Are you an "auto-helper?"
If you instinctively help regardless if you have the time, money, or inclination to do so and end up running the to rescue for every sob story or cause which crosses your path, then you are.
Because you help automatically, you can end up getting in way over your head with the amount of assistance or money which is requested. When this happens, you'll either push yourself to the point you are financially or physically broke, or you’ll develop resentment over all you’re doing with no one assisting you.
Obviously, neither is an option which is going to allow you to continue to do the good you wish to do in the world.
I've had to (painfully) learn this lesson, and I can tell you that it's better to go through the pain of having to say no immediately than to be driven into the ground and then be forced to say no to everything because you are beyond exhausted (or quite sick) and need time to recover.
To avoid getting to this place again, I've put in place a 4-Step “Yes or No” Evaluation Method for whether or not I should get involved in a particular situation:
Step 1: Evaluate the person or cause for what it is, not what you believe it to be.
Believing in the inherent good of people and the power of second chances also means I've been blinded to a person's real intent in asking for assistance. I've also helped the same person multiple times, even though I had been burned by them before. And, I've given weeks (or years) of time to various causes, jeopardizing my own ability to make an income by putting their needs before my business’s needs.
No more. Now, when someone asks for help, I first evaluate the person or situation in black and white terms (not with rose-colored glasses). I ask these questions:
- Is this a specific situation which they need some assistance to get through?
- Or, are they the kind of person who always wants (and gets) help, but never does anything with it?
- Have I been burned before, jumping in and saving the day for this individual or cause without any assistance from them?
- If this is a cause, is it one I feel passionately about? Am I already committed to helping another cause? (I suggest choosing one—and only one—cause to help at a time.)
- Is it a legit emergency? (See #4 for determining an actual emergency, because not all emergencies are really emergencies.)
If this is a person who always asks for extraordinary help and does nothing with it, I pass. If it’s a situation where I’ve been burned before, I pass. If I’m not passionate about it or already helping another cause, I pass.
If it’s a person who just needs a little assistance to get through and will work to help themselves, I help. If it’s a cause I am passionate about and I am not already committed to something else, I help. If it is a legit emergency (see #4 on how I determine an actual emergency), I help.
Step 2: Evaluate how much time, money, and effort you are able to put in.
If this is a person or cause you determine you can help, set careful boundaries on the kind and amount of help you can offer.
First, set expectations. Simply say, “You know, I think I can help, but I need to look at my schedule to see what I can do.”
Then, sit down and figure out how much time you are willing or able to spend. Is two hours a week? An hour? Or, do you realistically not have time to give without affecting your wellbeing or income?
If you don’t have time, say no.
If you think you do have some time (or money), cut whatever amount that is in half, especially if you are an Empath (and you likely are, if you are an auto-helper). Being an Empath means you think you can do more than you realistically can; cutting in half ensures you’re more realistic about what you can do.
Communicate that amount to the person you are helping. Be very clear, and do not be dissuaded. If they try to ask for more, just keep saying, “I’ve carefully evaluated what I can do, and this is as much as I can offer. I hope that is appreciated.”
If—as so often happens—demands for time or money begin to creep upward, immediately set the boundary once again. A good thing to say is, “You know, I was looking at my schedule and realize I am really burning candles at both ends. I have to cut back the time/money I am offering across the board, so I need to go back to only doing ________ (insert whatever your original amount was).” (Or less, if you have figured out this is not a good situation for you. It’s okay to say “no,” even after you’ve said “yes.”)
Step 3: Set careful limits on what is required for your continued help.
Have you ever noticed that, upon receiving your help, some people begin to expect help, suddenly becoming seemingly incapable of helping themselves? Or how they start dumping everything on you, making no effort to help themselves?
This is what I am talking about. If you are an auto-helper trying to break this destructive habit, it’s incredibly important you continuously evaluate whether the situation is one you want to keep being involved with. If you don’t, you can get pulled into doing more...and more....and more....and more. Without constant reevaluation, it is all too easy to fall into this potential black hole without being aware it's happening—until too late.
Step 4: If it's a true emergency or a critical situation, get involved (with a caveat)
Make sure the situation is actually critical or an emergency. Since some people will make you feel everything is an emergency, let’s take a look at what an ACTUAL emergency is. Which of these would you label an emergency?
- Witnessing a car accident happen in front of you.
- Friend wanting you to drop everything to listen to the latest drama in their family.
- Mom’s best friend dies.
- Mom having a bad day.
- Someone you care about has a heart attack.
- Someone you care about who rarely takes responsibility for themselves asks you to pay their car payment or rent.
- Friend needs a ride to the hospital for stitches.
- Friend wants free business help for the business he started.
- Friend wants help setting up the house for a cocktail party.
If you said 1, 5, and 7 were emergencies, I’d say you were right. Number 3 might be an emergency, depending on the situation. The rest of them are non-emergencies and need to be treated as such, using the evaluation method above and the questions below.
So, the next time someone asks for your help and presents it as critical, take a breath and ask yourself if it’s REALLY an emergency. To decide, ask yourself these 3 questions:
- Is this life-or-death? If yes, it’s an emergency.
- Is there truly no one else (including the individual involved) who can help here?
- Would this person be in this situation if they simply planned better (this is often the case with last-minute requests for help with a work or social situation)?
- Can this person solve their own problem? If this person could work a bit harder, get a second job, sell something on eBay, hire someone, or jump in there and make the effort to dig themselves out of the situation, then it is not an emergency and you should not drop everything. In fact, you should be going back and deciding if you even should help at all.
Believe me, I get how difficult breaking this habit can be. I have struggled with it for most of my life, and I still struggle with it today. However, putting these rules into practice has helped me help myself, which allows me to keep helping those who really need and deserve it.
You have many ways you help people each day, too—it’s important that YOU have the energy to keep doing the good you do in the world as well!
Want to find out if you are a true Empath (if you are a serious auto-helper or people pleaser, it's highly likely you are!)? Take my free Empath Test and find out now!