I know, totally not my style to not want to help people – but think of this article as helping all of the chronic helpers out there! There are many people with big hearts who see people in trouble and can’t help but want to make things better for them. For these people it’s instinct – how could you NOT want to help someone? After all, if you were in trouble, you’d want people to help YOU, right?
But there are some situations in which, no matter how hard it is or how unnatural it feels, it’s best to hold back and not get involved.
You don’t have to be everyone’s fairy godmother!
When you expect something in return
Helping others should be a selfless act. Even the smallest favour, like retweeting someone, passing on their business details or even giving away your time by taking them out for a coffee and letting them pick your brains doesn’t mean they owe you forever.
I don’t mean that you should be a doormat or run around after people who don’t appreciate you, but helping shouldn’t be motivated by keeping a score card of favours, it should be because you genuinely want to make someone’s situation better. If you find that you often feel hard done by because people you’ve helped aren’t forever in your debt then perhaps it’s time to re-examine your motivations.
Everyone has their boundaries – don’t cross other people’s
When someone doesn’t want your help
It can be very frustrating to see someone banging their head against a brick wall with a problem to which you think you have an easy solution, but if your help is rejected, don’t keep persisting. People can only be helped if they want to be helped and, if they’re stressed out, being tenacious with a solution could be perceived as nagging or adding to their anxiety.
Another instance where somebody might not want your help is if they are doing something that you disapprove of and you are trying to help them to stop. Or if they aren’t doing something that you think they should be focussing on. You can’t impose your own value system onto someone else, and there’s a fine line between helping and interfering, so unless somebody is asking for your help, don’t push it on them.
This butterfly will find its own way out of the cage
When it’s at your own expense
You have a tight deadline to meet, but a friend of yours wants you to look over their next big business proposal and wants you to do it urgently. You’re not feeling very well but a family member wants you to come and look after them when they have the flu. In this kind of situation, it really is OK to put yourself first and say no – you shouldn’t let your own life or work suffer because you think someone else’s needs are more important than your own.
A more practical argument supporting this is that if you don’t take care of yourself first, you will be so exhausted and used up that you will be in no position to help those that need it.
Understand when it’s best to sit one out
When the person doesn’t deserve your help
At the risk of ruining my no-bitching month I’ll be very, very vague about this. Once I had a friend who was constantly pushing the boundaries of our friendship. For example, turning up at my house at all hours and being very rude and demanding towards me and my husband. One day that friend was in trouble. I ignored my gut and travelled halfway across the country to help them only for it to backfire spectacularly. I should have listened to my gut and known that this was not a person who had deserved my help.
Like I said, it’s not about keeping score or feeling like someone “owes” me, but if someone is overtly ungrateful or rude towards you, you’re not obligated to be there for them.
When helping means you’re headed for a collision
When you’re just not qualified
If someone is going through something very serious, there’s nothing wrong with offering your support, but don’t try to play therapist or doctor to somebody when you’re not qualified to help them. The best thing you can do for somebody having a problem that’s beyond your experience is to support them in getting professional help and be there as a shoulder to cry on when you’re needed.
It’s nice to be nice – and helping people is a nice thing to do. But before you put yourself out, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, that you’re able to help and that you’re not being taken advantage of!