Nearly everyone enjoys helping others, but despite best intentions it’s not always easy to offer genuinely useful assistance. The psychological complexities that underlie change can be tricky to discern. We gravitate towards new stories in which someone rescues another from a burning building because it’s clear cut: there is a helper, and someone who needed help. However, in the everyday world of billions of people looking to improve how they feel, there are many factors that convolute the process.
1. Not Ready To Change
When I was trained as a therapist I was taught to examine where a client was on the scale between “window shopper” and “highly committed.” There are many people who would like their life to be different, but are not ready to do things differently. Until someone is ready to commit to making changes in their thoughts and behaviors, you might offer the best guidance in the world but it won’t have any impact. Many a healer has frustrated themselves greatly by working harder than the person who they are trying to help. Sometimes it’s best to let go and trust that when the other person has suffered enough they will be more willing to try a different path.
2. Creatures Of Habit
Even if someone has the intention to change, they must be ready to break habitual patterns. This often takes a great deal of energy because we are wired to continue doing things the way we have been doing them. There is often a big initial “burst of energy” when one desires transcending old ways, but when stress arises it is very tempting to revert to familiar behaviors (even if they are clearly no longer effective). For example, many people would like to lose weight. At first they may make healthy dietary choices, but the rite of passage comes when stress arises. If their past has taught them that food temporarily alleviates discomfort, it will take will power to break that habit.
It is often useful to help people learn how to sit with their pain without trying to escape it. If someone is unable to be present with their discomfort, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to stick with new changes since stress will inevitably arise.
3. Addictions Are Difficult To Release
When we think of addictions, we usually think of drugs and alcohol. However, there are many other prevalent forms of addictive behavior that keep people emotionally stuck such as love (in the form of codependence), food, gambling, attention, power, materialism, status, and acquiring ever greater wealth. As long as someone is holding on to their addictive behavior, they will use it to compensate for what is truly missing on a deeper level.
In your attempts to help another, you may be able to recognize their addictions before they are ready to see them. People often surround themselves with friends who enable their addictive behavior since this allows their ego to stay in control without being challenged. If someone is depressed, anxious or angry, they may be willing to listen to some of your guidance, but not let go of ineffective coping mechanisms. It’s helpful to teach people who are willing to try to let go of addictive behavior the acronym H.A.L.T. so they can keep in mind what states of mind are often likely to lead to regressive behavior: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.
4. What Worked For You May Not Work For Them
When we find a spiritual practice or psychological technique (or book, or YouTube video, or whatever) that makes us feel better it’s easy to slip into proselytization. We mean well, but to be an effective helper it’s important to be able to tune in to what will most effectively help the other person in this moment (regardless of what is helpful to ourselves). For example, we may want to help someone “think less” at a time when their stress requires taking action such as figuring out how to solve a financial dilemma.
It’s tempting to look for a “one size fits all” solution and then make that your “thing” as a helper. However, it is useful to keep in mind the saying, “When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” To be an effective healer you must have many tools in your belt, and learn how to choose the appropriate one for the other’s current situation.
5. People Often Push Away Help
You may have the perfect solution for another person’s situation, but their low self-esteem may cause them to distance. It’s an unconscious process that relates to one’s sense of deservedness. If someone believes they don’t deserve love in the form of help, then their heart will be closed to improving their situation. If you identify this dynamic, you can spell out what you’re observing, and hope that such an insight will help reduce self-sabotage. Keep in mind that you can lead a person to the idea of self-esteem, but you can’t make them embrace it.
6. They Feel The Real Problem Is Someone Else
Self-responsibility is crucial for change. When we’ve been through some form of abuse or trauma initiated by another person, it’s important to grieve. Yet at some point we must take back our power, and realize that no matter what we’ve been through it’s our responsibility to create an enjoyable life.
If you’re attempting to help someone who continues to blame others for their unhappiness, encourage them to fully grieve, to feel sad, to feel anger, to let out their pent up emotions. If they have grieved but are still clinging to a “victim mentality” they may need to be challenged. People usually don’t like to be challenged in this respect because they have found that being a victim has benefits such as sympathy and a seemingly legitimate excuse for not taking action. Nevertheless, one of the greatest things you can teach another is the empowerment to make life enhancing choices.
Feeling drawn to help others is a calling that can’t easily be ignored, but to keep ourselves from an ongoing state of frustration or feeling “unappreciated” it’s important to remain conscious of the aforementioned challenges. Stay positive, let go when necessary, have faith in the strength of others, plant seeds of wisdom, and don’t expect all of those seeds to take root.
Check out Chris’s (pen name, Mystic Life’s) book Spiritual Polyamory
Intuitive Guidance — Ethical Sites at LiveReaders.com