Everything in moderation but helping is an exception, right? This isn’t true and too much can be bad for both you and the person you care about. It’s time to admit helping others can be a toxic addiction.
It comes down to the why. Why are you helping? There are right reasons and wrong reasons. You can think of a thousand reasons to justify it. But do you struggle to admit the reasons not to? This means we use our energy up and see relationships decay without knowing why.
I hated the feeling of not being useful. I tried too hard to always be there to save the day and then was stung when it didn’t matter. When you have a strong moral compass, ignoring a chance to do something chews away at your mind. It’s an incredibly hard addiction to break because it affects the way you see yourself.
Here are four reasons why you can not help someone and be guilt-free. I hope this allows you to live a life on your terms.
#1 You Need to Save Your Own Strength
Have you ever felt like you’re running from one catastrophe to another? A couple of years ago, it seemed like all my close friends were going through crises at the same time. I could feel all their pain and it overwhelmed me. I broke down myself to someone I barely knew. I learned we can’t be strong all the time.
Is your need to help others masking toxic insecurity about being weak? I struggled to tell people I couldn’t be there because I was mentally unable. It felt like making excuses for my inability to handle the stress. This is the wrong perspective. We only have so much energy we can give others before we are depleted ourselves.
We lash out at the people we care about when we’re exhausted. In a strange paradox, we end up resenting the people who we want to help. This isn’t healthy and you have to seize back control when you feel this happening. They will understand if they care about you too. It’s a yellow flag when someone keeps pushing you when you’ve told them you need space.
When you’re under pressure from different directions, try to look at the bigger picture. Where should you spend your limited energy? A modified version of the Eisenhower decision matrix can be useful to manage requests from others.
- Urgent and important — Your friend has lost a loved one and needs you there now. These situations always come first.
- Important but not urgent — Your friend is unhappy in their job and wants your help to find a new direction. These are prime options for explaining to a friend you currently have too much on but will be there when you have time.
- Urgent but not important — Your friend wants advice on what to wear for their date tonight. When you’re dealing with important tasks, you may need to turn these tasks down to free up your mind. The urgency of these unimportant tasks can suck energy from you.
- Not urgent and not important — Your friend wants you to teach them how to play a video game better. Productivity gurus will tell you to drop these tasks but they can be vital. These tasks can energize you precisely because there is no pressure.
It’s not just about energy, it’s about integrity. When aiding someone means you need to lie or cheat for them then you almost feel the weight on your chest. Helping others is supposed to be about raising them higher not pulling you down. It’s ok to push back when someone tries to force you in this kind of situation.
Stop supporting someone when it means you are no longer taking care of yourself. This is unsustainable and everyone ends up losing.
#2 You May be Delaying Them from Getting the Help They Need
Despite the best intentions, sometimes we aren’t as helpful as we would like to be. Most of us are just muddling our way through life and we don’t have all the answers. Acting like we can solve all problems for the people we love can do more harm than good.
I was one of only three people in the world who knew about a friend’s trauma. I cared deeply about them and wanted to do everything I could to make things better. Yet I’m not a therapist, I don’t know the right things to say or how to spot all the warning signs. The most important thing I did was to encourage them to go to a professional.
Are you sometimes an amateur psychologist, doctor, or bank? Be honest with yourself about whether you know what you are doing. It’s ok to admit your advice has limits. We weren’t taught everything at school and sometimes it’s too much for us.
We may need to stop the bleeding but can we close the wound? It’s a tough conversation to tell someone they need serious help. Stigmas around this are easing but still exist. For some, it’s easier to laugh off their issues than to confess how deep they are. Coming to you for aid might have been a big step so be firm but caring.
You don’t want someone to be dependent on you when you have no idea what you’re doing. Especially when you can’t commit enough time to even try your best. You’ll let them down eventually. If you really care, you’ll know it’s more important the person gets better than you being the one who does it. An unhealthy attachment can stop them from looking for support in the right places.
At the end of it all, the only person who can change someone’s feelings is the person themselves. You can’t reprogram their brain. You rushing every time something goes wrong can prevent them from building the resilience they need. They may not take responsibility for the way they feel. Instead of trying to fix things, you could just listen.
#3 Sometimes Just Listening is Enough
Viktor Frankl wrote one of the greatest psychology books of all time but even he can be surprised. A woman called him in the middle of the night and told him she was going to end her life. Viktor spent hours on the phone and analyzed her problems in great depth. She didn’t kill herself but not because of any complicated technique. The fact someone was willing to listen to her pain convinced her this was a world worth living in.
It’s easy to fall into the savior complex of needing to fix everything. We get the ‘happiness trifecta’ where dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin are all released and uplift our minds. Yet relying on helping for this high can be dangerous as we always need someone to have a problem for us to fix.
I’ve done it many times myself. I remember being on a call with a friend who was venting about problems at work. I kept trying to offer solutions until she told me to stop. She didn’t want my advice, she just needed to get it off her chest. Sometimes saying things out loud makes things click in our brains. Don’t undervalue the power of listening.
“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals.” -Pema Chodron, Buddhist monk
Does the person need you to do anything? While you think you are helping by offering magical solutions, it may feel more like they are being patronized. Compassion only works when you see the other person as an equal. Make sure your influence is always empowering.
It’s not always about what you would do in their situation. Follow the platinum rule of treating people how they would like to be treated. It’s not about what you want. We can get angry at people for not listening to our advice when we aren’t listening to their problems.
Listening is rewarding when you share mutual love and respect. Yet it’s still important to value your time. There’s a thin line between boosting others by listening and being used by some.
#4 When You are Being Used
This truth may hurt but not everybody cares about you. We all have a world inside our heads and can forget others do too. For them, you may be a minor character who is sometimes useful. It doesn’t make them evil as we are all guilty of this behavior at times.
Yet when someone doesn’t care about you then you must protect yourself from a one-way relationship. You’re giving up parts of your life that could be better spent on yourself or others who do care.
An obvious sign you’re in this type of relationship is when the person will ask you first before even attempting to solve the problem themselves. You are not Google or Wikipedia so stop acting like it. I am much more likely to help someone who tells me what they’ve tried first.
When we help people who treat us in this way, we increase their sense of entitlement. Nobody can make demands of your free time other than you. You don’t need to be a martyr for those who don’t care. If your blood starts to boil at seeing someone’s name, it’s a sure sign dropping them could be the right thing.
Those who care will talk to you even when they don’t need anything. The people who find you for no other reason than they missed you or wanted to see how you were doing. Simply, they treat you like a human. I like to help people who help others. They may do nothing for me but their attitude shines brightly even from a distance. There are many worthy people in this world to boost so don’t lose time on those who aren’t.
What You Need to Take With You
Not helping someone doesn’t make you a bad person. Say it out loud. We can’t fix everything in the world.
- You need to save your own strength — Do you have the energy to help someone? If you don’t, it’s ok to prioritize yourself.
- You may be delaying them from getting the help they need — Do you have enough time and skill to help someone? If not, it’s better to encourage them to seek support elsewhere.
- Sometimes just listening is enough — Does this person need your advice? If they just need someone to listen, listen.
- When you are being used — Does this person care about you? If they don’t, focus your attention on those who do.
Thank you for reading and I hope you have a wonderful day.