How to Help Others Without Hurting yourself
Avoiding Compassion Fatigue
I offer One-on-One Life Coaching Services, receive DMs on Twitter about people’s issues, run a Sobriety Group, and lead the Fraternity of Excellence along with Anthony Migliorino; all of this puts me in contact with people needing help daily.
People have asked how I balance the workload of juggling people’s life problems, some of them darker than anything you’ve ever experienced, and keeping my life from being brought down in the process.
The Answer: I don’t let their problems become my problems.
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Anyone who has experience as a Social Worker, Teacher, Life Coach, Therapist, or Addiction Counselor knows the necessity of this, and often, many fail to keep a healthy balance; I failed to keep a healthy balance for a long time, but I found a way out, and now I live without that struggle, and I want to share how, here with you so you too can continue to help them without hurting you.
How to Help Without the Hurt?
As humans, it’s natural to want to help those in need.
But oftentimes, we find ourselves getting too involved in other people's problems. It can be difficult to know the right thing to do when someone is asking for help.
Knowing how to help people without taking on their problems is critical to be an efficient helper. If you burn yourself out trying to save another, who is there to save you, and who is lost because you can no longer save them?
I struggled with this early in my online writing because I was unaware I needed a defense for this attack.
I began writing in 2011 to help people having no clue how many were hurting. When I created The Family Alpha blog in 2015, things ramped up to where by 2017, I was ready to quit, and I would have if it hadn’t been for a conversation with Ivan throne.
It’s in my nature to lead.
It’s also in my nature to be a person who helps others because I have been in some very dark places in my life, and I can relate to those who are there now. Looking back, there were moments in my youth when I wasn’t there for family members who needed me, and I didn’t know.
If I were to dissect this, I would say that I became the way I am because I missed those signs. I’ve vowed never to miss them again, not in family, friends, or even strangers on the internet. So, I often became more personally vested in that individual’s growth and improvement than they were. Not only would I take their burdens on, but I’d care more about their recovery than they did, leading to internal conflict (sometimes external) because I couldn’t understand why they didn’t see the clear path to salvation I saw.
I went to some dark places over the years, letting internet problems of people I didn’t know find their way to my dinner table, marriage, relationship with myself, and more.
Multiple times this ebb and flow would occur where my health took hits, my mindset was rocked, and I would get so caught up in trying to save them all that I wasn’t saving myself, and I refused help from another because “I don’t need help, I give help!”.
Looking at it now, I see how fucked up this is.
Back then, I didn’t, and it took far more time than it should have to correct the course.
Fortunately, I recognized the signs and eventually built the defenses needed to keep it from happening again. I did what was needed, talk with those I’d hurt, and, most importantly, started treating myself as someone I knew I had to care for.
I’ll be transparent with you here; I had to lean back from the keyboard after typing that.
I had to start taking care of myself as well…
That’s when things changed, and I hope those reading who are “helpers” see that you must look at yourself as someone who needs your help. You must save yourself by helping those who turn to you for advice and guidance.
The most important person a helper can help, is themselves.
There are so few with the empathy, compassion, and capability to help people that when we lose ourselves, we lose a critical component of society, the one who can help the many.
How Do You Balance “Them” with “You”?
The first step to helping people without taking on their problems is to establish clear boundaries.
It’s essential to be clear and direct with people about what kind of help you can offer and what you cannot do. If someone asks for help that is beyond your capacity, or even if you can handle it, your mental bandwidth is full from life or others you are working with.
It’s important to communicate this in a respectful and understanding way that lets them know they’re seen but cannot be taken on at that time.
It is also important to remember that you are not responsible for the negative outcome of a situation another is facing.
Their choices cannot burn you because the consequences of their decisions are for them to own, not you.
You can offer support and advice, but the person you’re helping is ultimately responsible for their own decisions and actions. Reminding yourself of this can be helpful, and focusing on what you can do to help at the moment rather than worrying about the long-term effects.
Bottom Line: As harsh as it may seem, at the end of life, it’s not your fault they made their choices, and it’s not your responsibility to absolve them of those terrible consequences.
Another way to help people without taking on their problems is to focus them on thinking in terms of solutions.
It can be easy to get bogged down in the details of a problem, but it’s important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Ask yourself questions like, “What can I do to help this person solve their problems in the short term?” or “What are the potential solutions to this problem, and why aren’t they seeing it already?” This will help you to stay focused on giving the tools to solve problems vs. solving them for the person.
“Teach a man to fish…”
Providing emotional support to those you are helping is important.
It can be easy to get overwhelmed by the problems of others, but it’s important to remember that emotional support is just as important as practical help. Offering words of encouragement, listening, and validating the emotions of the person you are helping can go a long way in helping them to feel supported and understood.
It will also alleviate your mind from the weight of “I must solve this”; sometimes, it’s more important to feel the emotion than fix it.
Helping people without taking on their problems is not always easy, but it is possible.
By setting boundaries, remembering that you are not responsible for the situation's outcome, focusing on solutions, and providing emotional support, you can help those in need without getting too deeply involved in their problems.
- Zachary Small
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