Do They Need a Hand, or Are They “Doing Stupid?”

The article I wrote on “Not my monkey, Not my zoo” really resonated for many of my readers.  It’s our natural state to offer to help when someone is in need.  Helping each other is humanity at its best.

When someone lends a hand, everyone operates from the place of gratitude.  The person in need knows their situation will change and they come to you for help with that process.  Disaster can strike without warning, and we are all better when we step in to help.

Sometimes, though, need becomes a way of life, and they are, instead, “helpless.”  They’ve ingrained the habit of being a victim so thoroughly, they have lost the feeling of how powerful they are in creating their own life. 

They want to be rescued. 

My wise sister, the chaplain, says that’s when they’re “doing stupid.”  She knows.  She works with troubled teens and sees “doing stupid” all the time.

When someone is “doing stupid” they don’t want to expend much effort or thinking or sacrifice to improve their lot.  They blame things outside themselves for their own poor decisions.  They hide relevant facts from you and get defensive when you question them. 

They don’t change.  They don’t want to.  Being a victim is the prize.

So, how do you know?

How do you know when someone just needs a short-term lift or a swift kick?  Here are a few things to consider:

  • Question your assumptions.  Are you (or they) assuming weakness, or a lack, where there is none?  Is their asking so habitual that no one considers that they can change their circumstances if they would only look?  Question the assumption that they are too weak or helpless to help themselves.
  • Believe actions not words.  My stepdad reminded us as kids that “The road to hell was paved with good intentions.”  Intentions happen on the inside, in the brain.   Someone who asks for help wants to make it right.  They intend to make it right.  Every word out of their mouth reflects that intention.  But those of us outside their brain can only see their actions.  Pay attention to what actions follow the promises.  Actions really do speak louder than words
  • Is it private or is it a secret?  Everyone needs privacy, that’s for sure, but when relevant facts become secrets, it’s time to engage your Spidey sense.  There’s something else afoot.  A big indication that privacy has turned secret is the defensive attitude that arises when you ask for clarity.  Believe your gut on this.
  • Who stands to gain?  Look closely at their request.  Will it leave you in the lurch while they walk off with the benefit of your hard work?  Your self-sacrifice only makes you a victim too.

Bottom line, when someone comes to you for help, give yourself plenty of time to respond.  Put distance between the request and your response and do some thinking for yourself.

Are they asking for temporary help, or to be rescued?

Positive change does happen

There are two basic motivators for change:  pain avoidance and pleasure seeking. 

We avoid pain.  We leave a dreaded job to avoid pain.  We leave a bad relationship to avoid pain.  We numb out on TV or alcohol or sugar to avoid pain.  Avoiding pain does not by itself create positive change.

When your loved one is in pain and they are looking to you for rescue, that’s when the potential for “doing stupid” is strongest. 

Seeking pleasure also creates change.  A new job will give us the pleasure of new challenges.  A break from a relationship gives us the pleasure of getting to know our wants and desires more authentically.  Ditching the TV creates pleasure in new hobbies and friendships.

True long-term change never comes from a place of pain.  It comes from digging deep. 

Pain can surely push a person into that place of reflection, but the motivation for deep change comes from seeking the pleasure of living an authentic life. 

When the asker comes from an assumption of true personal power, they are willing to admit mistakes and learn from them.  They look more deeply into themselves and learn their strengths and values and begin to act from their inner core.  A little hard luck won’t stop them.

And that’s when helping is a genuine benefit to both of you.


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