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The Wisdom of Knowing Who, When, and How to Help - Part II

The How?

If you missed this week’s earlier blog of the same title, you might want to go here.

Today, I’m focusing on the third element of helping others: the how.

If you’ve ever tried to help a family member or a friend and it somehow just didn’t work out, you’ll agree that this aspect of helping is perhaps the most complex.

Sometimes we simply care too much. Whenever we intervene in someone else’s life, we must be careful on several fronts.

The number one rule is Do No Harm. Here are a few points worthy of consideration:

•  Interfering to the point where you are exercising power or control over the other person is harmful and will lead to resentment.

It’s important to honor the person’s right to choose how much intervention they want. It’s equally important to examine your reasons for helping. Make sure that your assistance is more about moving them forward than it is about your own agenda.

•  A helping hand should never be condescending or make the other person feel less than.

The goal is to empower the individual such that they begin to recognize their own capacity for restoration, change, and growth.

•  Remember that the person’s growth and change may look different than your expectations.

This is often our greatest challenge because we want things for others that they either don’t yet know how to get for themselves or don’t feel worthy of having. You may see more potential in them than they recognize. Encourage and offer appropriate supports, but don’t be disappointed if they don’t measure up to your expectations. Be patient and allow them to experience their own journey.

In When Helping Hurts, Corbett and Fikkert (2012) emphasize the importance of knowing how and when to help by differentiating between Relief, Rehabilitation, and Development.

While the book focuses on poverty alleviation from a global perspective, it is relevant, I believe, to how we as individuals extend a helping hand.

According to the authors, Relief requires an immediate response to a crisis-driven situation. If your brother loses his job, for instance, you might intervene by offering to pay his rent until he gets back on his feet. Relief intervention, however, is categorized as seldom, immediate, and temporary. The point is to avoid dependence.

Rehabilitation is the next level of intervention which is more about working with the individual not for them. The point here is to assist in ways that empower the person to restore their life. You are not carrying their burden for them. Rather, you are assisting them in discovering the path to restoration. From either a spiritual, economical, or psychological perspective, what is it that requires mending? What systems are in place to support that healing?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the process of Development. This is the most exciting stage because it involves ongoing discovery and sustainable change.

In this stage, the focus is on helping the individual discover their strengths or assets. What are their gifts, talents, resources? In this stage, the person moves beyond their circumstances or any sense of victimization; dignity is affirmed. The person is now empowered and positioned for greater levels of spiritual, economical, emotional, and psychological growth.

It is important to note that these stages are dynamic. As a person-in-need transitions through life, they may move in and out of these various stages depending on circumstances.

Once a person fully engages in ongoing and sustainable change over time, however, they have a greater propensity to handle whatever challenges come their way. Be careful not to hold them in their history and intervene when they no longer need your support.

I encourage you to think about the people in your life whom you are currently helping or would like to help.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it might be because you’re trying to help someone from the wrong stage at the wrong time. Maybe they need relief and you’re offering development. Or, maybe they’ve moved past the relief stage, and you’re still focusing on immediate needs.

Remember, that helping is first and foremost about building a relationship. This is really hard stuff when the person is someone we love and care about (ask me how I know this).

Listen to the need, and you will know how to respond. It’s always about the other person. Never about you. And, that’s not always easy to remember if you have a helping heart.

Q: Whom have you helped lately? What stage of assistance did you offer? How did it work out?

You may leave a comment here.

Published by Sharon Spano, Ph.D. March 7, 2014