Are you a natural-born helper? Are you someone who is always willing to lend a hand or advice even if no one asked? Does it feel like your helping is on auto-pilot or even compulsive?
Do you ever wonder if there are times when helping maybe…isn’t that helpful?
In this episode, I’m breaking down what constitutes unhealthy helping. You’ll also learn what you can do so you can get back some of your bandwidth and increase your potential for intimacy and authentic connection with the people in your life.
Prefer the audio? Listen here.
So much of the time, we can see our helping as just being “nice” but the truth is, there is a tipping point where our compulsion to jump into someone else’s situation is less about their needs and more about our own.
What is the difference between helping and unhelpful helping? Here are some examples of unhelpful helping:
- Unsolicited advice-giving – Are you the person who is always there offering suggestions or problem-solving for someone else (even when no one has asked you)?
- Checking in on people constantly – Are you okay? Are you sure? Are you positive you don’t need anything? Constantly asking if someone needs help, even if they’ve already said they don’t, isn’t actually helpful.
- Overly soothing others – Especially when someone has already told you they are OK, if you keep checking back in compulsively, it’s pushing the envelope of caring behavior.
- Auto-fixing – this looks like you offering to take over for someone else if there is an issue or a problem. This may feel like you’re being helpful, but what if it is a reaction rather than a choice it is unhealthy.
Why do we do this? A lot of my clients over the years have said things like, “I see myself as a helpful person – it’s who I am,” or, “I like to be needed”. Here’s the thing: If we are pushing our help on someone else, then are we really being needed, or are we doing what we need to feel valuable or OK?
There is nothing wrong with wanting to help others, but if our “helpful” behaviors are on auto-pilot, causing us to over-give and over-function, it can point to codependent tendencies.
Codependency is being overly invested in the feeling states, situations, decisions, relationships, and outcomes of the people in our lives. There are so many myths and misconceptions out there about codependency, but the truth is at its core, codependency is really an overt or covert bid for control of situations that are not our own.
This can be hard to take if you are in a pattern of thinking you just want to help, save, or fix things for the people you care about. As a recovering codependent, I absolutely get that.
But this is where we need to understand and practice healthy boundaries. We can learn how to be supportive, helpful, and loving while staying on our side of the street. Even if the other person is our grown child, a cherished family member, or a best friend, it is their life to manage. When we are in a pattern of auto-advice giving or auto-fixing, what we are really saying to the people in our life is “I know better than you.”
Deepak Chopra says, “the infinite possibilities of your life are in the unknown. Everything is possible.” While that might sound esoteric, there is truth in it. The only way to come to decisions in life is to be in the tension of not knowing, to feel the fear of making a mistake, and to choose for ourselves despite those feelings. It is a process. It is how we grow.
And if we are always fixing for others we are in fact, robbing them of their own process of becoming.
I was highly codependent in my younger years, and it wasn’t just with the people who were close to me. I could become codependently invested in literally anyone – from my mail carrier to my hair stylist. If anyone was having a problem or in pain, it made me so uncomfortable that I would immediately jump into a fix-it, solve-it, here’s-what-you-do mode. I took on the weight of the world, but in doing so, I was trampling on the emotional boundaries and sovereignty of other people.
If this is you, it doesn’t mean you are a bad person or have bad motives. But if you are the perpetual, perennial helper, the fixer, the one everyone comes to, or the one who offers and does, even when no one is asking– it is worth it to take a closer look at why you might be in this behavioral pattern.
Does it feel compulsory – like you can’t help yourself? What is the level of urgency you feel when someone is in distress? There can be so many unconscious processes going on and bringing them into our conscious minds is key to changing our behaviors.
Remember, we don’t grow up in a vacuum. Codependent behaviors are often rooted in dysfunctional family systems. I grew up in a high-functioning alcoholic system as the designated hero child in my family of origin. I was set up to be the fixer and the helper from a very young age (interestingly, my mother played the same role in her family of origin.)
The reason I’m passionate about helping people recover from codependency is because it can be very damaging to our relationships, and it takes a toll on our own mental, emotional, and physical wellness.
What you can do to move into healthy helping:
- Take a look at the secondary gain – this is the hidden benefit you are getting from the dysfunctional behavior. Ask yourself: what do I get to not feel, not face, or not experience by compulsively helping others?
- Learn to ask expansive questions when someone comes to you with a problem – instead of jumping in with auto-advice or auto-fixing, learn how to pause and ask questions instead. In this way, you respect the other person’s autonomy. Inside the guide, I have examples of questions you can ask and you can download that right here.
- Understand your codependency – if you are a high-functioning codependent (like me), you are highly capable and on the surface, you make it all look easy. You might be the person who is the rock in your family system or friend group. Inside the guide, I’m giving you some questions to answer so you can get dialed into how much of a codependent you might be.
Unhelpful helping and codependency are so exhausting because you are using up so much of your bandwidth to take on other people’s problems. There is nothing wrong with being kind, giving, and helpful, as long as it is coming from a healthy place.
I hope this added value to your life and if it did, please share it with the people in your world! Drop me a comment below or connect with me on Instagram @terricole and let’s keep the conversation going.
Have an amazing week and as always take care of you.