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Atwater: Solving others’ problems distracts from self evaluation

Published: Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014 5:30 a.m. CST

“Tim” came from a pretty broken family. His dad was an alcoholic but was actually the more stable parent. He worked and raised his three sons as best he could.

His mom was in and out of institutions and eventually drifted out of the picture. Tim, the middle son, often lived with other relatives when his dad was out of work and couldn’t afford him or when he was working out of state.

Tim had a real deficit of feeling like he belonged, so when someone seemed to like or value him, he stuck to them like glue.

The only feeling of value he had was through his work. He was a guy who solved problems for a living and a guy who could solve everybody else’s problems except his own.

In his personal relationships, Tim tried to solve other people’s problems even when they didn’t want them solved. It was all he knew. Eventually, people would tire of his inability to look at himself and get angry or step away. Tim’s response was, “after all I’ve done for them they abandon me?”

He never understood he had started the ball rolling with his constant over-helping and unsolicited advice. He didn’t realize the person who needed the help was him. When he could feel helpful, it made him feel useful and like he belonged, but it was more about himself than the people around him. The subtle dishonesty of the circumstance and Tim’s inability to see his own role in relationship problems pushed people away.

Tim was a workaholic, which ended a marriage, estranged two kids and alienated employees. He consistently would tell his wife his work was to provide for the family, but he didn’t understand that his family would have rather had his love and attention. The work, once again, was for Tim.

Tim thought he worked to please his boss, but he actually was working to maintain his sagging self-esteem. He would work in a rigid, perfectionistic and over-the-top way and then blame his boss for taking advantage of him. His attitude was one of secretly thinking he knew more than the boss, and when this became too transparent to hide, Tim was fired. Once again, he thought, “after all I’ve done for you.”

In several subsequent jobs, Tim over-worked to the point where he hurt himself and once again managed to make himself unpopular by blaming others for his over-the-top, need to be recognized style and even now is still thinking, “after all I’ve done for you.”

Until he stops seeing himself as a victim and sees his part in the problem, he’ll never get better. A new employer isn’t the answer, but some self-awareness and change in attitude might do the job.

• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor.

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