– Is it giving up or getting more?
A large part of my practice over the 19 years
as a psychologist with the nation’s largest HMO has been working with women in their midlife years—which I have
chosen to define as anything between forty and death! In other columns I have described how women in this
phase of life tend to be too much in the middle of everything—the much abused and misused filling in
the sandwich generation. They also tend to meddle in others’ lives—out of
good intentions, but meddling nevertheless. As a result, they end up in a constant muddle—dazed
and confused…and very often resentful.
When I suggest that doing less may mean more…more
pleasure, more time, and even more success in those areas of life where they have meddled the most, women react strongly and
Their first reaction is one of indignation.
How can you possibly imply that all those good intentions are not only useless but even harmful? Who
else will do it if I don’t? You mean you want me to just let my ________ (fill in the blank of a
relative or loved one) go to rack and ruin? That’s irresponsible!
response to them goes something like this:
The original slogan about
“letting go” comes from Twelve-Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Al Anon. The entire
slogan is Let Go and Let God. It’s adding that one letter, “D”, to the
end of “go” that makes the difference. However you understand God, whether it is in terms of
your own particular religious practice or faith or simply in the form of a power greater than yourself, you are letting go
so that your higher power may work in your life…and the other person’s higher power can work in his
or her life.
One of the most stunning revelations during recovery, when women acknowledge that
they are codependent with others, is that no one has the RIGHT to be another person’s savior—not even when they
went through 40 hours of labor bringing them into the world, not when they’ve spent thirty-five years putting the pot
roast on the table and picking up his dirty socks, not even when they don’t see any other knight on a white horse looming
on the horizon to take up the slack.
In fact, any woman who hangs in, pushes, prods, annoys, threatens,
gives ultimatums, hints, drags, and otherwise meddles in the lives of loved ones (who should be doing whatever
it is that should be done for themselves) moves right on past codependency into the role of an enabler.
As a therapist working with an addict approaching the bottom, a place where they may finally
be impelled to seek help, I keep my fingers crossed hoping that some well-meaning wife or mother or girlfriend isn’t
lurking outside my door ready to pay a bill or bail them out of jail, or nag, plead, and threaten. Because
the attention of the addict will immediately, and sometimes irrevocably, be turned away from themselves and their own task
of recovery and toward the behavior of that well-meaning person. The problem isn’t my drinking…my
problem is that my wife is such a nag. I need a divorce…not a program!
What is the MORE that comes with Letting Go?
One of the first
“mores” is that most women who practice the art of letting go find that their faith in their higher power is more
immediate, more tangible, and more relied upon. I always recall the story of the man who came across another
man who was pushing a wheelbarrow back and forth on a tight wire stretched across Niagara Falls. The man
on shore was quite amazed. The man with the wheelbarrow asked the man on shore if he thought he could traverse
the falls again.
“Why, of course!” the man said, “I’ve seen
you do it!”
“Okay,” said the wheelbarrow pusher, “then,
Why is it that we have second thoughts about “jumping in”?
We have been witnesses to a higher power working in the lives of others. Yet, when we are asked
to turn our lives over to our own higher power, we’re as skittish as the man standing on the shore.
The second “more”, is more time, more energy, and more resources of all kinds that can be
used effectively in our own lives or in the lives of others who have a true need, those who are truly helpless and needy in
The third “more” is the privilege of seeing that those
very persons we have crippled with our indiscriminate giving, when forced to fend for themselves, grow into responsible and
often quite interesting human beings. Does everyone have a successful outcome? Of course
not. In those cases, it may be a matter of simply not going down with the ship.