The Fine Line Between Helpful and Hurtful in Relationships
Fortunately, we live in a society in which helpfulness and kindness are fairly common values. We typically consult with our friends on our troubles, help a neighbor out and offer problem-solving assistance to our spouses, family and friends. This is a beautiful thing. However, if we are not mindful, helpfulness and advice giving can be one very small step away from the less attractive behaviors of being passive aggressive, manipulative, judgmental, attention seeking and invasive.
Here is when helpful crosses the line to hurtful:
Giving advice when not asked. Advice and assistance are great when they are asked for, but when no one is asking, they can be presumptuous and insulting.
Offering advice when it isn’t asked for implies that the other person can’t handle the situation. The discomfort that results in a relationship when this happens is very confusing to both parties because it looks like offering advice is a kind gesture but it feels like judgment.
We are quick to collude with the “victim.” Avoid taking sides and encouraging repetitive storytelling without really knowing the full story. This simply becomes two people embroiled in drama and serves to be divisive rather than healing.
You are seeking (albeit unconsciously) your own hidden agenda for approval or control. A kind gesture may actually be a desire for validation, sending the unspoken message, “Please acknowledge what a good, kind person I am. Notice me. Thank me.” Or, the message can be controlling and judgmental, silently saying, “Stop what you are doing. I don’t like it.”
Simply saying, “I love you” can have the exact same effect, energetically. If not offered from a conscious, authentic place, this beautiful sentiment can be a well-hidden, manipulative attempt to seek “I love you, too” in return. Or, it can be an attempt to control, implying, “I love you, therefore you better do x, y and z to deserve my love.”
Helping someone else is harmful to you. Even with a selfless act of kindness, if the action harms you in the process, it may end up breeding resentment and blame and may border on codependence.
Here are alternatives:
Wait for the invitation before you cast your two cents. When someone asks for your advice, it is a totally different ball game. At that point, they want your input.
Ask questions to reveal their own wisdom and problem solving ability. Asking, “Is that working out okay?” will reveal whether help is actually needed, and will give you useful information should you be asked for advice. “What are you considering doing?” reveals the possible options they have considered—often the very ones that you would have suggested.
Share your own experience. “When we were in that situation, we did this. Would that work for you?” This gives them the latitude to take the idea and run with it, and the easy opportunity to say “no” if it is not a welcome suggestion.
Show them a vote of confidence rather than solving the problem for them. “I know you will figure this out,” empowers and strengthens their resolve.
Try empathy rather than advice, “I’m so sorry you are going through such a difficult time,” is often enough said.
Trust the process. Hold the mindset that everyone is going through exactly what they need to go through for their own growth and betterment rather than that they are victims.
Aim to elevate and inspire responsibility and action rather than victimhood and dependency. Ask, “Do you need any support to do something differently?”
Check in with yourself first. Make sure when you are kind and helpful, even when asked, that it is 100% okay with you to offer that assistance regardless of any return for that investment of time, money or energy—and, regardless of whether the other person follows your guidance. If your happiness is dependent on the other person’s actions after the advice or act of kindness has been rendered, I invite you to rethink your motives.
Responsibility, authenticity and mindfulness create clear intentions and greater awareness. Be self-observant and clear about your motives. Be responsible for meeting your own needs, and loving yourself enough that you can share love and kindness without causing harm.