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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