fit. Click the button below to register today.

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