How funny and sad that when we ask what kind of help we can give someone we are often given an answer we can’t help with. Its hard to be asked for help and feel unable to give it. Its especially hard when someone thinks you CAN give the kind of help that they need, this is unfair and a result of the tunnel visioning that comes from unrelenting NEED. Sometimes people need a reminder that the desire is often present to help, but the means less so.
But there’s less communicative side to this. The above situation is kind of a best case scenario sometimes because we’re going to delve into unasked for help.
One of the ways many people internalize spending time exposed to an abuser is by expanding our consciousness to attempt to care for the abuser’s needs at all times. I classify this as being ‘helpful’. I remember my Mum being quite shocked when I was casually explaining to my younger brother that when Dad comes in the room “all you have to do is figure out what he wants and get out of the way of it or get it to him before he figures it out”.
Unasked for help comes in a few different varieties:
- Preventative unasked for help: The helper feels compelled to assist or otherwise spend their mental energy on someone’s needs to avoid: melt downs, accusations, financial strife, or other negative consequences that might affect the helper’s life. These situations are unhealthy for lots of reasons but particularly in that even though the help is unasked for… there are consequences for not giving it.
- Self interested help: When it comes to self interest, our society has a hate on for anything that might be self interest except when it comes to capitalistic intent. Lets continue forward with the understanding that there are ways to do self interested help very negatively and very positively.
- A negative way of doing self interested help is to help people on the expectation (… often unstated) that they will help you later. If we consider that the contexts of situations change and that we might be helping because we are able to at that moment… holding someone accountable to help you later regardless of the context of their situation because you helped them before seems like a jerk thing to do when we consider it like that. Especially if they didn’t know what you were going to ask in return and might not feel it is equitable.
- A positive way of doing self interested help is fully acknowledging that we are helping ourselves when we assist the people around us to communicate better and be more at peace with their needs and wants.
- These situations occur when we give help conditionally. This implies VERY STRONGLY that we are flexing our boundaries too much and need to take a step back and address that.
- Dominance that masquerades as help: So you’re getting along hunky dory, when a person tells you that well actually, they really need your help in a way that is different than you are currently giving it. But you like giving them help in the way you’re currently giving it. It works for you, its easy, you’re used to it. You might have rearranged parts of your life so that you could help someone in some way and you were totally ok with it as long as you got to do what you wanted but now that’s not good enough?!
- If you didn’t tell someone directly that helping them was inconveniencing you to ascertain that was the help they needed… who is the asshole? I don’t mean sideways comments. I don’t mean five minute conversations that get interrupted. I mean sitting down and not letting them leave until they understand what the situation is for you and not leaving until you understand what the situation is for them.
- Self interested help will often become dominance that masquerades as help if you let it.
Why do people ‘help’? In the first place? Sometimes they get a good feeling out of it. Sometimes it benefits everyone around. Sometimes they just have the ability and feel like it. Sometimes they want something in return. Sometimes they REALLY want you to do something and don’t think you are going to do it without ‘help’.
Helping someone do something in the way you want them to do it (especially if you aren’t open to helping them the way they want to do it) isn’t really helping. Its directing.
Doing this as a response to asking someone to do something you need them to do and having them not do it… doesn’t make it more healthy. It actually makes it less healthy because you stated a boundary and then let it get crossed and then actually rewarded the person for crossing your boundary.
So we’ve focused on the help that we are interested in giving. What about when this conflicts with the kind of help people ask for?
Sometimes people are going to ask us for help that we simply do not have the means to give. Stating this and offering a solution you are able to give is super awesome behaviour and clear communication. Stating that you can help them and giving the kind of help that you are interested in giving regardless of what was asked for… well that’s not super awesome clear communication.
Sometimes people are going to tell us that whatever we have been doing to help isn’t helpful and they need us to do something different. It is common to get offended. Nobody likes to be told they aren’t enough. But this is a crucial and critical moment and how we respond to this is very important. Someone is asking for help directly. If you consider yourself a person interested in giving help you should be interested in assisting them the way they need to be assisted. Even if it is less glamorous. Even if it is slightly more work. Even if it is more onerous.
But what is not acceptable is reacting angrily as if the need expressed is wrong, and expressing punishment for the person requesting help feeling that what was previously given was not ‘good enough’. Keep your personal insecurities to yourself. This is supposed to be helping another person right? Unless this is about your needs. WHICH IS TOTALLY FAIR. But then why are we framing the conversation in ‘helping’ the person who isn’t meeting your needs?
This is something I think about a lot and I don’t think I’ve summarized it well. Suffice to say, I think that ‘helping’ can be a toxic behaviour in the extreme.