“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.” ~Benjamin Disraeli
When I entered into a relationship with my ex-boyfriend four years ago, I felt I had found a kindred spirit. We met at a meditation retreat where we both volunteered in the kitchen.
I found myself touched by the sincerity of his smile and the kindness and compassion he showed to everyone as Kitchen Manager.
He had lost his leg in childhood but was never bitter, self-conscious, or self-defeated. He amazed me with his ability to be carefree and lived each day being present in the moment, which was the opposite of how I had previously lived.
He inspired me to look at life differently, to devote myself to living authentically, and to care more for my physical and spiritual self.
Soon after we met, we decided to forego having a long-distance relationship and that he would move in with me. In this new city he had no friends, no money, and no job, but we both felt the excitement of potential and we were in love.
We laughed and cried together. We talked about our hopes, fears, and dreams. We held each other close and learned how to be a “we.”
I started small in helping him: I bought him new clothes and shoes. I paid for food and didn’t charge him rent. Then I bought him a laptop and paid for joint activities and our vacations together. We agreed that it would all be temporary. He was determined to be financially independent soon.
He was grateful at first, telling me that he really appreciated everything I was doing for him, and I felt I was making a difference in his life. I saw his potential and we discussed how he would eventually build a career of his own.
Meanwhile, with his emotional support and guidance, I was living a more spiritual life than I had ever done before. I took many classes and was preparing to start my own business in body and energy work, while still holding down a full-time job in the corporate world.
We discussed that, in the near future, I would quit my day job and we would build a business together. Then a series of setbacks: his mother’s death, his need for a new prosthetic leg, and his inability to find a satisfying and financially supportive job.
I found myself feeling increasingly impatient and resentful as he became more and more emotionally distant and spent the better part of each day playing video games.
Finally, wanting to heal him of his passivity and frustration, I invested for him to take a six-month long life coaching course out of state. We reaffirmed our commitment to each other, and we both hoped that this was a new beginning.
After two months apart, he told me that he felt wonderful and hopeful and that he was back on his authentic path because of this training.
What I did not expect was that he had time to think about our relationship and had come to the conclusion that he felt trapped and obligated for everything he owed me, and was therefore no longer able to be in relationship with me.
Being with me was a constant reminder of how low he had sunk in his life and how dependent and weak he was. He didn’t like feeling as if he was a liability in someone else’s life.
I felt betrayed, angry, and hurt. Throughout our relationship, I had tried to help him by giving him everything I had to offer, but it wasn’t enough.
I had to learn that no matter how hard I tried to help him, I could not give so much of myself that I become depleted financially, emotionally, and energetically.
My lesson was to learn how to help others without compromising myself. Here’s what I’ve learned about that:
1. You can’t help someone who is not taking responsibility for helping himself.
Sometimes, no matter how much you give, the other person doesn’t seem to meet you halfway. It seems like the more you try to help them, the more they stay the same, or worse, regress.
Maybe they have become so used to your helping them that they no longer have the ability to see where they need to help themselves. Or maybe they take your helping for granted so they feel they no longer need to participate.
2. Sometimes, doing nothing is helping them.
When someone asks you for help in some tangible way or when you see the obvious need in others, especially a loved one, it’s very hard to say no. However, before you say yes, ask yourself what’s the cost to you.
Are you compromising yourself in some way that is beyond your personal boundaries? Sometimes by saying no and doing nothing, you’re giving them a chance to take responsibility for their own lives and help themselves.
3. Helping someone doesn’t mean fixing them.
Often, you think you know what is best for another person, but you don’t truly know what is for their highest good or what life has in store for them. They are in a situation because they need to learn some spiritual or life lessons.
You can’t shortchange their learning process, no matter how hard you try to help them, if they’re not in the right place and time to learn those lessons.
4. You can help by accepting them as and where they are.
We all have judgments about ourselves and others. However, helping means accepting the other person as they are and where they are on their life’s path.
It can be excruciatingly painful to sit by and watch the other person self-destruct or seemingly do nothing to help themselves, but maybe this is what they need right now in order to become more aware in themselves.
5. Don’t be attached to the outcome of your helping.
You may have expectations of what someone would become and what they’d do with their lives once you help them. You want to see this person feel better, be happier, healthier, and make better life decisions.
However, it’s not up to you to put intention in the other person’s space. What’s good for them may not be what you expect, and you might not like or agree with the outcome. Let go of attachment to your own ego and your own vision of what the other person will become once they’re helped.
6. Send loving, compassionate intention.
Know that your intention to help another person, when it’s from a place of neutrality, love, and compassion, will always be helpful, whether or not you feel you’re doing enough. Just having the intention to help and sending your peaceful, loving energy to the other person and their situation is sometimes the best thing to do.
Thoughts have energy, so even if you just send compassionate thoughts to the other person, you are doing something to help.
Other people are often mirrors for our own growth. Wanting to heal others is a way of being aware of what we want to heal within ourselves. By being lovingly compassionate and accepting of ourselves and our boundaries, we can not only help others, but we can also help ourselves.