3 Easy Ways to Help Others Without Depleting Yourself
One of the most meaningful aspects of your life may be providing service to others. This could involve raising a child, caring for a parent or a pet, helping a friend or sibling, or performing service for your community or for an organization. Helping others may be a calling or an enjoyable sideline activity. Helping others can help you to feel connected and worthwhile.
Sometimes helping others goes too far. You might have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility or you might feel obligated and trapped. It’s easy to get out of balance when you help others. If you give too much, you can deplete yourself. If you don’t get enough back, you can feel resentful. If you feel you must shoulder someone else’s load, you can overwhelm yourself. If you do so much for others that you have little time for yourself, you can feel like you are suffocating.
Here are three things to keep in mind as you provide service to others. Practicing them will help keep you from feeling depleted:
1. Maintain a quid pro quo
2. Stream rather than contain the suffering of others
3. Take time to recharge
Maintain a quid pro quo
Quid pro quo means “something for something.” It means that if you do something for someone, you receive something in return. When you do something for someone as a family member or friend, the usual expectation is that you are doing it altruistically and that you expect nothing in return. This is okay for a while, but eventually it will feel unfair and you will grow resentful.
Perhaps what you receive in return is a feeling of satisfaction, or that by “paying it forward” you are doing the right thing. Maybe you believe your payback will come later from some other person’s good deed, or that your service will pave your way to heaven.
Most generous acts are performed with no expectation of a return. The giver feels good about giving, especially if the receiver appears to benefit or voices gratitude. That’s adequate payment if you have a generous heart and if you feel you have more than you need.
If you give consistently more than you receive and if you have no source of spiritual nourishment for it, eventually your emotional health could suffer. That is why it is important to try to maintain a balance. If you consistently give more than someone else and you feel drained by it, you may need to give less or ask for more in return. Over the long run, a balanced quid pro quo will help you maintain balance in your relationships and balance in your mind.
Stream the suffering of others rather than trying to contain it.
Suffering usually comes down to a question of ownership. Can you really own someone else’s suffering? The simple and obvious answer is no … but letting go of the urge to help can be difficult. Witnessing someone’s suffering with compassion and constructive concern is not easy. It requires clarity and usually quite a bit of practice.
If your words and/or your actions are the cause of someone’s pain, it is right to take responsibility. If apologizing does not add to the hurt, doing so will probably help. Taking action to repair damage you may have done is also a good idea if it does not compound the problem or place you in an overly compromised position.
If you are not responsible for someone else’s suffering, it is not yours to mend. Becoming a witness to someone else’s suffering and offering observations and suggestions, however, can be extraordinarily helpful and healing for both parties. Having compassion for the suffering of someone you love or care about is right and good. Going about it in a way that does not harm you is necessary.
It might help for you to visualize yourself as a rock in a stream. As someone’s suffering comes into your awareness, witness it with compassion and loving-kindness. Remarking on it and reflecting observations about it as it flows around you can give great comfort to the sufferer without taking too much from you. Give as much as you feel is right for you, and sustain your own presence as their distress flows around you. Know that they own their discomfort or suffering, and wish for them a deepening of awareness and a resolution.
It’s possible for you to remain comfortable and within your own place as you offer kindness and support to someone you love. If you do this by streaming and not by containing, you will have room in your heart to continue to be present for them. In this way, you can be present for someone without losing yourself.
Take time to recharge
Whether you do so alone or with others, taking time to recharge your batteries is vitally important. Consider this a quid pro quo for yourself. When you have expended a great deal of energy in helping others, it is only reasonable that you take some time to resupply your energy reserves. The emotional labor required in many interactions can be extraordinarily depleting. You will need some time to reconstitute yourself with enjoyable time on your own or with people who expect little or nothing of you.
When you take the time to take care of yourself with these three simple steps, you’ll be able to show up for those in need without draining yourself and without resenting others for it. You’ll be able to find meaning and fulfillment as you provide service for others.
HOW TO HELP OTHERS
WITHOUT DEPLETING YOURSELF
MAINTAIN A QUID PRO QUO
Keep a balance of giving and getting in your relationships.
It is important to get back as much as you give out.
STREAM RATHER THAN CONTAIN
THE SUFFERING OF OTHERS
Witness with compassion and loving kindness the suffering of others
without trying to take it for them.
Take responsibility for any pain you may cause but do not try to own
someone else’s misery.
TAKE TIME TO RECHARGE
Whether it be alone or with others, find ways to recharge your
batteries when you feel depleted.