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Lovingly standing back.....

By:Alun Jones
Date: Tue,01 Jun 2010
Submitter:Alun Illumine

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The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own. Benjamin Disraeli

For me, one of the most wonderful feelings I can have at times is knowing that I’ve helped someone with a problem or situation they’re dealing with. It is my belief that we’re all here to help and support each other. However it is also my belief that we’re here to help and support ourselves too! Living a life of service to others is all very well, and commendable, however it’s no good if we’re not paying attention to ourselves and our own needs as well.

It can be very easy to get so drawn into helping others that we neglect our own needs and our own development. Sometimes this is down to avoidance of dealing with our own stuff so, by helping others with their issues, we can pop them under the carpet. Of course, life doesn’t work that way and at some point the carpet will be pulled back to reveal all the things we’ve shoved under it… usually because it’s so packed with things that we trip over it!

We can also become addicted to the feelings we get from helping others which helps us feel good about ourselves. This addiction can give us a sense of validation in terms of who we are and the contribution we make in life. The downside of course is that when we do something for someone who doesn’t necessarily thank us or acknowledge what we do, we can become very down, angry, and depressed. The tendency then can be either to get really angry with the person for not acknowledging what we’ve done or to withdraw from helping others completely and become resentful. Neither of which are helpful responses.

One question we can ask ourselves before jumping in to help someone else is “have they actually asked me for help?”. Actually, there are a couple more questions too:

• Do they look as if they need help?
• Do they look like they’re open to receiving help?
• Am I helping them because I genuinely want to help or because it will make me feel good?

Let’s look at this “helping business” from another point of view. If we continually rush in to help others who appear to be struggling we may actually not be helping them in the long run. For example, if a parent continually ties the child’s shoe laces because the child struggles to do it him/herself is that really helpful in the long run? I think one of the hardest things, but sometimes most helpful, we that can do at times is to lovingly stand back and allow the person we want to help to ask for it if he/she needs or wants it. “Oh yes,” I hear you say, “but what if he/she doesn’t have the confidence to ask for help or doesn’t like to feel like they’re imposing?”. Well here’s a bit of tough love… is that your issue or theirs?

In life we need to understand that there are times when we do need help and we must learn to let go of feelings of pride and/or inadequacy and actually ask for it. However, there are also times when it’s more helpful to try working things through for ourselves first. Otherwise how will we learn, grow, and develop? If we don’t develop ourselves we can become too reliant upon others to solve things and do things for us. The problem here, of course, is that a) we cannot always count on them being around when we need them and b) we can become so needy that it pushes people away from us. I’m sure you’ve been there with someone you know who has become so needy that you start to avoid them. Not comfortable for us or the person who’s being needy (and vice versa if we’re the ones being needy!).

When I think about this, I’m reminded of the “good Samaritan” who sees an old lady waiting by the curb of a road looking left and right, so he rushes to help her and practically forces her across the road. It’s only when he gets to the other side that she gets the chance to tell him she was waiting for a friend and didn’t need to cross the road at all!

I remember when I first started coaching people (scares me to think it was around 18 years ago!) I would quickly see what the potential solution could be for them and offer it up without giving them much opportunity to at least try to come up with options themselves. At times this was great as they went away happy knowing what they’d do next. Unfortunately, of course, none of us can ever really know what is best for someone else, especially when making life decisions, because we’re all different. Some clients became over-reliant on me finding solutions to their problems with the occasional blame because things didn’t turn out well when they’d tried what I suggested. I quickly learned to help them come up with options and decide for themselves what they would do. I still offer options but usually only when the person is struggling or if they ask me to, and then it’s only to get the ball rolling for them to consider other things they could do.

I know that my big sister won’t mind my saying that she has struggled with this at times with her three children. She hates to see them struggling or doing things that will bring them pain (both physical and emotional). But she knows, like most parents, you cannot stop your children from making mistakes, nor live their lives for them. How else will those we love be able to grow and evolve? By constantly rushing in to help we can actually cause more harm than good.

I’m not saying never help anyone else, just think first about whether it’s the most beneficial thing for you and them. Perhaps asking if they need help first before just rushing in is a more helpful approach?

Stopping briefly to ask ourselves those questions I mentioned above before rushing in to help others can be more beneficial to yourself and the person you want to help. For ease, here they are again:

• Do they look as if they need help?
• Have they actually asked me for help?
• Do they look like they’re open to receiving help?
• Am I helping them because I genuinely want to help or because it will make me feel good?

Let me add a final question to that list: “Is helping them actually the best thing for me to do right now?”

I know this is a bit of a long one this week, but there are so many elements to it that I wanted to touch on. To conclude, gauge the situation before rushing in to help and decide whether to offer it, or lovingly stand back and wait. Whichever you decide, make sure you do it from a place of centredness and not from ego.
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