Stop Helping So Damn Much

“Our help is usually not very helpful. Our help is often toxic. And help is the sunny side of control. Stop helping so much. Don’t get your help and goodness all over everybody.”

— Anne Lamott

I heard something last week, and I can’t get it out of my head. It was one of those moments when you are told an ugly truth about yourself, one had denied so long you weren’t aware of anymore, one you are embarrassed to find you hadn’t concealed at all as well as you thought. Everyone knows your ugly truth but thought it better not to tell you and to let you go on making a fool of yourself.

That was something like that feeling that I felt in the middle of Anne Lamott’s 2017 Ted Talk, 12 Truths, in which she casually advises us all to stop helping so much. Our help, she says, isn’t as helpful as we think it is and our help is often toxic and nothing but a nicer way of controlling the world around us.

As soon as she said it I knew I was one of those chronic helpers Lamott is talking about. I want to help everyone all the time with everything. The more I love you, the more I want to help you. I tell myself I’m helping, but maybe, probably, I just want to control the people around me.

Looking back I can see that there have been many times when I forced my help on others, even when it wasn’t needed, wanted, or constructive. There were many times when my help may have been toxic and all I was doing was controlling the lives of others. I told myself I was doing the right thing, the best thing, the helpful thing, but I wasn’t.

Helping is a form of manipulation and, here is the real secret, manipulating people is a thing I struggle not to do.

I’m ashamed to have written that line. It feels like admitting a truth I am trying to convince myself is a lie. It’s admitting that I am a bad person. I swear I have the best intentions, but I also have little patience for people learning their own lessons and failing on their own. I know better than them and if only they would do things the way I say they would be better. We would be better. I would be needed, wanted, appreciated, helpful.

I would be good.

And that’s it, I just want to feel like a good person. I want to feel like a better, smarter, and more powerful person. I want to be good enough to be in charge. I want people to look to me when they don’t know what to do. I want to be wanted and respected, and this is the way I have chosen to get that and to live with myself too, by helping.

I feel bad for wanting that, and for some of the actions I have taken to feel it but here’s the thing, at the same time Anne Lamott was placing a mirror in front of me, she was also letting me know that I was not the only one who needed to hear this. I’m not the only one who needs to stop and examine what they were doing. She hadn’t said, “Lisa, you need to stop helping because you are toxic.” She said we all needed to stop helping because we were all too controlling and toxic. We all have a problem with manipulation.

It’s human to want to control the world around us and all the people in it. Being in control is comforting and being needed gives us purpose. But at the same time, we feel bad for wanting those things. We know it’s wrong, and futile, to try to control others. We also know that we have to give people space to live their lives and learn their own lessons. But we want what we want, so, we do what humans are good at, we play a few mental gymnastics, make a few good excuses, and tell ourselves that for this reason or that whatever we’re doing is the right thing to do.

We split ourselves off from what who we want to be and who we really are. We disconnect and deny the distance the two. We can’t see that we are not always good and we are not always doing the right thing.

I can be controlling, and I sometimes nag, and whine, and manipulate people into doing what I want the way I want it done but who doesn’t? Who hasn’t tried to keep people close and safe by making ourselves indispensable? Who hasn’t tried to make sense of the world by forcing our beliefs and our way of life on others? Who hasn’t, out of love and fear, employed less than honorable tactics to “help.”

Being a person is scary. Caring about people is scary. Feeling unimportant and unneeded scary. It is normal to try to keep people safe and close and to control the way they see us, but it isn’t always right. That is a truth that has to be confronted if you want to get better.

So this week, try not helping so much or try helping in ways that don’t put you at the center of the problem. Just listen. Just learn. Try taking a step back and letting people be the solution in their own lives. Let people walk their own paths, and you just focus on walking yours.

It’s why we are all here after all.

P.S. Here is Anne Lamott’s entire beautiful, inspirational, bittersweet Ted Talk:

***

If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for more inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Featured image via Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

Ask For Help, and Keep on Asking Until You Get It

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know I know, Mondays aren’t happy. Mondays are for being tired, and grouchy, and remembering all the things you don’t like about your life. Mondays are for wanting nothing more than to crawl back into bed and escaping the world.

