A Malfunction of our Desire to Help?
by Jayne Johnson
In 1996 I had the privilege of attending a seminar presented by Robert Kiyosaki, author of the current best-sellers Rich Dad, Poor Dad, CashFlow Quadrant, Rich Dad’s Guide to Investing, Rich Kid, Smart Kid and the newly-released, Rich Dad’s Prophecy. Robert entitled his 1996 seminar, “Are You a Lover or a Liar?” The topic was Co-dependency.
Co-dependency is a word that has been bandied about for years now. The following are some definitions that came up during that seminar:
- Mistaking someone else for yourself.
- Believing you’re not whole without another person.
- Allowing someone else’s opinions to run your life and then hating them for it.
- Considering that someone else’s needs and wants are are more important than your own.
- Stopping the natural process of perturbation of another because it’s too uncomfortable for you.
- Caring so much about what people think of you that lying seems like the best option.
- Agreeing with a person that he or she is helpless.
These descriptions of co-dependency are insightful and accurate. I imagine we’ve all done one or more of them, at one time or another. It’s all a matter of degree.
Co-dependency is an extreme in which you do for another to such an extent that it is a sacrifice or loss for you.
My feeling is that co-dependency is, more than anything else, a malfunction of a human being’s deepest desire: to help anyone who is suffering. We don’t like to see it, read about it or hear about it. When we are aware of it, we want to do something about it. In other words, we want to HELP.
But when you help someone to the point where you are losing, then you become the victim. That is WIN/LOSE, at best; at worst, it’s LOSE/LOSE because, even when we do all we can to help someone, the result is not always totally successful.
So the question then becomes, how do you help other people, using a WIN/WIN context? How do you support another person in realizing that they are able, that they can do it?
The first step is understanding the concepts of co-dependency. In addition to the basic ideas listed above, there are numerous books on the subject, and of course a search on the Internet will provide you with a wealth of information.
When you understand co-dependency, the next step is to determine if it applies to you personally. This requires that you be able to first tell yourself the truth. Do you give up your own happiness and well-being so others can be satisfied? Do you crave approval? Do you play the martyr and suffer gallantly? Do you need to be needed? Do you have a lack of trust in other people’s abilities? Are you addicted to struggling? Are you “too kind”? Do you think it is selfish to take care of yourself?
Make an honest evaluation of yourself and then correct – make appropriate changes in your own way of operating. Now you have helped yourself. So how do you help others in a WIN/WIN way? Some suggestions follow:
1. Avoid giving sympathy to someone who is suffering. The word sympathy comes from pathos, emotion + sym, together, which loosely translated means “feeling together.” If you sympathize with someone else, it means that you are suffering along with them. That’s not help. No one benefits if both people are drowning. So, to be the most helpful, understand how they feel but don’t feel what they feel.
2. Actively listen to the person in need. Don’t throw advice back at them or cheery encouragements. You may be right but it usually doesn’t help. Just listen, and when they are done communicating, simply say, “I understand.”
3. You could then ask them to remember times they were successful; times when things went right. Again, just listen – no comments or feedback. These positive memories will remind them of all the good times in their lives. This restores their confidence and they’ll soon realize it’s not hopeless after all!
4. Finally, don’t buy into the drama or the story. Instead see them as the perfect Beings they truly are. In other words, lead the way for them to see it too.