A few years ago I was working with a group in an area of Glasgow that has a very rough reputation.
Every week for eight weeks we had a full day together on my contracted personal development course , so we got to know each other fairly well.
The group had shared issues, each one having been addicted to heroin and /or alcohol at some point and most were still on medication or methadone programmes.
Rough areas and tough experiences tend to create real characters and this place was no different – it was full of them and what a laugh we had. If one was late they would crack jokes about having to collect their ‘fairy liquid’ and regularly catch me off-guard with ‘new’ statements, always adding a little laughter to their situation.
One very positive social trait Scottish people have, is the ability to make light of very serious situations, reducing the severity with sometimes tragic humour.
However on one serious occasion during a group discussion Robert, a participant, told the rest of us a story of how he didn’t carry baggage – his load was a ruckskip, “You know the kind” he said, “the ones where not only do you have your own shitty history to carry round, but every other ba*tard chucks their crap in an a’ “. (Translation; Not only do you have your own issues to deal with, but everyone else wants to throw theirs in too!)
This type of emotional dumping is quite common.
Many of us don’t even realise we carry a ruckskip; we’re so used to others offloading their problems we sometimes don’t even notice until our energy dips. We may feel guilty about lacking compassion or being unable to solve the problem. We might not have the confidence to halt their verbal onslaught of what’s wrong in their life and whose fault it is.
Instead we remain quiet, sometimes unable to deal with our own problems and yet almost forced to dealing with another’s.
We explored what it could be like when we begin to reclaim personal power in these types of situations. Tackling the issue when someone attempts to dump their woes upon you need not be confrontational or volatile. Calmly and simply stating that at this moment you are unable (mentally or emotionally) to deal with the other person’s problem may be enough to stem the flow of their conversation.
Remaining relaxed and keeping to firm but appropriate responses might go a long way to maintaining the relationship, otherwise an evaluation of that itself may be required.
The group recognised themselves to greater or lesser degrees during the conversation; all agreed there is a need to be firm with others, to preserve mental health.
We worked through the stumbling blocks, identified triggers, processed the ‘right’ to be well and practiced successfully dealing with potential scenarios which could challenge the boundaries we set.
Each person arrived at the feeling of being worth caring for, within themselves. Everyone expressed this acknowledgement, some experiencing self-worth for the first time ever.
Being brought back into touch with what is the healthiest for the individual, empowered the group to identify and communicate their own needs more confidently, realising that communication is the key to good relationships. This was something they could take into their lives with immediate effect.
So although Robert had been struggling with his ‘stuff’ for years, he was well on his way to staying clean – forever. He knew he was free to choose his responses when being dumped upon, he didn’t have to accept other people’s negativity as his own; he could separate the two. He now had the skills to detach himself from someone else’s ‘shit’ as he called it. He accepted that he had the ability to drop his issues at any time and continue to move on – not allowing his family and/or friends to dump on him ever again.
All of the participants left the training room that day with a spring in their step – perhaps much lighter now that their ruckskips had been emptied.
I met Robert in a supermarket parking area recently. He swept me up in a big hug and smiled as my daughter gawped at this strange man lifting her mother off her feet in a car park! Robert quickly brought me up to date with his life; volunteering now with an agency who helps people with similar addiction problems and mental health issues, putting his experiences and learning to good use and thoroughly enjoying life.
Robert’s “Ruckskip” lives on; a regular reminder in my workshops that we have choice whether we take on other people’s issues or inappropriate/ unacceptable behaviours.
Thank you Robert, I wish you well.