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Help that empowers, not disempowers: a new way forward

Lately I've been seeing posts, articles and messages about the "downsides" of offering people help. Since I'm in the business of "helping people" my curiosity was, naturally, triggered. And I decided to put my 2 cents in about this topic...

The way I see it, there are 2 sides to it.

When you try to help, or even save someone, because you see them struggling and want to offer them a way out, chances are this might be actually disempowering them. It's like giving someone a meal without teaching them how to cook.

We all go through challenges and difficult times. Often, we learn from them. So, by offering help (too soon), you might be robbing somebody of that learning experience. Also, that person will always feel more confident if they had the chance to deal with the situation on their own.

Also, you might want to think about the intention behind you offering your help. Could it be because it's hard for you to see their misery? Then your desire to help them might come from you feeling uncomfortable with somebody else's life experience. This, actually, is a bit selfish.

On top of that, by offering help to people who didn't ask for it, it's like you're assuming that they are not capable of coping with that situation and that you know better... This literally takes away somebody's power. They will probably feel small, belittled, inadequate, and dependent.

It is also mentioned that offering help in and of itself sounds like you have all the answers. And that it might be better to offer your support instead. It's "just" semantics, but words hold power, so exchanging these two words might actually be beneficial.

I strongly believe that people are capable of figuring out and bouncing back from problems and adversity by themselves. That we all have the answers within and that the Universe has a way of helping us out. But I also know, that, for most people, this is a very long (sometimes several lifetimes) process with a lot of, in my opinion, unnecessary suffering. It's like expecting people to discover the wheel all over again all by themselves.

And, by the way, people are pre-eminently social creatures. We all need each other. There's nothing shameful or disempowering about that. We've always lived in communities and cared for one another. The saying goes "there's safety in numbers" for a reason. Or how about this one: "alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much” (Helen Keller).

But we've become a highly individualized society and a lot of people have trouble asking for help. They've come to see it as a weakness. And, as I said before, while it's always a good idea to try to overcome things on your own, it's equally powerful and to know when to ask for help. It's an act of self-compassion, if you ask me. And that shows a positive self-image and inner strength.

And as we all know: providing people with the right kind of support, at the right time and with their consent: support can actually help people heal. We can create the space, the container, the safety for people to feel truly seen and hear. Something they might have been longing for all their lives. This kind of help can come from a psychologist, a group of friends, family members, colleagues...

As a holistic psychologist I make sure that I uphold the optimally empowered version of my clients for them. I see their potential, their strengths and challenges. I then ask what I can support them with. It's up to them to decide what they want help with. I encourage and motivated them to be brave and take the steps they already know are before them. I try to make myself redundant as quickly as possible. Because I want people to start believing in themselves (again) and I don't want them to become dependent on me.

This way of approaching help is actually empowering. It's by invitation only. People learn to trust themselves and get all kinds of tools to try out before committing to practices that they find helpful. Remember: the wheel has already been invented a long time ago...

To sum up: when it comes to offering help, it is important to consider the difference between disempowering and empowering people. Disempowerment is a process that takes away someone’s control over their life and decisions, while empowerment is the opposite - it is a process that gives someone the power to make their own choices and take ownership of their life. When offering help, it is important to consider how your actions may affect someone’s sense of power. This can be done by offering support and understanding, listening to someone’s needs, and providing resources and guidance. This type of help gives someone the tools they need to take control of their life and make their own decisions.

Wellness in Mind - Help that empowers, not disempowers

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