About as helpful as you can be without being any help at all

We all want to be helpful. It’s like a way of saying we are important. Most of us also don’t like to see people we care about in pain. However, results can vary.

When it looks like someone needs help, if we feel it’s appropriate, we jump in. Some of us miss that appropriate part. A determined 2-year-old wants “me do it!” – no matter how many times the poured water hits the table. A 9-year-old does not want help – they are “not a baby.” Men can’t ask for directions – they don’t need help getting lost. But there is no universal Red Cross manual that indexes emotions, where we thumb our way along to find the perfect easy solution to a feeling.

I think I’m a helpful person, but I’m of limited capacity as well. I’ve got my repertoire, but that’s it. Rehashing the repertoire is not much use. I’ve had people tell me “Enough advice already!” (Okay, it wasn’t people, it was my brother). You get the idea. If it doesn’t register now, they don’t want it. If it registers later, it was a worthy point, but saying it four times over doesn’t make it put butter on that.

Being outside of a situation can give you a lot of perspective. We can observe the situation, but we are not all caught up in the immediacy of the crap. Someone may not want us to “fix” their situation. They want to feel empowered to overcome obstacles and may need support and someone to vent to in the process. As much as some of us can be communication-phobes, I honestly believe that everyone finds a good talk useful at some point in a process.

How do we help?

We use relativity: When I was in this similar situation, here’s what worked for me…

We help disperse emotions:  When you are feeling like punching the wall the best thing to do is go for a run. Or yell.

We identify through compassion: I hear how you are feeling. It’s not easy.

We make suggestions: A really good book that helped me was… or Sitting in soapy bubbles in the bath being angry is better than just being angry.

We give perspective: It’ll pass.

How don’t we help?

We use relativity: My situation was so much better (worse) than what you are going through.

We help disperse emotions: Maybe you should send that angry text full of hateful words that you will likely regret. Vindication is really temporary, but everything is temporary.

We identify through compassion: I hear how you are feeling. Sometimes you just need to get over it.

We make suggestions (or not): We hear what’s being said, but only respond, “I don’t know…” “Yeah, I don’t know.” “Really? That’s… oh. I don’t know.”

We give perspective: It’ll pass.

How do you help? Do you need/want help? What is helpful to you?


6 thoughts on “About as helpful as you can be without being any help at all

  1. I’ve had to learn (sometimes the hard way) that a lot of times the best way to be helpful is to just listen. No advice, no sympathy, no words . . . just listen. For me, the worst is when someone keeps bugging me about what’s “wrong” with me. If I want to tell you, I will. Otherwise, leave me alone. I’ll get over it on my own.

    • Good point about listening. So often we want to “do” and yet sometimes the best thing is just to “not do.”
      It takes communication either way, I think, to resolve some things. Even if we don’t want to talk about what’s going on, we still have to *say* we don’t want to talk about. I think people skip that step as we figure everyone is a mind reader. I mean, isn’t it obvious what I’m thinking?

    • Right on about Listening.
      The best help I’ve ever been is when I’ve truly listened
      and reflected back that I’ve heard what they said.
      Not easy for me – mostly I want to fix
      But more and more I’m realizing that my wanting to fix
      is more about me feeling good, than about truly being helpful

    • Hi Beth,
      Somehow you snuck into my spam folder so I just found you now. Thanks for commenting on the post. I too think listening is a bit of an afterthought in our busy world. I sense another blog post coming on….

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