Helping .. Healthy or Harmful

   Written by on September 24, 2015 at 11:50 am

logo-gowin-cheryl-dennisMom, how do you spell codependency? Look it up in the dictionary, sweetheart.
I still remember how frustrated it made me when Mom gave me that advice. I didn’t understand that there are several ways of helping someone; helping does not always mean doing it for them. Mom understood that sometimes doing something for someone is a form of harmful rescuing. In the long run, rescuing can be more harmful than helpful.
Rescuing is an offshoot of codependency. Codependency is a mental health designation for relationships in which people use one another to get their own emotional needs met, but in a selfish and destructive manner. You feel needed, you feel in control, you feel the person will need you so much they won’t abandon you; your actions are meeting your needs. You are rescuing.
We should help others. So how do you tell the difference between helping and rescuing? Look at two aspects of your actions, your motives, and the long-term consequences of your behavior. Are you helping the person the way they want, or are you helping the way you want? In addition, are you building a protective barrier between them and consequences they’ve earned?
Rescuing is:
Doing what we want to do to help others avoid consequences for their actions
Doing what isn’t our responsibility, but we feel we have to
Taking on a task because we are afraid we won’t be liked if we don’t
Doing what others are capable of doing and need to do for themselves
Helping is:
Helping to solve problems within clear boundaries
Helping is teaching to fish, not fishing for them
Helping is involving everyone in the process
Helping is not creating dependency
Helping is out of our heart where we don’t feel used
Rescuing seems helpful, but it has very negative consequences. You can help to the point you are stretched beyond the breaking point. You start out rescuing because you want to help others. Eventually rescuing leaves you burned out and resentful.
Let’s look at the model Jesus provides. Even Jesus did not do it all. Jesus recognizes our weakness. He set up roles for each of us; tasks that help us grow. He did not do it all. .
Ok, now you are asking how do I quit rescuing? You can but it will take a re-education process. You have to stop and think each time you are taking a step into doing for others. Ask yourself are you helping or are you trying to save? Are you providing support or are you doing it all? Are you teaching to fish or fishing for them? Are you helping or protecting?
Remember change is not easy. Find a support group to help you make this change. This change involves not only you but it involves the people in your life you have been rescuing. The people in your life you have been rescuing may not be happy about your change. The people in your life you have been rescuing may like that you have done it all and that you have worked hard to protect them from the consequences of their actions.
We are advised in Proverbs 22:6 to start our children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it. Proverbs tells us that our children need to practice the lessons of life in order to build healthy living habits. And, yes, like all habits, if built in an unhealthy way the habits are hard to change.
It is hard but it is also important to help train your loved ones to do and to realize there are consequences, sometimes unpleasant, for our actions. Helping, our loved ones, means helping them to grow to be independent and not remain dependent for life. This change may be a struggle; you may feel like you need to sit on your hands to avoid stepping in to rescue. Change can happen for your sake and for the sake of your loved ones.

Am I now trying to win the approval of people or of God? Or am I trying to please people? Galatians 1:10

Cheryl Gowin and Dennis Gowin,. Call us at our counseling practice with your feedback, comments, issues, or questions at 434-808-2637.

About Cheryl & Dennis Gowin

Cheryl Gowin, Counselor and Dennis Gowin, Director of Discovery Counseling Center. Contact us with your feedback, comments, issues or questions at 434-808-2426 or


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