How to be Helpful without Drowning in the HSP Helper’s Trap

Wanting to help others, seeking harmony, being committed to creating peace… these are prime driving forces for many HSPs. Yet, what is the best way to go about working with these driving forces?

What specifically do you think of, when you think of helping others?

Do you think of taking over and doing things for someone? Do you think of being a compassionate friend who listens to someone else? Do you think of finding ways to inspire people to be their best self? Do you think of making someone understand something?

Whatever pops for you, it probably isn’t “leading by example, by taking care of you”. How, after all, could that be helpful to anyone?

Yet, the only real proof you can offer someone that whatever you believe in works, is by demonstrating that it does by putting it into practice yourself.

This is not as easy as it sounds.

Spotting the Helper’s Trap

We all fall into the helper’s trap every now and again. We see what someone else needs to do or know, and then we try to persuade them somehow. We might do this by trying to make things easier for them, allowing them to free up some of the inner resources they need to help themselves. We might try to persuade someone by organising things for them, talking them into things etc. We might also try to persuade them by telling them that we know what we’re talking about.

More often than not, this leads to people resisting our suggestions somehow. When this happens, be aware of the tendency to push harder, and notice how this creates even more resistance from the other. Doesn’t seem to help, right?

No matter how much we believe that we practice what we preach, when others’ problems really grab our attention, it’s always because those problems relate to something inside of ourselves that is not yet resolved.  There is a big difference between someone turning to you for help, because they want you to guide them, versus you trying to convince them that they need your help somehow.

Often times, focusing all our helping efforts on others is a distraction strategy that feels empowering. We might be afraid of our own issues, or feel that we cannot resolve them. Turning to someone else, focusing on their issues -which we do believe we can solve- then provides incredible relief.

Are you (*obsessed* with) offering unwanted help?

Offering unwanted help feels a lot more empowering than confronting our own helplessness in the face of our own issues does. Furthermore, the “I want to help so much but they won’t let me” dynamic can really develop a life of its own. On top of the other person’s issue, you are now also dealing with their unwillingness to receive help. Yay, that’s another thing you can try to solve for them right there!

Meanwhile, you are literally galloping off track, further and further from your centre of power: you and your own life. This is not a bad thing. Excursions like this always serve to teach us about ourselves somehow. Whatever it is, it’s always our own issues that are getting in our way. It’s not the world at large that is keeping us from having the life we want, nor do other people need to change for things to be better as we see it.

How to make the most of the inevitable fall into the Helper’s Trap

Often times, it’s easier to see solutions when examining the life of someone else. This is good and helpful research. To then try to force the other to apply what you think you know about them is not what it’s about though. When you’ve reached your point of insight, turn around to see where you can apply this in your own life. It might just have been the missing puzzle piece you didn’t realize you were looking for all along.

Really look for similarities between this other person and you. What are the things that frustrate you most, and how does this relate to frustration about your own life? Just put the question out there, knowing that the answer will come. Chances are, that when you apply what you’ve learned to your own life, other people will become much more willing to follow your example.

Why people don’t want our advice

When it comes to receiving help, we are all like little kids observing our parents. The parents think that they know their kids well, and that they know what the kids need. Meanwhile, the kids are watching their parents to see how well those parents know themselves.

This is good scientific practice.

If something is true, then those who preach it can be expected to practice it. If they don’t, then either something fishy is going on, or they don’t really know what they say they know.

We all prefer to learn from experts. Nobody wants to be operated on by a surgeon with mere textbook knowledge. So, we are all evaluating those who want to help us, to decide whether we think they actually can help and do know what they’re talking about. We do this by looking at how they handle their own life.

This means that, in our willingness to help others, we have to be impeccable in applying our knowledge to ourselves first. Getting caught in the healing trap is a sure sign that there is something in ourselves that we are not (yet) seeing.

Putting ourself first – and how this helps others

In this way, our desire to help others needs to be practiced primarily by working through our own issues. You don’t need to prove to others that you know what you know, you need to prove it to yourself. All else follows.

Note that living like this will serve to simplify your life and empower you. It will reconnect you to your power centre. As you change, the situations and people that show up in your life will change as well.

There is an old saying that says:

We get to experience the truth of this saying each time we turn around and take a spoon of the medicine we specifically brewed to help someone else.  In my budding coaching practice, this shows up as noticing when I create a new exercise or audio for a client, and be sure to do it myself as well.

Asking ourselves for help

As HSPs, many of us are “therapists” in one way or the other (we advise, support, coach and help whether professionally or “just among friends” -both are powerful!). This means that we should never underestimate the power of the kinds of medicine that we are able to create. Being used to helping others also means however that we often need to do a little ‘side step’ to provide that same kind of supportive guidance for ourselves. Here’s a practical (and likely heard-before) way to do that:

Whenever you find yourself at a loss as to what to do, it can really help to do a little coaching role-play. With you being both the therapist and the client. If you had you as your own client / friend / person in need / etc sitting in front of you, what would you recommend? What would you ask, do or advise?

Really allow yourself to step into and feel into each role. Notice how different the “asking for help” feels from the “I know I can help”. Also notice how allowing both to be expressed is essential for giving yourself truly helpful advice!

Now, are you brave enough to take your own suggestions to heart?

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{ 3 comments }

1 Greg bush March 12, 2013

I’m looking for any videos that might educate me about my newly discovered empath , hsp. I work with cancer patients and my job is becoming too difficult to feel their pain, my therapist said I was an hsp, empath, and needed to learn to block the patients feelings…. Any help will be appreciated:)
Thanks, Greg:)

2 Caroline van Kimmenade March 30, 2013

Hi Greg, I’ve addressed this topic here.

3 Nancy May 29, 2013

I don’t know how I stumbled across your website but it is just unbelievable. Where were you 42 years ago? I just ended a 42 year relationship with a narcissist….17 year engagement, 25 year marriage. I am living proof that you can fix stupid…..and I’m not talking about him.

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