Mental Health Matters: Releasing the Need to Help

Do you think you should wait for someone to ask for your help or do you think you should offer unsolicited help if it looks and sounds as if the person needs it?

Up until August, I thought the latter. If I knew specifics of a friend’s or family member’s situation, why wouldn’t I just help, without their needing to request support?

Two recent incidents have caused me to rethink this approach.


Incident #1: One of my stepmother’s grandsons was murdered. Someone he’d gone out with shot him eleven times, resulting in his death. Most of her family lives 1,100 miles away and, as most retirees, my stepmother is on a budget. She’d need to buy a plane ticket and due to COVID, she needed to stay in a hotel while visiting. As she shared her needs, I felt the urge to help.

Five years ago, I functioned in a similar way with her. When my father died, I paid for her plane ticket back to Chicago so she could have a second memorial for him, something she deemed necessary.

Two years ago, I sprang into action again. She’d called to tell me about her breast cancer diagnosis. They’d botched her surgery but wouldn’t listen to her painful pleas. Her oldest daughter and granddaughter weren’t in a space to help her. She wasn’t eating or sleeping well. Although she didn’t ask, I packed up my car and my youngest daughter and I drove five hours to take her grocery shopping, cook dinner, speak with authority to nurses, and be with her pre- and post-surgery.

She seemed to need my help, so I gave it, unsolicited.

This time, I just listened. And when she finished telling me about her plans, I said one thing, “Let me know if you need anything.”

She agreed, and I didn’t hear from her until weeks after she’d traveled to see her family, attended the funeral, and safely returned home. Guess she was okay without my assistance.


Incident #2: I have a sister friend, who quit her job about two years ago. I don’t know the specifics of how she makes money and it’s not my place to detail them here. Let’s just say she’s lived with the consequences of someone who quit her job without securing other employment. She also has an elementary-school-aged daughter.

Though she didn’t ask, I thought it fitting to “help” by sending school-supply money. I convinced Dwight to also contribute. I say convince because he didn’t understand why I or we would be giving her anything, especially unsolicited. “If someone needs your help,” he said, “they’ll ask.”

Imagine my surprise, when I saw my little sister friend living her best vacation life on social media. Subsequently, I did what I’ve learned to do…ask a question. I asked her if she needed the money we’d sent. Her answer was no.

Then, I reflected on how I ended up inserting myself in the first place.

I’d made judgments and assumptions leading up to sending money. I judged her current circumstance as negative and assumed she required my assistance. It’s never my place to judge another person’s situation, and it’s certainly not necessary for me to step in and “save” them from something I’ve deemed negative, whether they’re in distress or not.

In the codependent conversation, this is called caretaking or compulsive helping. Like other concepts, the difference between just helping and compulsive helping is the helper’s intent and need to be needed.

It feels good to be needed. I’ll admit I’ve liked being seen as the person whom others can depend on, even without asking. In the past, it meant I mattered. But as Dr. Lefever says, it’s arrogant; it presumes you know what’s better for someone more than they do. How can I ever know what’s better for someone more than they do?

How can I ever know what’s better for someone more than they do?

kegarland

This revelation literally happened two months ago, so it’s a new way of being in relationship with people. But I’m pretty sure I’m going to do the following:

  • Listen without the intent to solve someone’s “problem.”
  • Wait for the person to ask for help.
  • Think about why I want to help; is it self-serving?

I’ll provide an update once it’s become a seamless part of how I function.

I know this one may be a little controversial, especially because we’ve been conditioned, encouraged even, to help one another, so let me know your opinion. Do you wait for someone to ask for help or do you offer unsolicited help?