But, let’s try something different. Let’s imagine that Mondays are the days when we get to start all over again. Let’s imagine all the bad things that happened last week don’t matter anymore and that we’ve been given a second chance to do it all again, and this time, we might even get it right.

From now on Monday’s are for making the changes we want to see in ourselves, and for thinking about the changes we want to see in the world. Monday’s are our new favorite days!

As for me, this Monday is a bit stressful, but I am proud of myself for keeping a cool head. My driver showed up half an hour late, which means not only were we late picking up our kids, and the parent was mad, but everything else I had to do today has been pushed back too. I am doing my best to catch up, but I fear it may be a lost cause. I’ll be late to everything until lunch.

“It’s never overreacting to ask for what you want and need.”

— Amy Poehler

My childhood wasn’t a particularly good one, and I have grown into an adult who struggles with depression and anxiety, and more specifically issues with boundaries, trust, and relationships of all kinds.

I do not like to be close to people, emotionally or physically. I fear there is always an ulterior motive, even with friends and family. I have a perpetually feeling of embarrassment and confusion around social norms and etiquette. I feel ashamed and afraid most of the time, and I am sad nearly all of the time. I suffer from panic attacks and bouts of depression, flashing rage, and uncontrollable crying. In my own mind, I am worthless, weak, ugly, dirty, and pathetic. I am a failure and a waste of space.

Some days I feel like I am swimming upstream and close to drowning. Some days just getting out of bed, and putting one foot in front of the other is the very best I can do.

There have been days where I wondered whether it might be better for everyone if I were to never wake up again.

I’ve had some therapy, but for most of my life I couldn’t afford it, so I’ve taken the unsure and unstable route of “self-help.” I have improved a lot through self-awareness, honesty, and forgiveness. I still think all the things I always have, but now I recognize them for what they are, symptoms of my past.

 

Getting there has been a lot of hard work, but it all started with one very small, but very big, step. Simply telling myself, and everyone around me, exactly what I needed.

I may need to be heard, be hugged, or be left alone. I may need to hear that I am understood, forgiven, and loved. Maybe need to be told what I am feeling is okay and I may need to be given the space to feel it. Maybe I need someone to hold my hand. I might need to gather my thoughts, to get away, to figure out how I feel. I might need to feel needed. I might just need food, medication, or water.

I might need help, and that is okay.

We live in a society that tells us to be strong we must hold our own. We are told that needed help is weakness and asking for help is something to feel shame for. It is so deeply a part of who we are now, especially as Americans, that I still have trouble asking for help and I still have thought that those who asked were weak. It’s a lesson I have to keep learning, and I wish more of us were learning it too.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but one of strength. You have found it in yourself to reach out toward another human being and trust them to hear you and help you. It’s scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Each of us would love to help a friend who needed us and each of us would love to be helped too. To feel needed, understood, and cared for are all feelings we are looking for, no matter what our mental health status. We crave that closeness, and long to be that vulnerable.

Being open about my needs, and asking for help, helped me build relationships and learn to trust. It helped me recognize the ways I was hurting myself by not getting what I needed and allowed others to feel close to me and show their love. It gave me a chance to feel in control of my mental state. It gave me the chance to learn to cope and to heal. Asking for help opened to door for me to be able to do everything else I needed to do to get to where I am: happier, healthier, and functioning. I could never have made it this far with the help of others. None of us can.

This week, tell yourself, and a few people you trust, what you need.

There is a lot more to healing and coping with mental illness, but it all starts with the act of openness and asking. Ask for help, ask for what you need, and keep on asking until you get it, and then ask again whenever the need arises. Offer help when you can and let everyone you know hear that it is okay to do the same.

The world needs so much more of that.

***

If you like this post, consider signing up for my newsletter :)

Featured image via Unsplash

 

Be Useful

Hello, dear readers and happy Monday! I know I know, Mondays aren’t supposed to be good days, but let’s imagine for a moment that they are. Let’s imagine that Mondays are the days when we get to start all over again. Let’s imagine all the bad things that happened last week don’t matter anymore and that we’ve been given a second chance to do it all right again. If that were the case wouldn’t you be a bit more excited about Mondays?

