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Unlocking Freedom: Reclaiming Your Energy from the Cycle of Controlling Help

Photo Credit: Ephraim Mayrena

If you’ve been giving advice to somebody over and over and over again and they never take it, this essay is for you. We do this in an effort to fix, rescue, and protect other people.

I was once told when I did this that I was “being helpful to be controlling.” I was aghast! I thought, “I’m just trying to help!”

If you find yourself saying that, it’s a clue that you also might be being helpful to be controlling. That is, you want things to be done your way. You’re “helping” so that things will go your way.

Stop it!

Here's an example of what it looks like when I’m being helpful to be controlling. I was in a group of people who needed access to a building that shifted from having door codes to keys. I volunteered to be the liaison between the building owners and the group. It was brought to my attention by one of the group members that they didn't ask for my help with the building folks.

They said I was being helpful to be controlling.

At first, I was pissed that they said that, but as I thought about it, I realized that it was true. I wanted a few things to go my way: I wanted my group to appear organized to the building owners, and I wanted to make sure my group was doing things “the right way” (i.e., Barb’s way).

I wanted them to pick up all the keys at once because I was trying to save the building people the trouble of having to interface with all those different people from my group. Meanwhile, they never asked for that. It wasn’t my place to “protect” them from having to deal with all those different parties.

One way I try to keep an eye on this behavior is by asking myself “Was I helpful to be controlling today?” in my nightly inventory. It’s very difficult for me to control this behavior of mine, but keeping it on my inventory makes it more likely that I’ll spot it. 

I’ve had decades of acting like it’s my job to be the bumper on the car of someone’s life.

You don’t have to do that. You can put the energy you’ve been putting into fixing, rescuing, saving, and protecting others into your own life. Instead of focusing on what's going on in others’ lives, you can learn to keep the focus on yourself.

As the serenity prayer says, we need “the wisdom to know the difference between what we can and cannot change.” You can't change other people, but you can change yourself. If you’re too busy working on everybody else, you won’t have any energy to change yourself!

Ironically, that’s one of the reasons we do all fixing and rescuing - to keep the focus off ourselves! That way, we don’t have to look at our own problems. There are other reasons as well. We feel like we have to help others, it doesn’t feel like a choice. That’s called a compulsion. We’ve internalized the message good people help others. And that’s true, but they don't rescue and save other people. There’s a difference between being helpful and rescuing. A good indicator of being the difference is that when you’re being just plain helpful, the other person is meeting you halfway, and you're less invested in the outcome than they are. 

One way to determine if you’re being helpful vs. rescuing someone is to ask “What are my motives?” Why are you helping them?

One of the ways I was helpful to be controlling was by trying to control what others thought of me. I wanted them to like me, think good things about me, and think I was nice. But I now know it’s not up to me what others think of me.

We’ve been told that it’s selfish to take care of ourselves. B.S.! If you want to have a well-lived life, you must take care of yourself. Stop trying to pour from an empty cup. Pour from the overflow. And the only way to have overflow is if you fill your cup first. That’s not selfish, it’s selfless. Because you’ll no longer be seeking to get your needs met by the world when you’ve met them yourself. You won’t be trying to extract love and affirmation from others when you give it to yourself.

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