Growing up in my family, self-help books were passed around freely and it was all fine and good until those books would land unprovoked in my lap. All of a sudden self-doubt would creep in. I would think to myself “Do they think I don’t know this already?” or “Maybe they wish I was different”. Anyhow, I am not above all of this as I am sure I have handed out my fair share of unwarranted advice -much to the annoyance of others I might add-but my question today is where does a person draw the line before helpful becomes intrusive?
We are social creatures by nature, we thrive off of working together, helping each other and loving each other. But when does compassion and the natural desire to help cross over and become violating to others?
When does a friendly tip become unwarranted advice?
When does assistance become patronizing or disempowering?
Should others want what you want for them?
Should others value what you value?
What if they do not want help?
What if their goal IS to sabotage themselves?
The answer is not a simple one, as to respond in a healthy way is to walk a fine line between compassion and non-attachment. This means that before you go to the assistance of others, you must first look into why you are so keen to help them.
Does your self-esteem depend on rescuing others?
Are you assuming your way is the best way?
What would it mean ABOUT YOU if you failed to help them?
This question moves into the massive grey area of codependence, undefined boundaries, and the altered sense of self that results from dysfunctional family roles such as the victim, persecutor and rescuer (see the Karpman Triangle). If a person is raised in a codependent or dysfunctional family, often they have a difficult time distinguishing between true compassion and playing out the role of the rescuer.
In any case, here are some general guidelines to avoid helping unhelpfully.
1. If they are not asking for help, and you try to help anyway, they may think you see them as weak or incapable.
2. Other people are entitled to value what they value and want what they want, even if you wholeheartedly disagree.
3. The most helpful help is often just listening and accepting others -exactly- as they are.
4. Enabling may help get people out of trouble, but allowing them the opportunity to help themselves will empower them.
5. If others want your opinion or your help, wait till they ask.
6. Listen deeply to what they are saying and try to understand from their perspective, not yours.
7. Then there are those moments when people ask and it feels a bit wrong to give them what they want. There are some moments when giving others what they ask for will be disempowering to you or them or everyone involved. There is a lot to be said for waiting until your mind is clear and listening to that still small voice and trust that your intuition knows best. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
8. The most important person you are responsible to help is you. By being the healthiest, happiest person you can be, others naturally want to follow your example.
I am in no way saying that it is wrong to show compassion and lend a hand. The happiest people I know are always looking for ways to brighten the days of others. I think that the key is unconditionally accepting others without trying to change them. Loving them with an open hand.
Thanks for reading, and if you have any other tips, feel free to comment.