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74 thoughts on “Mental Health Matters: Releasing the Need to Help

  1. I’ve sure been there, and through all of the codependent counseling I’ve had, EFT, and such, I learned to get over it—the feeling that I need to “save” someone. I am now letting go of the people-pleasing, taking myself so seriously, and other karmic or ancestral habitual patterns. I have faith in my inner fortitude that I can break these chains. So, loved what you wrote! ❤️🦋🌀☮️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is great. I actually have friends who do this much more than I do, but I haven’t been able to put my finger on why it always bothered me so much. Now I realize why. It’s because they assume that I don’t know what’s best for myself, and to be honest, I believe it, so I take their advice or help even when I don’t need it or ask for it. I love this because it gives me a different way to view these situations.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve done something similar multiple times; offering unsolicited help. Took me years to stop doing it. After I got burned a couple times I finally got hip. But every once in a while I still catch myself… 🙄

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is really powerful. I acknowledge you Kathy for your openness to look at how you’re approaching relationship––and how to do it in a way that really aligns for you. I would love to hear what insights you have from this new way of being! Know, that I’m beaming love and Light to you every step. 🙂
    Blessings,
    Debbie

    Liked by 1 person

  5. this is truly a difficult issue for me. what helps me is to look at others for what not to do lol. for instance I have someone who does lots of stuff for me – but stuff I don’t want harhar – I try to always ask “would you like me to…” but of course some don’t like that either…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great point da-AL. I’m learning to do what the person would want me to do, without compromising myself or integrity, while also making sure I’m not helping to fill a void lol that’s a mouthful :-/

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You make a good point. There is a difference between helping when needed and helping to anticipate a need. Trying to anticipate doesn’t always translate to reality. For me, I enjoy helping or being helpful. I want people to be relieved of whatever is ailing them. At the same time, I have to understand exactly what someone wants or needs from me when they come with their issues. Sometimes its better to be responsive.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. “Helping is the sunny side of control.”

    Also, I have generally improved in this area–unless it comes to my daughter. Then, I can’t help but try to fix situations she’s just venting about. I often have to catch myself (or get caught hahaha) and then apologize and work really hard on not doing it again.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Once again, you’ve really given me something to think about! This is a tough one, because it is only natural to want to step in an help someone we love when they are in trouble. I guess the best answer I could give is that in most circumstances, I agree that it is better to simply let them know you’re willing to help if they need it, but not jump in and help. That’s letting them know you’re willing to support them, but not crossing any boundaries that might make them uncomfortable. That being said, when my niece lost her 25 year-old son suddenly a year ago, we did give her money to help with the funeral expenses, unasked. We thought we were doing the right thing because we knew she was struggling financially and was just devastated emotionally. And maybe we did. But….she spent it on his tombstone, which was fine. But she also kept sending us updates about the stone she was selecting, and then sent several photos of it when it was finished. Which made me think that she felt as if she had to show us exactly how she spent the money, and that wasn’t our intention at all. We just wanted her to have it, no strings attached. In retrospect, it might have been better to ask if she needed any help with the funeral. We didn’t because we know she has a lot of trouble asking anyone for help asking anyone for help, ever. So sometimes, I admit I just don’t know what the right thing to do is!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. This is a perfect example Ann, and I appreciate you providing it. So far, it seems as if there is this extra layer of recognizing that some people do not want to or won’t ask for help, but even if this is the case, I’m thinking it’s still not our problem, necessarily, to solve. You know? So, in your example, I’m still thinking “How can we help?” may be useful? I’m asking a question because I’m really still wondering.

      Thanks again for adding this. Now, you have me thinking 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Katherin, I very much relate to you about wanting to be helpful – it’s a great feeling to make a difference in someone’s life. In the anecdotes you mentioned – things didn’t jibe because of some assumptions you made about their financial situation. I think situations involving money are tricky. Instead, I am imagining how helpful you are to people in other ways – such as with mentoring and career encouragement. I support people in grief and that has really given me purpose with my own grief.
    It’s beautiful that you can acknowledge your generosity. Even if it seems like your assistance wasn’t absolutely needed (from your examples), I hope you can still feel blessed within your heart for being such a good person!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for this kindness Judy! You’re right. I absolutely do feel as if (and try to) make a difference in so many ways. I think with these examples, in particular, I no longer feel the need to offer unsolicited help. If someone needs me, I’m for sure there, with bells on lol

