The Joy of Feeling Helpless

November 1, 2016




“There’s nothing you can do.”


That’s a sentence that either lowers or raises our anxiety, depending on the situation. I encountered this experience last week.


For me, these were not the words I wanted to hear, and I heard them multiple times from different people. Logically, I knew they were right, but emotionally I fought it. I was two hours away from my son who was very sick.


He had a high fever that would not go away, and he kept getting worse. Momma Bear needed to be with her cub. It didn’t matter that my husband and I were at a four-day work conference and that there was nothing different I could do if I was there anyway. (But I’m Mom. Sometimes kids just need their mom!)


I thought about getting in my car and driving home, but what would that have accomplished? Initially, it would have alleviated my anxiety about being away, but my son would have still been sick. He would have still be under the watchful eye of capable family and the doctor.


So, I was helpless, but also not in control. That was the big issue, really. (Sometimes moms just need their kids….?) I had to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. This was a perfect opportunity to trust in others, allow them to figure some things out, and release my firm grip on the expectation I had of myself.


I even took time to get to the nearby beach, breathe in some ocean air, relax and renew before I returned home. A fellow conference-goer convinced me I would be in better head space if I returned relaxed rather than stressed or worried, and that I would be more helpful in that state too. He was absolutely right.


What do you think, do, or say when you feel helpless? Do you ultimately make things better or worse? Do you cause yourself more stress or less?


Looking at helplessness as a way to re-evaluate our role can lead to an eye opening experience. Perhaps the reason we are, or feel, helpless is so that others have an opportunity to grow in a way that they need for themselves. Acknowledging helplessness does not acknowledge defeat, but rather a new perspective.


My son learned that he could get through being sick without Mom, something he will need when he moves out to college in a few years anyway. His grandfather took care of him and his sister in our absence. During a phone conversation with me as we managed the evolving circumstances he said, “It’s good to be useful!”


So, there’s nothing we can do. OK. Fine. Maybe that’s the whole point and just means that someone else needs to have a turn or learn to do something in that particular situation. Perhaps feeling helpless has nothing to do with us at all, and in fact we may be helpful by stepping aside.


Embrace the helplessness. Support others’ growth. Spread the joy.



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© 2014 by Wendy P. Jones.