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  • Writer's picturegauri nadkarni choudhary

The helping hand and its side effects

A helping hand it is believed is God’s way of making his presence known. All of us when, distressed need a comforting and helping hand to smooth over our troubles. The need for comforting and the feeling of being protected are among the basic human needs.

Despite it being one of our basic emotional needs, how many of us really know how to extend a helping hand? How many of us can help a person without committing a faux pas and making that person feel even worse at the end of it? Does our intention to help solve its purpose or does it have any side effects? Do we offer a flower with a bee in it?

  • The Master of the universe side effect: Often in our bargain to help someone, we end up trying to take over their position and fight their battles, almost pushing them to the side. A young housewife asked her more experienced friend for some recipes to cook a meal for a party and the well-meaning friend cooked the entire thing and sent it over. Was it a helping hand? Well yes, but certainly not the desired one. The young girl wanted a different kind of help. Another young man just took over the financial planning of his recently widowed mother. It was a well-intentioned helping hand but it did not solve the larger purpose of making his mother independent and self-reliant. More often than not we think that solving the other person’s problem is the best way to help them. That would however, be like a teacher doing all the studying for her student. The end result is the person doesn’t learn anything. One of the goals of helping someone is to make them self-reliant so that the next time they are in trouble they would know what to do.

  • The Dictator side effect: We tend to help someone assuming that we are in the best position to understand their problem situation. Such friends tend to just decide what is best for you and plan out your entire life. Not only do they feel that they have understood your problem perfectly but also that they have the perfect solution. A young woman suffering from depression had one such friend. The friend believed that the depression was due to unhealthy diet and put her friend on a ‘happy diet’ and ensured what and when to eat. Another believed that the only way his friend could get over his loss of employment was to socialize more and enforced the friend to go out every night. He even had the entire friend circle enlisted, so that the poor boy was never left alone. Unfortunately, we don’t make an effort to listen to what the person actually wants and just decide what is best for them. Helping someone is more beneficial when it is what they want than what is forced upon them.

  • The belittling side effect: Some friends assume that helping someone involves making them feel responsible (guilty) about being in a problem situation. Their help starts with blaming the person who has a problem. Imagine telling someone who is sick that it is all because of their lifestyle. While this may be true to an extent, it is not something that the person probably wants to hear at that point of time. Blaming the person will just pull him or her down further. I agree it is important to analyses the cause of the problem but that is different than outright blaming the person. The person is more likely to accept something when it comes as a suggestion and not as a blame.

  • The magic wand side effect: One of the worst statements we make while helping someone is to say “everything will be fine”, without even knowing the true facts. Sometimes giving false hopes can be more damaging than anything else. Sometimes in some situation ‘everything’ does not become fine. Yes, a person learns to adjust or some aspects of life may get back to fine. If you really want to comfort a friend, help them accept that not everything will be fine and not everything will get better, but you will stand by them and help them cope.

  • The reverse gear side effect: Sometimes a well-meaning help can make the person feel worse only because it was put across incorrectly without a thought that it could be misinterpreted. A well-meaning friend of a woman whose husband was having an affair suggested a complete makeover for her. She spoke about how the woman needed to dress better, change her hairstyle, wear makeup, and in short ‘look pretty’. The poor woman ended up feeling that the reason her husband was having an affair was because she was not pretty enough. A young boy writing exams was given multiple options of what else he could do if he didn’t do well enough. Sometimes the intention might be right but it misses the point all together and sets the person in reverse. They end up feeling worse than where they started.

  • The superhero side effect: Then there is a friend who has seen it all and been through worse. He often brags about his miserable life and makes you feel like your problems are nothing compared to his. Having such a friend would help if they could actually guide you and suggest a way to deal with your problem based on their experiences. Instead they focus on their problems. Imagine visiting someone in a hospital and giving morbid details of some illness which was worse. Or talking to a person scared of flying about how you sat through a horrible turbulence. The poor soul would end up feeling even more terrified. You might have been through the life threatening illness but the person you are trying to help needs you to focus on fixing his fever.

  • The instant solution side effect: In the world of ‘ready to’ we often end up offering instant solutions to our friend’s problems. Sometimes we do not even want to listen to the full story because we are already ready with the solution. Sometimes the person may not even want or need a solution; they might just want a patient listening ear.

If you wish to help someone wear their shoes, don’t force them to wear yours.

A helping hand is God’s hand, let’s not taint it with side effects.

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