Help that helps - and help that doesn't help

Who I am
Robert Maurer

Author and references

There is a kind of help that really helps, it takes us out of the quagmire in which we have sunk more or less consciously and prevents us from touching the bottom emotionally. And there is another help that does not help us, which can sink us even deeper, even if it seems paradoxical or difficult to understand. Differentiating one from the other will allow us to seek and give appropriate help.

The 3 types of help that don't help

1. Aid imposed or anticipated

Yes, there is help imposed from outside, unwanted help which, although it may be accompanied by good intentions, does not always lead to good results. For help to be effective, it is important that the person recognizes that they have a problem and that they need help to solve it.

Without awareness of the problem, the help we give is very likely to fall on deaf ears. This type of aid can be used to close a hole, but it does not prevent new and larger ones from forming.

Recognizing that we have a problem and need help to deal with it implies that we have reflected on the circumstances and have carried out a process of introspection relating to our psychological resources. Sometimes, preventing the person from going through this process by offering them early help means taking away an essential part of the learning they need, without which they will face the same problem again in the future.

2. Excessive or limiting help

Yes, there is also too much help. Help is excessive when it is limiting, when instead of facilitating the person's development it limits it. Helicopter parents, for example, who try to anticipate their children's problems and solve them for them, give too much help that is limiting.

The help is excessive when it goes beyond what is necessary and, by dint of taking the weight off the shoulders of the other, it also eliminates the responsibility of the person with the situation he is going through and with his own personal growth. Often this help involves seeing others as vulnerable children unable to fend for themselves, seeing themselves as 'saviors'.

This help is limiting because, on the one hand, it prevents the person from developing his or her skills to solve conflicts and problems and, on the other hand, it prevents him from taking responsibility for his own decisions.

3. Decontextualized help

In any situation that requires help, at least two people are involved, which means that help always involves a more or less explicit "negotiation" process. One person experiences a need or a lack and another tries to help him. The problem is that sometimes the person trying to help doesn't understand - or doesn't want to understand - the best way to do it.

In decontextualized help, the person who needs help is ready to receive and take advantage of the help, but the one who is not ready to help is the very person who has to give the help. Therefore, this person ends up offering unnecessary help that does not solve the problem.

In many cases, behind this type of help lies the idea that the other does not know what he really needs, so that the person does not do what he was asked to do but something else. For example, a daughter asks her mother to help her find caterers for her wedding, but the mother decides to go one step further and hires a company of her own. In this way, not only has it not helped the daughter, but it has created a problem because if the couple does not like her chosen company, they will have to withdraw from the contract, which adds to a list of problems that is already long enough.

The 5 conditions for the help to be really useful

1. Help that makes you think. The really valuable help is what makes us reflect on the problem, look for its causes, learn the lesson and never make the same mistakes again. It is a mature analysis process that allows us to grow.

2. Constructive help. Helping is not giving a man a fish when he is hungry, but teaching him to fish. Therefore, beneficial help allows us to develop our skills or learn something new.

3. Help that takes into account individuality. The help that really helps takes into account the other, puts itself in his place and tries to understand what is the best way to give him a hand, based on his characteristics and circumstances.

4. Help that comes at the right time. Neither too soon nor too late, the most effective help is that which arrives at the right time, so that it can be appreciated in all its breadth.

5. The help that strengthens. When someone solves problems for us, even if they take away a burden, they will always leave a bitter taste in our mouth. Valuable help, on the other hand, strengthens us and gives us confidence because it is a process through which we grow and take an active role in the solution.

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