How could I have helped this woman who was ‘losing it’? Ask Ellie

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Q:I was brought up to be risk-averse, run from fights, avoid trouble/confrontation. It’s kept me self-protective.

Now middle-aged, I feel somewhat like a coward … wondering if I should stand up in some situations. But I’m neither quick-witted nor good at handling surprises, never the first to volunteer.

Recently, walking to retrieve my car at a small shopping plaza, a young mother was yelling/swearing at her three sons, all under age six, searching all over for a missing card.

“Get in the car and be quiet,” she ordered. The kids weren’t crying or particularly rambunctious.

Her car was parked next to mine, her car doors and tailgate all open, so I couldn’t get into my car’s driver-side. I stood by for almost ten minutes waiting for her to calm down.

She got more hysterical and continued to yell at her children, verging on being verbally abusive. A young couple heard the commotion and came to intervene.

The children’s mother was initially angry but later admitted to “losing it,” because she couldn’t handle it. She eventually noticed my standing there and let me get in my car to leave.

Was there something I could’ve done without making the situation worse?

What should I have done? How do I override this lifelong conditioning of trying not to get involved? How do I not get drawn into a situation whereby I could be mistaken for a troublemaker?

When To Intervene?

A:Step up by asking, “Can I help?” It’s a simple offer, without judgment. The woman could’ve responded “mind your own business,” but there’s nothing dangerous in that exchange.

Indeed, your ten minutes of standing by may’ve saved those young children from a worse sample of her “losing it.” And the young couple who intervened responded just by their presence.

Unfortunately, you’ve internalized old messages to always be reluctant to help others … even when there’s no obvious reason that you’d suffer for doing so.

Speaking up would’ve been a kindness to those very young children and a gentle way of helping the mother. All it takes is empathy, not a grand gesture.

You did stay without complaint until she moved her car, becoming helpful just by your presence. Remember that response and it’s calming effect on the situation.

Consider safety? Yes. But ignoring someone’s obvious need for help? No. Reach out. You’ll like yourself more.

Reader’s CommentaryRegarding the advice you gave regarding sex in marriage (April 27):

“It seems you’re framing sex as a marital obligation. But sexual desire isn’t any more ‘natural’ than, say, heterosexual attraction. Some people feel sexual desire, but others don’t!

“However, when someone implies there’s something wrong with the woman if she doesn’t feel sexual desire for a decent man, it sends a powerful message that sexual desire is required to be ‘normal.’

“I recommend the book ‘Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex,’ by Angela Chen, which breaks down sexual and romantic desire to a new shade of human experience.”

Ellie:I did not — and would not — dictate what’s “normal” regarding sex within a relationship. The husband asked if there can be help for people (his wife) who’ve lost sexual desire. My answer was “yes,” if she wanted to find that help.

But since she said, only once, that she’s moved from previous sexual interest to none, she’s being unfair to her husband unless they both discuss/accept the reality of his sexual drive vs. her lack of it. If they remain in the marriage, that’s their business.

Ellie’s tip of the day

Recognizing when an offer of help can remove tension, also strengthens your own self-confidence.

Ellie Tesher is an advice columnist for the Star and based in Toronto. Send your relationship questions via email: [email protected]

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