Has Help Been Asked For?
Has Help Been Asked For?
One of Three Questions to Help End Codependency and Empower Yourself
As an Marriage and Family Therapist who often works with individuals with addictions and relationship issues, I frequently encourage my clients to use the Three Questions to Help End Codependency as a litmus test to help guide them to healthier relationships and boundaries. One small question can tell you volumes. “Have I been asked to help in this way?” If the answer is no, this is a yellow light, meaning that pausing to reflect upon your own motives and expectations can give you more clarity about what you are doing and why. It is important to be aware that you are about to act in a helping way without first being sure that the help is needed or wanted.
Long term codependency often results in becoming finely attuned to the thoughts and needs of another person. This can result in “mind reading”, or knowing what that person wants before they even have to ask or define it themselves. Sometimes, this is a beautiful sign of a close connected relationship. However, when working with codependency, I encourage people to take a step back for a period of time. I recommend formally “contracting” help or favors, especially in areas that have been tense or caused issues in the past.
Directly asking if the recipient of your “help” would like the help does two things. It empowers that person to decide if what is offered will work for them and it creates a contract between two people that can reduce misunderstandings or resentments later. Sometimes the result of this approach are surprising. People have reported being shocked when their spouse or family member declined their help or negotiated changes to the help that was offered based upon the helpee’s actual preferences. People have the potential to grow and change over time and assumptions or “mind reading” can limit this growth.
It is especially important to ask if the help or favor is wanted if you realize that you have an expectation or underlying motive associated with the “help” you are about to give. Often the expectation can be subtle such as expecting appreciation or gratitude from the helpee. If you find you are attaching a “price” to your helping act it can be a set up for feeling resentful or unappreciated later.
In many cases, gifts and help given to others unsolicited are truly altruistic. Altruistic giving is one of the beautiful things about life and relationships. However, in close relationships that have had many resentments, conflicts or significant changes, it can be worth the extra communication to formally “contract” helping activities for a period of time. “Contracting” can help us learn more about ourselves. It can also empower others to learn more about themselves.
If a long term pattern has been established of “mind reading” it helps to notify the other person ahead of time. Just knowing you are working on boundaries and will be making these changes ahead of time can help others avoid feelings of confusion or abandonment. Relationship boundaries are an art. Please remember that you can learn as much or more from helping attempts gone wrong. They are not failures. Feel free to use the Three Questions approach to examine frustrating interactions and use them as feedback afterward. Past struggles can guide us toward clearer future interactions and more knowledge of ourselves. I hope this brief explanation will be of help to you in your relational journey.