Our desire to be helpful can be one of the greatest gifts we have as humans. Raising two children, I believe our compulsion starts at a very young age. It is a basic need to be useful and have purpose in our lives. We feel compassion for others when they struggle, and we want to ease their suffering. There is something so simple yet profoundly powerful about this. It’s one of the best things about being human.
However, too often this simplicity becomes quickly complicated by our layers of experience and limiting beliefs. We all have a deep need to be seen, loved and appreciated, and when we haven’t felt that, our motivations become muddied.
Some of us begin to see that when we help, we are praised and loved. And that can be the only time we receive that. So we begin offering help, but what we’re really asking for is connection.
Some of us feel disempowered in our life, and offering advice or “help” is one of the ways we feel smart/powerful/useful. What we’re really looking for is a way to love ourselves.
Some of us are so uncomfortable with our own pain and suffering that we’re carrying, we can’t bear to witness it in another. We quickly jump in with whatever we can just to feel as if we are doing something. What we are really doing is avoiding our own work.
We all have reasons for wanting to help. And I believe underneath all the layers, it comes from a deep, human compassion that we carry for one another. However, our “good intentions” can be quite harmful if we don’t look at our other layers of motivation. We need to pause before we offer our words, and take a moment.
We need to listen. Truly listen. Not with a desire to respond, but with a desire to understand and feel what this person is expressing.
A step beyond listening is holding space. This comes from enough inner work with our own discomfort, that we can allow the suffering of another with compassion. There is no rushing in when we hold space. We listen, yes, but we also allow our energy to be big enough, and loving enough, that the other person feels so safe that they can work through what they need to work through on their own (which is always so much more powerful than being told).
“What do you need from me right now?” Instead of deciding for them what is needed, we allow them to communicate their needs to us. If they are unable to, gentle asking their consent (“would _________ be useful?”) before unloading our “knowledge” is a good way to honor their boundaries and truly tuning into where they are.
Recognize our need to do.
For many of us, we have a compulsion to DO something. Recognize this, and then ask ourselves what we can do that would not be harmful. One of the best solutions I have come up with when I find myself in this situation is Loving Kindness meditation. Bringing loving energy from the heart and visualizing that love extending to the other person allows us to feel useful, while honoring the other’s space and energy.
We all need to keep caring right now. Our communities are so precious. Looking deeper at our own motivations to ease the suffering we witness, we can then harness our energy towards actions of compassion and real change.