The Catch-22 of Offering to Help
By flaursen on August 04, 2014
I was elated that dropping my daughter off at her first day of Pre-K went smoothly. She'd been "acting out" so much for the past few weeks. I guess I was distracted by my relief.
I went to a Starbucks to write, and when the woman in front of my held up her phone to the cashier and asked, "How do I get the bar code to show up?" I blurted out, "You can just shake it." She didn't look at me, but she said, "I don't LIKE to shake it. That's why I'm asking!" I stood in stunned silence then mumbled, "sorry." She said, "it's okay," but still didn't look at me.
Twenty minutes later I still feel stunned, but most of all I feel ashamed. I imagine other people can brush off these things, but immediately I feel my self-hatred flare up and start shouting in my head, "Who the hell do you think you are, you obtrusive fuck? No one asked you! No one gives a damn what you think!"
The thing is, it seems like most people want it both ways. I see on Facebook all the time people complaining they don't get enough support and simultaneously how dare people stick their noses in their business!
I do worry about butting in where I'm not wanted, but I'm more afraid of being apathetic. I, not surprisingly, have serious baggage about feeling abandoned by my parents and also guilty for not being able to stop my father from engaging in illegal activities or to cure his depression and anxiety, which ultimately resulted in his suicide. The next time you're irritated when someone offers to help, consider that they might share my "rescuing complex" or "compulsive need to help." It doesn't excuse it, but it might shed some light.
Blurting out an answer to a question directed to someone else, I can see I came off as meddling, and maybe the woman thought I was judging her for not knowing how to get the bar code to come up. Maybe she was already having a crappy morning, and I just made it a little worse.
I'm tempted to stop offering to help altogether. It would save me the pain of these confrontations. If people needed help, they'd just ask for it, right? Who DO I think I am anyway?
I am a mother, a friend, and a neighbor. I couldn't survive without all of the people in my life who help me get through parenthood, and honestly, who help me just make it to the end of the day. Isn't it still a good idea to "pay it forward" once in awhile?
I realize that a lot of it has to do with timing and approach. Things go better when I pause to assess whether this is an appropriate situation to offer help. I'm a Sagittarius though, so thinking before speaking is not my strong suit.
When I see someone juggling a bunch of stuff and usually a couple of kids, I ask, "Can I give you a hand?" or "Would you like some help?" Sometimes they say, "yes, please!" with gratitude mixed with relief. Sometimes they say, "That's okay, I got it." Either way, I'm grateful to be in community with that person for just a brief moment.
I have this Margaret Mead quote on my About page, and I really do believe it: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
So even if I get a metaphorical door slammed in my face once in a while, I'm still going to offer a helping hand now and then, even if it's just looking a person in the eyes, smiling, and expressing, "I see you. You matter. You are not alone."
How do you balance offering help without butting in?
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