Life has been teaching me about love, sacrifice, obligation, and giving for a while now.
In my highest expression, I am a loving, giving, generous, caring person. But sometimes my helping and caring cast a shadow, either on myself or on the person I supposedly want to “help”. This subject is endlessly fascinating to me.
How do I know when I am truly helping someone? What sacrifices does love require, if any? What sacrifices does love invite us to make? And what happens when helping actually is not helping at all, but something dark that gets disguised as helping?
There are different kinds of “helping” energies:
The first kind is helping because you feel true, deep, unselfish love.
This is the way that God loves creation – without a single need, demand, or expectation. This kind of love is rare among humans. This is the kind of love that we give when thinking about the Net of Light; the Net of Light shines on all with pure love. All are supported by it, cradled by it, regardless of what they do or who they are. This love supports life in all of its forms.
Giving out of this source of endless, unselfish love feels good to both the giver and the receiver. Both parties leave the encounter feeling stronger, lighter, happier and more connected. This is the mark of true helping: it is a win-win situation that elevates both parties.
This is the kind of helping and self-sacrifice that Jesus talked about; it is the kind of helping that all spiritual masters do. There is truly no greater joy than helping in this way. Most people don’t know how to help like this, however.
The other kinds of “help” are actually manipulative self-sacrifice.
Sacrificing yourself because you feel obliged/guilty is common. A typical example is sacrificing yourself for a dominating parent or lover. You are “expected” to sacrifice for a parent or a lover, and they tell you that regularly, either subtly or overtly. So you “help” them, because you are a “helpful” or “good” person.
This kind of “helping” leads to feelings of desperation. It makes you feel trapped, angry, resentful, irritable (and sometimes anxious and confused, depending on how subtle the person is when they elicit this feeling of obligation in you).
Remedy: The more (or less) obvious they are about their expectations, the more (or less) you will see what is happening. The more clearly you see their expectations and question them, the less confused you feel and the more empowered you become. And the more choices you have, and the more dialogue becomes possible.
In the end, you can choose to not “help” in certain ways, or you can choose to perform the same “obligatory” activities but with a completely different intention – one that feels good for both you and the receiver.
Sacrificing yourself to foster dependency. This is a favorite of mothers and women in general, but men are certainly not exempt! This is a manipulative way of creating a situation where people depend on your “help” so much, you secretly hope they will stay with you forever and you won’t be alone.
This kind of “helping” stems from (and leads to) fear of abandonment, disdain for the person being helped, and rage when they don’t help you when you need their help the most. You earned payback, after all, haven’t you? Mothers, be careful of treating your children like a self-sacrifice bank account. There is no guaranteed service-payback at the end of your life.
Remedy: Have more than one supportive person in your life. Notice when you start to criticize or minimize that person’s capacities, when you see them as “impaired” or “unhealthy” or “needy” or “dysfunctional” or even “young” – that is a sign that you are “making them small” to meet your needs and assuage your own insecurities. (Of course, children are needy and young; I am talking about relationships with equals here. Your role as mom or dad is to help your children in the unselfish, responsible way outlined above, as much as you can.)
So sit down with yourself; have a cup of coffee with your fears and your loneliness. Take your attention off of the person you “help”. Instead, put the focus on yourself. Find peers, and show up when you are with them. Share about your own needs, expose your inner self to them and see if they are able get out of their needy role for a while. Ask them to help you with something non-essential. Do not ask them to help with something essential because they are not accustomed to being in the helping role with you and they are likely to let you down.
True friends and truly loving (adult) children and partners will help you when you need help. On the other hand, dependent, needy (manipulative) people masquerading as friends or freeloading adult children will gladly let you help them but they will disappear when you need them. They won’t always say no outright; they will just be “unable” to help you – they will be too poor, too unhealthy, too tired, too burned-out, too emotionally distraught, they will miss the bus, whatever.
It will be a good excuse at the time, but the action remains the same in the end. You help them but they don’t help you back, even on the rare occasions when you ask. Sooner or later the imbalance makes you feel enraged; you either become aggressive or you leave the relationship/friendship and start the same pattern with someone new.
Sacrificing yourself makes you angry, which gives you a righteous excuse to be dominant and controlling. When you let someone take advantage of you for too long, sooner or later anger shows up. The anger feels good – it’s empowering, it brings change to an unbalanced situation. It feels like a way of “evening the score” or expressing long-repressed feelings. Ultimately, you can even become the dominator, aggressor or abuser if the dynamics are right.
This kind of “angry helping” looks like justified outrage, sometimes directed at someone in particular but sometimes it looks like lashing out in general, like at the government or “kids these days” or a particular type or group of people. It’s meant to be helpful and positive, but it looks and sounds like anger and domination.
I have repeated this type of pattern with different people over the years. I listen to other people’s obsessions, they feel better for having dumped their crap on me, I give them advice (feeling superior, smug, smart and “helpful”), and then they go home, don’t change anything, and come back later with exactly the same problem or obsession. Rinse and repeat, with me getting more and more frustrated at their lack of progress and their boring same-old problems. Ultimately, I either suppress my anger until I leave the friendship (passive-aggressively) or I get more and more righteously indignant in my advice-giving.
In the first case, when I just function as the endlessly patient, kind and generous shoulder to cry on, the friend leaves feeling much relieved and I leave feeling exhausted until I can’t stand it anymore and I disappear, leaving them feeling abandoned.
In the second case, when I start getting increasingly strident and irritated by the lack of movement and being “forced” to listen to the same refrain over and over, and I give “better and better advice”, I take on the role of abuser and I start hating myself as well as feeling angry with them.
This kind of “helping” makes you feel strong and justified in the moment itself but afterwards you feel like shit about yourself, because you know deep down that you’re not being nice at all. The other person doesn’t leave the conversation feeling empowered or clearer; usually they just feel either overwhelmed, confused or depressed, even hopeless. (They feel so bleak because they gave you all the power and authority, and you were glad to take it.)
Remedy for all “helping conversations”: Never give advice, not even when asked. Don’t even say “The way I see it is…” unless you can do that without any emotional attachment. If someone asks for advice outright, counter with a question – “Well, what do you think?” Or say, “Gee, I don’t know.” (Because you don’t!)
If you have been listening for too long in one conversation or you find yourself discussing a certain uncomfortable subject too often with the same person, either simply change the subject or tell them outright that you are getting uncomfortable talking about that subject. If they can’t or won’t stop, then excuse yourself, walk away or hang up as gently as you can. DO NOT give advice, and do not encourage the conversation to continue (don’t keep listening longer than you are truly comfortable with). The whole thing is too risky. You are likely to start dominating sooner or later, even if you don’t give advice immediately or if you don’t give outright advice.
Remember, true giving/helping feels good for both the receiver and the giver. Your dominating attitude doesn’t feel good for either of you and will in fact only damage your relationship. Practice “walking away” emotionally and physically until you can stay in this kind of conversation without getting triggered and without giving any type of advice, even when asked.
Right, that was my thinking out loud about helping and self-sacrifice. I feel quite pleased with myself for figuring this out and writing it down, so if you have gotten anything out of it, it will be a win-win type of helping!
Until the next mental burp,
Golden Eagle Feather