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  • Writer's pictureElke Newall

Helping Others: Empowering or Overstepping?


“In helping another - are you usurping their authority to look after their own life or are you holding a mirror up so they can see the effect of how they are managing their own life? That depends on whether you are helping them for your on benefit or theirs, and it depends how you do it?” ~ The Wisdom of Crazy Horse



In a world that often emphasises individualism and self-reliance, the act of helping others can sometimes be fraught with complexity. Your intentions behind offering help and the methods you use can significantly impact whether your help is empowering or overstepping.


The Intentions Behind Helping

When you decide to help someone, your underlying motivation plays a crucial role. Are you helping for your own benefit, perhaps to feel better about yourself or to gain some form of recognition? Or is your primary concern genuinely the welfare of the person you're helping?

Helping others for altruistic reasons will foster a positive outcome. Your actions come from a place of empathy and a desire to support someone else's growth and well-being. On the other hand, if your assistance is driven by selfish motives, it can easily turn into an act of control rather than support. The key is to ensure that your intentions are pure and centred on the needs of the person you're helping.


Empowering vs. Usurping Authority

When you offer help, you face the delicate balance of either empowering someone or usurping their authority to manage their own life. Empowering assistance involves holding up a mirror so the person can see the effects of their actions and decisions. It’s about providing guidance, encouragement, and the tools they need to navigate their own challenges. This approach respects their autonomy and promotes their ability to learn and grow from the experience.

Conversely, overstepping occurs when your help takes control away from the individual. This can happen if you make decisions for them, impose your solutions, or undermine their confidence by suggesting they can’t handle their own problems. These kind of actions can be detrimental, leading to dependency, resentment, and a loss of self-efficacy for the person you're trying to help.


The Method of Helping

How you help is just as important as why you help. Effective help involves:

Listening and Understanding: Before offering help, take the time to truly understand the person's situation. Ask questions, listen actively, and empathise with their feelings and experiences.


Offering Support, Not Solutions: Instead of dictating what should be done, offer suggestions and alternatives. Encourage the person to weigh their options and make their own decisions.


Building Confidence: Point out the person’s strengths and past successes. Reinforce their ability to overcome challenges and to trust their judgment.


Respecting Boundaries: Recognise and respect the person's limits and autonomy. Sometimes, the best help you can offer is to step back and give them space to navigate their own path.


Continuous Reflection: Regularly reflect on your motivations and methods. Are you truly helping, or are you inadvertently imposing your will? Adjust your approach based on honest self-assessment and feedback from the person you are assisting.

Helping others is a noble endeavour, but it requires a thoughtful approach to ensure it is beneficial. By focusing on genuine intentions, empowering methods, and respecting autonomy, your assistance can be a source of strength and growth for those you aim to support. Remember, the goal is to hold up a mirror, enabling others to see their potential and navigate their own lives with confidence and resilience.


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