Updated: Feb 6, 2020
This is something I often heard in the rooms of al-anon. At first glance it usually appears to be a directive to stay out of someone else’s affairs, keep your opinions to yourself and don’t attempt to control any behavior or circumstances of another person’s life.
But a closer look can provide a wider view, one that speaks more about minding one’s own business, taking care of one’s own circumstances.
It’s said that if we stop taking up time to meddle in other people’s business, it will free up time and energy to deal with our own, some that we have probably been avoiding, perhaps trying to save ourselves from the pain and fear we know we might have to come face to face with if we are willing to become honest.
So many of us just don’t mind our own business unless and until we are forced by some situation that points out the behavior and prompts a change of direction. A change of direction in the flow of our energies - physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual.
I have learned that when I feel like I need to get involved with someone else’s business, it’s because something stirs discomfort in me. Maybe there is something I feel could be done better, or should not be done at all. Maybe I feel responsible for them and their happiness. I learned that when I go down that path, I tend to obsess about other people and their business and then I don’t have time to take care of my own issues. I can rationalize not dealing with my own troubles because someone else needs me.
When I catch myself doing this, I ask, what is it about this person or their situation that is making me crazy? Is there anything in my own life that resembles this situation? Does it bring up painful memories, resentments, regrets?
My husband lovingly refers to this as peeling my onion. Like an onion, these issues often have multiple layers that have to be peeled back, some thin and slippery, others tough and more resistant to being removed. But to get to the bottom of the problem, we really have to persist in peeling all the layers until we get to the center and the core of the problem.
So many of us discover that we have unknowingly slipped into the role of caretaker. There is a difference between care-taking and caregiving.
Care-taking is doing things for people that they can and should do for themselves, often to spare them the pain of negative consequences. Most often, at some point, we realize that we have grown resentful doing so. Care-takers tend to be judgmental and do not acknowledge or respect others’ boundaries and abilities to solve their own problems. The job of care-taking is exhausting and leads to irritation and anxiety.
Care-giving is serving others willingly without resentment and does not protect them from their own poor choices. It is sometimes, but not always, doing for others what they cannot do for themselves. But this type of care is also expressed in the ways that we serve those we love on a regular basis. A care giver practices good self-care and respects the opinions and boundaries of others. They give freely without expectations and encourage others to solve their own problems.
When we are not busy minding other people’s business, it frees us up to focus on ourselves. When we accept that we are not responsible for another person or their happiness, it it truly liberating - take a deep breath and let that weight fall from your shoulders! It was never meant to be there.
Once we have let go of the burden of minding other people’s business, it’s time to get busy minding our own!
Here’s an exercise I encourage you to do while I prepare the next half of this post…
What business in your life have you been procrastinating about? This can include financial, career, relational, physical health, mental health, emotional and spiritual self care.
What needs your attention? Phone calls that need to be made? Bills that need to be paid? Conversations that need to happen? Doctor's appointment that you've been meaning to make?
Is there anything you want to change about your circumstances? Are you doing everything you can at this time to live the best version of your life? Is there something you know you can do today to start on the path toward doing so?
What do you want to do that you have been putting off because so and so needed your help? When is the last time you soaked in a hot bath with candle light, or read a book just for fun? When did you last meet up with a friend to catch up with each other? When is the last time you chose to sit down and enjoy time with your family instead of being on the computer or phone trying to find a solution to someone else's problem? When is the last time you went to sleep when your head hit the pillow before midnight?
What can you do now that you know you are not responsible for handling other people’s problems or providing their happiness? Do you have a hobby you would like to explore? Do you have music you like to listen to that you haven't because others might not have the same taste in music? Are there activities that you have chosen to forego because it would not make someone else happy?
Start thinking about how to best care for yourself, because here is the other side of the equation - no one else is responsible for you, solving your problems or providing your happiness. That is up to you!