I am a dysfunctional helper. I’d rather not admit that, and yet it remains true. At some point along my journey, likely in my childhood, I learned that my sole value was how useful I could be to someone. So I learned to be useful to someone, anyone, at the detriment of my own well-being. Pair that behavior with the difficulty and shame I have associated with taking good care of myself and you’ve got a Molotov cocktail of awful. Maybe you are the same way? Do you find yourself saying yes to people when you know what you’ve said yes to will inordinately tax your well-being? Do you find yourself exhausted and resentful because the “help” you offer has turned into “doing all the work” while someone else slaps their name on the finished product? Do you feel simultaneously the desire to feel needed and imprisoned in resentment? Yeah. We are rowing in the same boat, sister.
As a child the need to feel needed amounted to being loved. Kids get love however they can since love is a fundamental part of our needs. In adulthood, this need to feel needed can mean participating in partnerships, friendships, and even business arrangements that amount to a cyclical and pathological process of trying to satisfy the fear of abandonment by feeling needed by others. The thing is; feeling needed doesn’t equal feeling loved. So we dysfunctional helpers find ourselves in an almost constant state of hunger for love. Many of us were also taught, as a feature of being groomed to be helpers, that our needs are bad. We learned that we should honor everyone else’s needs before our own. So when the need to feel loved flares up (how dare we need to be loved!) we find other ways to meet our needs. We engage in destructive eating patterns, compulsive shopping, addictions, and we make ourselves overly busy. We do these things sometimes even to the detriment of our own health and valued relationships. We reason that, “We deserve _______ because we do so much for other people.” People get into the habit of dysfunctional helping for so many reasons. Most of those reasons are, well, completely reasonable. I had two parents who, due to their own addictive histories and mental health issues, were extremely difficult to please. I learned that I had a role. My role was to obtain love from a difficult person.
I learned to be good at it and I’ve learned I don’t discriminate. I’ll befriend and fall in love with a difficult person who is unable love because they are entrenched in addiction. I’ll befriend and fall in love with a difficult person who is too lost in their own insecurity to love someone else well. I’ll befriend and fall in love with a person who requires that I provide support for them at the cost of my own emotional and physical well-being. I’ll befriend and allow relationships where the person is so unwilling to support me or ONLY supports me after they’ve used me as their emotional dumping ground (often without my permission). This is not love, friends. This is a pathological helping behavior that is informed by our belief that we don’t deserve better. We find ourselves reasoning, “At least the person does__________ (is a good father, is trying hard, is a good provider, is good in bed, is friendly, is fun, etc etc) or doesn’t do blank________ (hit me, cheat on me, leave me, etc etc).”
We do not have to live lives of bargaining to allow dysfunction to remain in our lives.
It is, however, easier said than done.