Sunday, February 13, 2011

To the Rescue

I used to think that being a good friend meant rushing to the rescue whenever a friend needed help, offering constant support, letting the friend know that I'm always there to help - and, of course, fulfilling that promise. I would jump up in the middle of a meal, a date, or a meeting and  rush to the rescue of yet another friend who needed my help. I would spend hours discussing a friend's problems and helping look for solutions. My cell phone bills were a mile long because I always responded to my friends' need for long, comforting talks about whatever was troubling them at the time. It got to the point where I needed to find a place to hide from urgent pleas for help in order to get any work done. But at least I knew that I was a really good, loyal, supportive friend.

That is, until one of the recipients of my friendly support asked me, "Do you realize that you are only interested in people because they need your help? After they get over their problems, you don't need them any more and just lose interest." And then I realized that it was true. The only person I was really helping was myself. I enjoyed the feeling of being a strong, benevolent person who can dispense kindness to weak, pathetic people around her. It allowed me to maintain this image of myself as somebody superior to the lost, confused and problem-ridden others. It also permitted me to avoid facing my own problems. Endless discussions of other people's issues helped me entertain the illusion that the troubles of my own life were not all that significant, so there was no need (and no time, of course) to try to deal with them. 

Having based my identity on helping others, I was free from the need to create an identity that existed independently of how troubled people around me were. As a result, I started eliminating everybody who was happy from my circle of acquaintances and searching for truly miserable people in need of rescuing.

Today I'm happy to report that I'm not in the business of being anybody's savior any more. Of course, there is nothing wrong with helping people around you. However, in healthy relationships people offer and accept help equally. When one person always dispenses aid while the other is a perennial object of beneficence, it means that there is some unhealthy dynamic hidden underneath the surface of their relationship.

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