Help is a great thing.  We all need it and usually more often than we ask for it.  Sometimes we get it when we least expect it, sometimes it doesn’t come in the form we thought it would, sometimes it pours in so much that we are overwhelmed by it, and sometimes it comes when it isn’t needed.  Help is a great thing.  But that’s help.  Some people think that what they are offering is help when its something else: judgement, coercion, or need among others.

I’ve worked with a number of parents that lament they don’t have relationships with their children.  It’s hard to love someone and have them not want to be around you.  It cuts to the core.  However, when I start listening to the parents talk, what I get is an interesting narrative.  What they want isn’t the children they have.  They want children who fulfill a need.  They need children who act a certain way, say certain things, have certain jobs, communicate in specific ways at specific times.  They need an employee, not a child. They talk about how much they have tried to help their child to have a good life, the life the client wants them to have and this child just fights them over it tooth and nail.  The children are rarely angels either which makes things even more difficult.  But the helping isn’t actually helping, it’s judgement, it’s coercion, it’s neediness, and it’s anything other than truly loving.  The helping isn’t helping, it makes things worse.

I have clients who have spouses/significant others who they work so hard to help.  Their loved one has this problem or that, can’t see this or that about life or themselves, is always in this or that mood, makes this or that mistake, and the client just wants to help, needs to help them, is always helping them and nothing seems to get better.  Their sweetheart never sees the light.  Things are always the same or get worse, the relationship suffers, it seems distant, it’s a roller coaster and they want to know what they are supposed to learn from all this struggle and why did they pick this person. Well, there may or may not be something to learn from all  this, but the one thing to know is that the helping isn’t helping.  If helping is coming from a loving place of being present for the person, seeing them as an equal, being a good partner and supporting them through something difficult, that’s grace.  But helping coming from a place where you feel better than, more wise, more spiritual, more competent, like a teacher or a leader than a partner, that’s not helping. If help makes the person feel less than and makes them worse off than they were before, it’s not something a loved one should be offering.

So while “It’s the thought that counts” works for presents (sort of) it really doesn’t count when one is “just trying to help” unless you are a complete stranger walking into a completely new situation.  For most of us, help isn’t about horseshoes or hand grenades.  Before we just try to help, let’s first check in as to what we’re actually offering.  Are we actually supporting the person in making their life better on their terms and building up their self esteem or are we attempting to help from a need of our own?  Knowing that shines a bright light that can guide in what we really can and should do in the situation and help us figure out how.