Helping Without Hurting Yourself
by Wally Johnston (c) 2013
We have all seen them. They stand on the corner with very creative cardboard signs: “Will work for food”; “Anything would help. “ A friend said they saw a young man, maybe thirty years of age, standing on a corner with this sign: “Need help: Homeless Vietnam Vet.” I don’t think so!
How we help others affects relationships, whether we are talking about a stranger with a sign or a family member. Sometimes our helping enables the dysfunction in another’s life. They don’t have to take care of themselves when they have others who fill that role.
The first step in helping others is to set personal boundaries. One of the best definitions I found is in the book,BOUNDARIES, by Townsend & Cloud:
“Any confusion of responsibility and ownership in our lives is a problem of boundaries. Just as homeowners set physical property lines around their land we need to set mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries for our lives to help us distinguish what is our responsibility and what isn’t” (p. 25)
People with healthy boundaries know how to say “no.” Someone with poor boundaries nearly always says “yes,” even if they don’t want to, leading to resentment. This is illustrated by a mother of two small children. As she and her kids are finishing breakfast, her mother calls.
“I need you to take me to the store right away, “she says in a demanding voice.
“Well Mom, I promised the kids I would take them to the park after breakfast.”
“Can’t you take them later? I need to go right anyway, “mom says in a demanding voice.
“Okay,” she says reluctantly.
As she hangs up the phone she can feel the resentment building.
This doesn’t go over very well at home or at work. We need to lovingly draw the line that we won’t cross in order to avoid getting sucked into someone else’s problem.
Ask yourself, “Is there any relationship in my life where I feel resentful?” If yes, you may have said “yes” too many times.
General boundary tips:
• Know how you expect to be treated, and be clear about it to others.
• Don’t feel you have to offer explanations for your boundaries.
• Be respectful, thoughtful, and responsible when setting boundaries.
• If you want others to respect your boundaries you must respect theirs, even if you don’t agree with them.
Back to the sign holder along the road: It is probably best to say “No” to monetary requests. Perhaps you can have some restaurant gift cards in your car, or a non-perishable lunch to give them. It’s always good to say a healthy “yes” after saying “no.” It lets others know you care about them but want to help that is healthy and more comfortable.
By the way, if you see me beside the road holding a sign, please don’t give me a lunch meat sandwich. I’m a vegetarian!