Yes, you would, so let’s make that dream a reality. Treat this Monday as your big chance to get out there and get some shit done!

So far, for me, this Monday has been a busy one. We are just days from the regular school year starting and things are a little chaotic and crazy at work. I’m doing my best to stay out of the way and out of the fray. All in all, I feel good today, though. I slept better than usual, and I have had my smoothie, my matcha, and lost of water.

Two so simple words that are so easy to forget. Every day when I wake up I try to remind myself of just that: Be Useful.

Tobias van Schneider

Lately, and I guess my whole life, I have struggled to find a direction. Writing has helped but even in writing I find I am flailing around, trying desperately to find a purpose and a direction. I know I love people, and I know I want to reveal some truth about myself and all people, but I don’t know how. I know that I love people, and I want to help other people love and care about others too, but I don’t always know how.  I know that I want to share my story because it helps other people who feel alone, but I don’t always know how.

I don’t know how to connect to people or how to move forward to a place where I feel like I am accomplishing my goals and expressing myself.

Make a habit of two things: to help; or at least to do no harm.

— Hippocrates

When I boil it all down, I guess I just want to make the world a better place. I want to leave it in better condition than I found it and with that in mind I set out to learn as much as I could about the world and the people in it. To find out why they do what they do, and try to change their perspectives, since I probably can’t change their circumstances.

So I have become an amateur philosopher, someone who is always learning and always thinking, and who seeks to help those looking for it. I do my best to help, or I do nothing, so I do not make anything worse or harder.

This blog is an attempt to do something—rather than nothing—but I’m not always sure what that something is. So this week, I’m doing my best to remember what it was I set out to do, to help people. I am working on a new editorial calendar and with every idea, I ask myself, is this useful in some way? If it isn’t, can I transform it into something that is?

In all things, we do we should ask ourselves if it helps someone somewhere. It’s ok if the thing is only useful to you. We are all here to help ourselves too, right?

This week, try to be of some use. Give all your actions and interests purpose. Give yourself direction and give your name a meaning. Make it so that where ever you are and whatever you are doing you are an asset to those around you. Make it so that you are a person people look to for help, guidance, and direction.

I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all, to matter and to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.

— Leo Rosten

***

If you like this post, consider signing up for my newsletter. You’ll get this list, plus a bit of experimental writing from me—something more emotional, more private—all made with lots of love, every week ♥

Featured image via Unsplash

We All Need Help Sometimes, and That’s Okay!

Asking for help isn’t easy for most people. We all want to feel like we can do things on our own and asking for help makes us feel like we have failed. Asking for help means we aren’t independent, we aren’t smart, it means we are weak. At least that’s what we are taught. This is what society tells us.

I am here to tell you that is bullshit.

I have never had much trouble asking for help. I think any task can be made easier when the load is shared by many rather than one. On the flip-side I am always willing to help others too. I can’t ask for my load to be shared while being unwilling to help carry the load of those around me.

Imagine if everyone in the world felt free to ask for help and in return was willing to help others when asked. Think about how much less stressful life would be if there was always help available, all you had to do was ask?

We humans are not solitary creatures. We are meant to live in communities where the work is spread out among the entire group. We are a little like ants in a colony, working together to do more than any one person could on their own. Yes it comes with some sacrifice.

We lose our independence and part of our identity is wrapped up in the community. We open ourselves up to being exploited by selfish members of the group. We must follow the rules to keep our communities cohesive, even if we don’t agree with the rules.

I would argue that the benefits can outweigh the costs. If we would stop fighting our nature and just help one another without judgement life could be so much more enjoyable. Not only that but if we would learn to ask for, and accept, help from others in our communities.

Helping each other and accepting help in return builds connections and relationships. Connecting and building relationships feels better, and does more for our well-being, than pretending we are each an island unto ourselves. We are not meant to carry the heavy load of life all on our own. We are meant to share it, and walk lighter, and further, together.

Free writing in response to The Daily Post prompt, I Am a Rock.