How to Be Helpful in an Empowering Way
Whenever we do something nice for other people, our good intentions are all that matters. How much we actually managed to help them, is not of crucial importance all that it matters is that we tried and had the willingness to be there for the person.
Would you agree?
Has it ever happened to you that someone who wanted to help you left you with more work than you actually had in the start?
There is a construct in psychology called hyper-empathy. This is a phenomenon that explains how humans can mirror each others feelings and sense them like they are their own. As people we are able to feel the pain and suffering of another person to the extreme point. For example, if a trauma happens to you, and a hyper-empathic person approaches to help you, he/she might get so consumed with your suffering that your roles might reverse. You might be left with helping or comforting “your hero”. Another example is when a husband loses unconscious in the delivery room while his wife is delivering a baby. All he wanted is to give support to his wife but ended up needing help himself.
Even though your good intentions are entirely appreciated, there's more to being helpful than just having a strong will. Since you are putting your energy and time in assisting someone, wouldn't you like it to be effective? Wouldn't you like to do it in the best way possible?
When we help someone and make them smile, that happiness resonates deep within us. That is our reward. When we decide to help, the best way to do it is through selflessness. We need to do our best to “make it” all about the person we are supporting and forget about our own needs. At that moment, the focus is on being a helping hand and making them feel better and stronger.
Here are some tips on how to be helpful in an empowering way. Not only that you'll help, but you will also make people feel better about themselves.
When others are in need of help it isn’t likely that their situation is easy, simple and pleasant. The very opposite is, likely, the case. When you are trying to support and hold space for someone in times of crisis it happens that the “quality of the circumstances” you are operating in influences how you interact with the person you are supporting. While intending to show your best “helpful self” you might become stressed, maybe even aggressive or panic could arise.
Challenging circumstances and complex needs of the people you are helping make it a crucial requirement for you to remain calm while you are supporting others.
You are the one to balance the situation out. If your “friend in need” is worried, stressed or scared you are the one who needs to stay calm. On the other hand, if your friend is doing something dangerous then other measures should be taken (1).
Keep Others Focused
Let’s continue using your imaginary friend as an example, and let’s say it your female friend. One day you meet for coffee and you recognize that your friend is concerned with a particular issue that she doesn't even know how you could help her. She keeps focusing on little things that are not even connected to the problem she described earlier. Instead of “giving her grief” or telling her not to worry so much, you can try to keep her focused on the “real problem” .Remind her what the bigger issue is and start from there. See how you can help in the best way possible, supporting her to keep the real problem in mind.
For example, your friend's main issue is finding a job, because she got fired last week, but she keeps asking you out for a cup of coffee to talk about her low self-esteem and feeling like a failure. Empower her by reminding what the actual problem is related to finding work and keep her focused on what her current possibilities are and what steps she needs to make in order to move forward.
Keep Healthy Boundaries
Acknowledge that other people’s problems aren’t your responsibility.
As a friend, your role is to be there for support, not to take over other people’s problems. Sometimes we care so much that we take on other people's issues as if they were our responsibility. It especially refers to mothers because they have a tendency to get too involved in their children's struggles.
If you take on too much “tasks” for yourself, you may get overwhelmed and start holding a grudge against the person you are helping. Be careful, because this may get you in a fight with your “friend in need”. Keep in mind that it's not their fault if you didn’t know how to say no and keep healthy boundaries.
On the other hand, solving problems makes people stronger. If people you want to help get through “the crisis” by themselves, that'll give them the confidence to overcome a similar challenge in the future. Resolving crisis develops us into better, stronger versions of ourselves.
Help your friend, but remember, their problems are not your responsibility. It’s their battle to fight. It's their time to grow. You are just there witnessing and holding the space (2).
Receiving help could be a little embarrassing and uncomfortable, so try to do it in a humble way. Don't talk about it, act like it's a piece of cake for you. This way, your friend will not feel like they are incapable or as if they are a burden to you. Especially if it means lending money or helping them out with something that they are supposed to know, but they don't.
Don't make a big deal out of it and keep your ego quiet. Your friend will feel much better this way.
Sometimes, the best way to help is not to acknowledge the situation, not to give advice, not to offer help. Just be there and listen. In situations that are unsolvable and unchangeable, all that your friend needs is a shoulder to cry on. The only words coming from your mouth should be “I understand.”
Recognize When to Help
Sometimes helping means knowing when to stay away and remain on the sidelines. If you know that you have nothing to contribute, don't even offer your help. Explain, apologize or stay as subtle support.
In a crisis, your friend needs someone who can actually “deliver” by being productive and doing the deeds without hassle and mistakes. If they have to worry about controlling what you do constantly or correcting every mistake that you make, then it is better for them to do it by themselves.
If your friend needs someone to pick them up from work because they are in a hurry to the hospital, but you are currently on the other side of the town, instead of losing two hours to pick them up by yourself, call someone who lives closer to them. You don’t need to do everything by yourself, there is a place for delegation even when it comes to being a good Samaritan (3).
When you want to be helpful remind yourself that at this moment it is not about you, it is all about the person who needs help. Keep yourself focused on resolving their issues. It's all that matters now. Sometimes, this means taking the initiative, but sometimes, it means restraining from taking action. Sometimes, it means listening only, but sometimes, it means getting your hands dirty and doing seriously hard work.
In any of these cases, keep your help and ego quiet and don't forget that their problems are their own responsibility.
If you learn how to be effective when helping people, not only that you will improve the quality of their life, but you will also empower them.
And don't worry, your good intentions will be appreciated whatever happens.
Since you are even reading this article, it already shows that you have the best intentions possible and that you are a truly good friend anyone could wish for.