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When Helping Isn’t Helping

I’ve tried to synthesize these thoughts many times before. They often end up as a garbled mess, not suitable for anyone’s eyes but my own.

But I’m trying again… because there is something too powerful in this to ignore.

A week ago Nathan and I got into an argument. A whopper of an argument.

You get the drift…

Now fights don’t bug me all too much. I know healthy tension is a thing. I know growth requires elements of conflict from time to time. But this particular argument pushed both of us more than any before. We are both passionate, but are usually pretty mild mannered together, but we dropped most of our mild mannerdness in this particular heated discussion.

Now why am I telling you this?

Well one, if you have any tendency to think my fairytale love story has never been difficult then I can lay that thought to rest for you. But for two, because what I learned during this argument was the cherry on the thought process that I’ve been exploring for months.

You see, one of the catalysts for this particular argument was my penchant for “helpfulness”. I had been trying to “help” Nathan by putting some things together for a short road trip he had with the kids, and giving him my suggestions on the things that would most help him during this endeavor. And he totally rejected my helpfulness, which led to… well… that whopper of an argument I mentioned…

Now, there are a ton of details it isn’t worth going into at the moment… and both of us had a part to play in how something so little could get so big so quickly… but I can only speak to my personal part of the argument.

I think I’m friends with a lot of “helpful” people. I think many moms and entrepreneurs can fall in this category, and well, I’ve got lots of you on my feed. We drop our help all over the place. Tips on mommy groups, supporting our children in their newest endeavors, coaching our team mates in business. We are helpers!

Many times this helpfulness is truly that… helpful. But, unfortunately, often this helpfulness can be something else altogether.

We can find our identity in our helpfulness. We can bolster our own self image by continually pushing to create value in lives around us. Creating value is not bad at all. But the motivation behind that value creation can be something altogether different.

If you regularly feel burned out because of everything you are doing for everyone else… I hate to break it to you… but you may not actually be a helpful person. I wasn’t. Truly, in those moments of burn out I was not being helpful. I was trying to earn my identity. I was hoping I would be so helpful that people would meet my needs.

I was petrified of meeting my own needs. Of being selfish and self focused. I could hardly acknowledge I had needs, forget meeting them. So, when I was “helpful” to others when I felt completely burned out myself, it was rarely selfless. Often it was in hopes that I would prove myself valuable and then someone would reach out and ask what I needed.

This showed up very strongly during that fight with Nathan. My need to be helpful, to prove that I could be of service, backfired. And it is because my hubby can see through motives like no body’s business. He could see I was covering my own needs under the guise of caring for his. And, he was gonna call that crap out.

I hate to say that sometimes we call those who call out our crap narcissists when they aren’t. Us overly helpful people also like to be martyrs sometimes. And we can be massively blind to our own motives. We are well practiced at stuffing our needs and hoping others fill them. If you have someone truly caring in your life that calls you out on this… don’t shoo them away and call them a narcissist. Eat crow and thank them for caring enough to keep you from wallowing in your self imposed martyrdom.

In short, be helpful when your motivation is to serve and love. But, if you are really in need of something, stop for a moment and put your own oxygen mask on. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that becoming more “helpful” will get your needs met. It won’t. And it will just make others feel used, not “helped”.

Have you ever seen the helper martyrdom show up in your life???