      Thanks so much for this…the message feels so warm ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  10. You always know how get people to think and reflect and discuss, Kathy!
    That some of our helping is unnecessarily presumptuous is a sticky realization. While some people seem naturally generous, others help and then use it as some sort of bargaining-chip in the future. While I have more often been able to help with time and tasks than money, like you, I like have liked being seen as someone others can depend on. However, there have been times where I got myself entangled in someone else’s business and then felt resentful toward the person I was helping! I’ve been learning not to be so quick to prove that I’m “a good little helper!” Often, I can be supportive without being presumptuous about what my “helping” ought to look like….(still thinking…🤔)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You summed this up quite nicely Leslie! “a good little helper” is what I’d hoped to be in some circumstances and yes to those entanglements. Even before this recent realization, I had long since recognized that I don’t want to be involved in anyone’s mess…lol

      Thanks for that compliment at the beginning. Reflection is good ❤

      Like

  11. I usually let people ask for help, however I have been moved to be more proactive with people if they express a need. I know first hand how hard it is to ask for help, so I don’t want to always wait for that. I think it’s important to be true to yourself. If your heart moves you to offer assistance to a friend or family member you should do it within reason. I question the claim that it’s coming from a place of arrogance.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Heeey L.A.! So yes…it depends on what the true intention is (kind of like with many things), especially if it’s unsolicited. I also think it depends on the frequency. You could always find me doing something for someone, whether they asked or not.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I don’t have that problem in my personal life, but professionally I did used to want to and try to solve my students’ problems for them. Then I participated in a multi-day motivational interviewing training and learned that you don’t empower people when you try to fix things for them. Instead, it’s best to help guide them toward their own solutions or simply just listen. I learned to be invested in the process but not the outcome. This shifted something in me. It sounds to me that you are a kind person that likes to help. The steps you are taking to assess the situation without jumping in to “save” people are appropriate.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Sooo, let me respond backwards. I absolutely LOVE to help people. So, it’s part personality and part needing to be needed. Thank you for noticing that. Over the years, it’s been helpful for me to volunteer at different places (were we blogging buddies when I did the 12 months of Christmas thing)? Anywho, that was helpful because wherever I volunteered, the people actually did need help and because I didn’t know them, it wasn’t personal, kind of like you mentioned, I wasn’t invested in the outcome…at all.

      I’ve also noticed what you describe at the university level at a LOT of post-secondary institutions, not just with students, but among women faculty, too.

      Thanks for adding this Kim!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. You speak so clearly to me. Very clearly. Yes, it is my need to be needed that puts me in such energy draining situations, nobody ever asked for. Especially with family, I am on the beginning of the curve to just listen without making it my problem to solve, my emotion to feel. I assume I would lack empathy if I don’t feel and fix what their need is. Still learning boundaries there so I can hold up in my own life without getting affected by their turmoil. I personally am not good for asking for myself even if I validly need it. So I get depleted both ways.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Sending a virtual hug, first of all. I get that. It’s a fine line, not helping, yet empathizing. I think maybe there are other ways to show care, like listening or helping when and if the person asks, you know? I also get not asking for help…that’s something I had to work on most recently, too. Everything is a baby step. I’m glad this helped you to feel understood 🤗

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Listening is caring enough, without having it break into my being – my brain gets it more clearly now, heart mind training begins! :)))) Baby steps yes. It is so empowering for all parties involved when we don’t take over. Hugs and Love.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. I think I tend to do both. I think it’s based off various factors, such as, my relationship with the person, the energy I’m gathering from the conversation, what I know about the person, my mood, and sometimes what I would want if I was in that situation. I also consider what I feeling by offering help. For example, I sometimes do check-ins with myself to determine what I am gaining by helping. If it feels ego-centered or self-fulfilling I do my best not to provide the unsolicited help because I don’t want to give help from that space.

    In other instances, I consider other factors. For example, for some, like myself, it can be super hard to ask for help. Typically if I know the person well, I am aware of their willingness to receive help or their desire to receive help. If I know that to be true about the person I’m interacting with, then I will offer unsolicited help. Whereas in other situations, I may simply ask the person if they want help or if there is anything I can do to help.

    Lastly, there are times when I simply say if there’s something I can help with just let me know.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for adding these ways to be helpful Kotrish. As you know, I used to do the first two ways, too but not so much nowadays.

      I also think it’s interesting that people who don’t like to ask for help (someone else mentioned that) sound like the ones who offer unsolicited help…I wonder what’s the connection there?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think there is definitely a connection! Perhaps, we are actually offering the help to ourselves in those moments.

