03 June 2010

Are you a help or a hindrance?

The long and the short of it, is that people want you to listen to them, but not necessarily tell them what to do.


There's not a person alive, who hasn't been asked by friends or family for their advice or help somewhere in the past. That is, unless you've been shipped off by the said family to a kibbutz or a silent retreat.

Now there is a big difference between rescuing your friend from the side of the road after her car packed up, and telling her you think she should divorce her husband. The long and the short of it, is that people want you to listen to them, but not necessarily tell them what to do.

So what are the no-no's of being there for others?

Doing for them, what they should be doing for themselves. The best helping hand for every person is at the end of their own arm, and yet, when a friend is in need, we tend to forget this. It is natural to want to jump in and be of assistance. There is a difference between being there for someone and becoming a doormat. If you do things constantly for a friend, which she should be doing for herself, you are undermining her self-confidence and are not doing her a favour. Help, in a crisis, by all means, but that's where it should stop.

Crying with them. The temptation is big to cry with friends, especially if we really care about them. Cry, if it is something, which has also affected you, but not if you are being asked for advice about something which they find upsetting. They need you to be strong, and if you cry with them, they might feel they shouldn't have asked you in the first place, as it is obviously upsetting you.

Giving very direct advice. Many people will say that they want you to tell them what to do. This takes the responsibility for their decisions away from them and places it squarely on you. But telling people what they should do makes them feel resentful of you in the long run. They may feel disempowered and hold you responsible for it, if your advice doesn't work in their particular case.

Telling them about your own experiences. If someone needs to talk to you about a problem he/she is having, the last thing they want to hear about, is your problem that you think was similar to theirs. There is a definition of a bore, namely that it is someone who talks when you wish them to listen. Don't be one of those.

Criticising spouses, family members. However angry your friend may be with her boyfriend, husband or child, let her say whatever she wants to about them, but don't join in. It's difficult if you've told her you think her boyfriend is a lowlife, and next week she's back with him again, and now you are the villain of the piece.

Telling anyone else what he/she has told you. If somebody has confided something personal in you, it should not be repeated to others. If it does start doing the rounds, you will be the first suspect and this could be the end of your friendship with this person. Nobody wants to be friends with someone they cannot trust.

Making them feel guilty if they don't follow your advice. If you have given advice and someone has ignored it, do you hound him/her or do the "I told you so" – thing? People have a responsibility to themselves to make decisions that affect their lives. They don't owe anything to those who advised them – but they cannot ignore your advice and come running to you again with the same problem next time. And you would be stupid to allow it.

Enabling them to continue with their behaviour. Sometimes when you help someone, you are enabling them to continue with their self-destructive behaviour patterns. If you phone your friend's boss to tell her that your friend is sick, when she's actually got a massive hangover, you are helping her to continue drinking. This is not a solution.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, November 2006)


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