Whether or not you’re a fan of Dennis Prager, I once heard him compare relationships to bank accounts. Something along the lines of some people are savers, and they will make deposit after deposit but rarely make a withdrawal. Some people will put just enough in to open an account and establish some credit and then will bleed you dry until you finally drop the hammer on them. He made the comment that those people were the definition of being “morally bankrupt”.
As helpful as that was, I’ve used the concept of triage in relationships, particularly friendships, especially those where there is an element of mentoring going on.
It’s not just about pouring resources into someone or something. The person or situation has to actually be ready, willing and able to benefit from those resources. By my way of thinking, if I continue to use resources for someone who isn’t ultimately benefitting from them, I’m actively stealing from others who may well be able to use what I have to offer.
As an empath, knowing when to call it quits has never been my strong suit. Having some kind of metric to help me make these decisions about gifts and help and relationships has been incredibly helpful. My instinct is never to say no to a wounded soul, knowing that sometimes it’s the person who says yes that makes the difference. I can’t say this metric has stopped me from making that first attempt, rarely is someone so far gone that I know they are beyond my help. It has taught me to be more measured in my approach, and more watchful for the ensuing response.
I’ll admit, I still struggle with this conceptually. On some level it feels heartless to be that… calculating about the welfare of others. But I have extremely limited resources, and as far as I can tell, the people who are pulled back from the brink usually turn into healthy givers when they get their own house in order. So the most efficient and effective plan is to give to those you know can be returned to solid ground. Thinking about the long term chain reaction helps soothe my empath soul a little bit, and keeps me focused on the long game.
But walking away is never going to be easy or natural for me. It’s at best a well-practiced skill.