A few years ago, my therapist taught me a metaphor that forever changed me. She started speaking about yards, of all things. We have our own yard and the people in our lives have theirs. Some people's yards are well-maintained, with green grass and flowers blossoming everywhere. Other people's yards are the opposite, containing overgrown weeds and grass that's too tall. It can be all too tempting to want to be a "caring neighbor" and feel a strong pull to go into their yard and clean it up. After all, wouldn't they appreciate it? Wouldn't it make us feel better to not have to see their unkempt yard everyday? It could have that effect. Or it could result in them yelling at us to get off their property and us exerting time and energy that could have gone towards other things.
Maybe you already see where I'm going here with this metaphor but just in case you're a little confused, our "yard" is a metaphor for our life (and all the problems and issues it can contain). I had no idea that I was meddling in other people's yards or even when I did know I was doing it, I struggled to see the problem with it. I had good intentions, didn't I? I grew up with a mother who was (and still is) the quintessential caregiver. Whenever anyone around her is struggling, she jumps in to help, whether they ask for it or not, whether their troubles affect her directly or not at all; she's there. Essentially, she's the neighbor who is going around trimming everyone's bushes and mowing their lawns when the grass gets too high. She's good at it and it's also pretty tiring.
I believe my therapist decided to bring this metaphor to my attention after many sessions of me "venting" about other people in my life and being frustrated with their "yards." I wanted to help them, but didn't know how and maybe I already had tried with poor results. I felt stuck. And when she told me this metaphor, it hit me like a ton of bricks - I didn't NEED to do anything about their problems. I didn't have to help them. I could busy myself tending to my own yard and being unconcerned about theirs. If someone asked for some help, I could then make the call on whether to say yes or no, but until I was given the green light to come into their yard ("Hey, would you mind mowing my lawn as well, if it's not too much trouble?"), I did not need to concern myself with their yard. There is only cause for concern if their yard is starting to directly impact mine (and those cases are few and far between).
I was blind to how unhappy it made me worrying about other people's problems. Now, when I catch myself feeling off-kilter or having a bad/stressful day, I check in about if I'm starting to worry about someone else's yard. Am I worrying about things that are not my problem to solve? Am I trying to do too much? Most of the time, the answer is yes. I'm slipping into worrying about how a friend is doing, thinking about not only my to-do list but my husband's personal to-do list as well, or anticipating that I may need to help someone long before they've asked me to do so. I'm trying to rescue. When I come back truly to just my yard, just myself, just my problems - I feel better.
None of us live in a bubble and we all have people in our lives we care about. Some people's choices and actions (namely the people you live with) really can impact your yard. But instead of taking it upon yourself to fix it, see what changes in your life when you talk about it and give them a chance to take responsibility for their part. See what changes when you allow other people's yards to be just as they are, messy and all. See if you can breathe a little easier as you go back to tending to your own.