Suffering By Being Selfless: How Helping Others Hurt Me
You can help an elderly woman cross the street, you can help your friends with their problems, and you can even help a family member out by loaning them some money. Whichever way you offer your assistance to other people, doesn’t helping someone you care about make you feel really good about yourself?
Well, that’s how it should feel. For people who find themselves constantly “helping” others at their own expense, that “rewarding” feeling that’s supposed to come with altruism is replaced with resentment, irritation, and distrust. Looking out for oneself isn’t selfish. In fact, it is necessary, especially in situations where helping others is doing more harm to ourselves than good. And while you shouldn’t turn completely cold or become inaccessible to people, you should realize that hustling for acceptance or favor by being available for others while constantly inconveniencing yourself, is you being unkind and unfair to a very important person. You.
Helping others hurt me at one point. I will be the first to admit that I sometimes (most times actually) overextend myself when it comes to assisting others. Being the “baby” (of the adults) in my family makes it pretty easy to be the designated “yes man” of my siblings. And if you’re into astrology, just google a meme about Libras and our penchant for avoiding arguments and seeking harmony, and you’ll understand what I mean.
For most people, a request to drive 25 miles away from your home to pick someone else’s child up from school for two weeks without receiving any gas money would receive an effortless “hell no!” in response. But what if you are the kind of person (aka, me) who obliges these kinds of extraneous requests regularly? It never ends.
If you think that you may be overextending yourself for other people, consider these tips before you say yes to another ridiculous request.
Form relationships based on shared interests, not based on what you can for someone else. Sometimes we say “yes” when we mean “no” out of fear of how that person will feel about us. It’s natural to want to be liked, but this is an unhealthy way of gaining the affection of others. When in doubt, be sure that any person who treats you differently after you’ve politely denied their request is not someone you need to be around or even be concerned with.
Set boundaries for yourself when it comes to how far you will go to lend your help. There are some people who will take your first “yes” as an indication that you are down for whatever. The favors come one after the other and usually provide very little incentive for you. When it seems like the demands are continuously piling up with no end in sight, know that you are being taken advantage of. At this point, it’s best to set very clear boundaries with the individual who is occupying so much of your time.
Don’t take responsibility for how others feel. Sometimes when I say “no” to someone who I perceive to be in dire need of help, I feel guilty. Then, that person perseveres on their own (or with the aid of some other poor schmuck). If you can’t lend a hand as often as others expect you to, it’s not the end of the world. It is not your responsibility to solve the problems of others and bail them out every time things go awry in their life. You can only do what you are capable of, anything more is unfair to you. You are not Olivia Pope, so don’t pretend to be the fixer.
If you can and want to help, fine. But don’t become an enabler.
Sometimes people are genuinely incapable of going through something alone and will benefit greatly from your assistance. However, there are other times when people are perfectly capable of lifting themselves up out of their own situations but choose not to because they have people like you to pick up the slack for them. Don’t. You can lend your support to people without supplementing their lifestyle.
While I’m trying to do a better job of looking out for myself, I’ve realized that every situation requires a different response. But while you are thinking of others, remember to do what is best for you before making a decision to step in and help any and everyone who asks for your assistance.