        I will say, thanks to my amazing friends, I am in a better place of practicing what it means to be vulnerable and ask for help. I distinctly remember one friend saying to me in Grad school I know you’re low on groceries but hopefully your pride won’t lead to starvation (paraphrased)! In that moment I was flabbergasted; however, trust at this point asking that friend for help is a whole lot easier!

        Liked by 2 people

  15. Interesting: I always ask before helping, but I’m often told that even offering can be insulting, yet I know that there are times and people who simply cannot ask for help, but would be grateful if offered. Not helped without the offer, mind you, but offered. But taking your money rather than telling you she didn’t need it was not ok!

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  16. “Let me know if you need anything.”

    So much wisdom in this Dr. G. And it takes life experience (and YOU have had 5 lifetimes worth!) to get to this place (I’m still working on it.. getting closer :).

    And the key is that you can ask this question from a place of peace and groundedness. And that is all the help we ever need. KNOWING SOMEONE CARES Truly cares.

    Thank you for these lessons through your experiences. I always leave your blog, feeling better about myself. And how time is the ultimate teacher. 📖💙📖💙

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Riiiight Dr D! And then you don’t have the help hangover…or at least that’s what I call it. All the stress associated with did you get X? Are you okay? Did it fit? Do you need more? Why didn’t they say thank you?

      That question is liberating, really.

      And thank you! I’m so grateful for these words.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The Help Hangover! I love that. Which (almost) always leads to resentment… from overgiving.. Instead: Free & Clear (Literally!) Because You’ve Empowered The Person in Need to take the reins to ask (or not ask) for what they need. Sooo good! Have a wonderful week my friend ✨❤️

        Liked by 2 people

  17. Great Post and insights. I learned long ago from experience, it’s best to teach them to fish rather than giving them the fish. It took me a long time to get this but it truly is the best help we can give to someone. ❤️ Cindy

    Liked by 2 people

  18. I was somehow raised not knowing how to help / how to appropriately jump in when help may be needed. Wanting to be more adult and a better friend, I think I went through a bit of a codependent phase, but I believe I have now backed off and am aware how to help when appropriate, or mostly, when asked. There are still those other times when something really bad has happened and we’re not supposed to say “Let me know if you need anything” but just jump in — those are a little harder to know what’s appropriate.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. “not knowing how to help” is interesting Fran. I think some of this can be situational, but then again, it’s all so subjective, you know? Like what is “really bad” for me may not be for someone else.

      Like

  19. Excellent post. I tend to step back from offering assistance because I know I’m the type of person who likes to tell someone my situation but as a sounding board more than looking for help. It’s hard to judge what someone actually does need. I like the tell me what I can do from you approach

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thanks LA. It’s the judging part that is hard. I just told someone else something similar. Because judging it is so subjective, what I may deem as in need of help may be totally different than what you do, thus the conundrum. Anywho, I’m going to start using that phrase for sure, then I don’t have to assume.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s funny that you wrote this because it reminds me of something else. I have a blog friend who has had some issues in the past and she’s disappeared from the blog verse. Another blogger and I are a little worried about her, and we’ve reached out in the normal ways, but do I start stalking her Instagram followers to see who’s an IRL friend so I can check on her? I mean…maybe she doesn’t want to blog anymore and nothings wrong….

        Liked by 2 people

      2. LOL I’ve actually done that before…stalked an individual and checked to see if s/he is talking to others or saying other things somewhere else, but yeah, ultimately, it could be everything’s fine.

        Liked by 1 person

  20. I’m a compulsive helper, as well, in most things. When it comes to money, I don’t manage it so well myself, so I find myself feeling guilty when I can’t help someone…

    Although, sometimes I think there are a lot of people who find it really difficult to ask for help or don’t know how to ask for it. Offering is always good, but I think it’s easy to have someone take advantage too.

    Life is complicated, sometimes…

    Liked by 4 people

    1. …and with money, I’m a little opposite. If I have it, then I think, why wouldn’t I offer it to someone else? I agree about people not knowing how to ask or asking even though they actually need it.

      I think we make some things complicated, maybe?

      Liked by 2 people

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