There are a lot of support needs in life. That’s great. We all need and help each other.
What’s not great is when the support needs turn you into support staff. The needs take all your time. They come first in the priority list. And your core activities, the things that are you and that you do for yourself, get shoved to last place which, inevitably, becomes not at all.
Martyrdom may have its place but it’s not a great way to live.
Sometimes we don’t know how to exit a support staff role because we feel disloyal. We feel guilty. We’ve filled the role for so long, and now it’s expected of us. If we walk away, Oh the drama. The suffering we will cause. The dependencies we will break.
We think that if we say,
“There are more important things for me to do,”
then we are saying to all the people we love and support that they are not important and they do not matter.
However, that’s not true.
You’re not sending a “You’re unimportant” message by default when you define what is most important to you.
You’re choosing to respect and support yourself the way you have already been respecting and supporting others. If they have any respect for you, they will offer their encouragement and support as you step toward what’s important for you.
If they respond with resentment and resistance, they don’t respect you as a self-determining individual. They see you only as support staff.
Have the courage to look at your life, at the things you do or want to do, at the things (the many things) that do matter to you, and see which of those are support-staff things and which are your things.
That’s step 1.
Step 2 (the most courageous and difficult part) is to be strong enough to see the value in those things that are your things and declare them MOST IMPORTANT.
Step 3 is to start making changes. Flip your life around. Make sure that your things get first place (in time, attention, resources, etc.) and that the support-staff things wait.
There is a big difference between
- putting others first with daily acts of kindness and of love and choosing gentleness and graciousness over anger and impatience and
- putting others first in life choices and long-term priorities and how you spend your days and energy and limited resources.
A big, big difference.
One is love and the other is slavery.
It’s the difference between
- living in freedom (you, living as yourself), knowing your own value, respecting others (always), and giving kindness and help (when appropriate) according to your values and priorities
- living in slavery (you, living as a prop for others), experiencing only subjective value based on how much you give to/sacrifice for others and allowing duty, obligation, guilt, fear, and dependence to determine all your choices.
That’s an enormous difference, but that difference isn’t taught, is it?
Or, worse, the latter option is taught as the right way. The moral way. The kind way. The family way. The good way.
If Jesus had lived the second way — as support staff — he would never have given himself on the cross; he’d have been too busy pursuing political power (for his disciples) and healing people (really helpful for sick people) and raising the dead (a very kindness for those who don’t want to be dead yet) and just going around being a Nice Guy Doing Good Things to Help and Support All the People Who Really Need Him.
He would never have accomplished what he came to accomplish, never have gotten to his prime objective at all.
One of the big lies of history (helpfully perpetuated by the ruling/privileged class in every instance I can think of) is that some people are meant for support staff roles and some people are meant for hero roles. Those in the hero roles get to live out their individual destiny, go after their prime objectives, pursue their passions, make history, you know, stuff like that.
That’s the narrative that has been used to justify the subjugation of OTHER: other races, religions, classes, and genders.
Women, for example, were historically raised and trained to think that their entire value and purpose in life was to be support staff for the men and children.
Blacks and other people of color were treated as an inferior race, with the justification for slavery riding on the terrible assumption that people of color were suited only to serve (be enslaved) as support staff for the white men who had big important heroic prime objectives to pursue.
(The big important prime objectives were often seen as a single cause for those in hero roles to pursue jointly: nationalism is one example. Manifest destiny, or “the white man’s burden,” is a particularly ugly and fairly recent example. If you’re unfamiliar with these concepts have influenced history, quit reading this and go read about how the concepts that have allowed the violent dehumanization of other humans to continue for so long in our shared history.)
Of course there’s truth in every lie that lasts, and that’s why it’s so hard to fight against the really long-lasting lies.
The truth that’s buried by so many lies is this: we all are meant to support one another. At different times, in various ways, as we have skills and inclination and resources and empathy, we are all capable of and benefited by our willingness to serve and support others.
But we do so with the understanding that it is a free choice, and that it is not our only or primary role.
We serve and support in limited ways and situations, sometimes more, sometimes less. The healthy human will always keep an eye on the prime objective and fight against any power that pushes her to take a support staff position indefinitely or to any degree so great that it subsumes her whole identity.
We are all heroes, and we all get to help each other.
The inherent conflict between wanting to help and needing to live is not solved by any universal formula or methodology. We have to work it out, all the time. Seasons of life, capabilities, relationships, etc., change. With those changes, there is a natural ebb and flow of support needed or given or received.
Supporting others means being part of an interpersonal, relational collective: maybe it’s a friendship, a family, a romantic relationship, a community, a neighborhood, a formal organization, or a bunch of people who gather around each other because of some common thread.
Being support staff means forgetting that you have any purpose outside of that interaction or relationship.
We need support, all of us, to some degree, at all times in our lives; sometimes more than others. But (with some very special exceptions*) we do not need, ever, for any other person to exist solely as the support staff for our existence.
To expect or to demand that someone give up their hero role, their prime objective, their true identity, their own things in order to serve us in our pursuits is the height of arrogance and selfishness.
To agree to subjugate your own existence for the use of someone else is (in almost all cases) a terrible, utter disregard of your own worth and value and is the the greatest waste and misspending of life that I can imagine.
If there is someone in one of your relationships or collectives who is demanding of you that you subordinate yourself in order to be their support staff, your healthiest and best response is a clear No.
Walk away to a place where there are clear boundaries which you define, maintain, demand respect for, and do not cross.
Walking away, I know, is difficult.
It is not something done in one day. It starts with one step at a time. It can be a very small step. It is still a step.
*At various times in life, some people do need a full-time support staff person: the very young, for example, or the elderly or sick. And some people, such as the severely disabled or chronically ill, need the equivalent of full-time support staff for all of their life. In these cases, the need for full-time support staff is not a choice this person is making. Rather, it is a life situation beyond their control.. The kindness, patience, care, sacrifice, and love exhibited by those who offer the support needed is beautiful, good, even miraculous.
Of course, another person’s legitimate need for a full-time support staff person does not mean that only one person must fill that role. It’s not always possible to find the help or financial means necessary to get help. But if there is help available, and you are in that situation of being full-time support, it is good for you to get help, however temporary or small, so that you can carve out time and space to pursue your things.. even if those things are simply taking a nap or staring at a sunset.