Supporting a friend with money worries, taking in refugees, looking after a needy parent: anyone who wants to help others quickly overestimates themselves. Coach and author Attila Albert shares how to get out when you overdo it.
An offer of help is quickly made, but often regretted again soon. You may have taken on the task of caring for a parent – and now you have to admit that this cannot be reconciled with your work in the long term. They support a good friend with patient listening and even money since their breakup, but their crisis never ends. You have taken refugees into your home, now it is becoming a permanent situation.
“I just want to do my job” by Attila Albert, published by Redline in January 2022. The book has 224 pages and costs 15 euros or 12.99 euros as an e-book for Kindle.
But it is not easy to take back an offer of help that has been made. Disappointing others and leaving them alone with their problems, although they still feel somehow obligated. At the same time, nobody can help indefinitely without exhausting themselves. Every commitment must have limits, for example in terms of time or money. You can get out again in seven steps if you can’t make it anymore.
1. Recognize what you have accomplished
If you have to admit that you have overstretched yourself in helping, this is associated with painful insights. You acknowledge that your powers and possibilities are also limited. You may be very embarrassed to go back on promises you made, disappoint the other and leave them to their own devices. These feelings are understandable. But also acknowledge what you have done: you have made a contribution, but many others have not. That deserves respect.
2. Get advice from professional helpers
Those who have little experience with helping often take a very idealistic approach and therefore quickly overdo it. In addition, he is often disappointed and frustrated because the needy is exhausting or not as grateful as expected. Talking to professionals can help you make appropriate corrections and be more realistic in the future. To do this, speak to someone who B. works in a social authority, aid organization or initiative. This helps you to act in a more long-term, planned and less emotional manner.
3. Limit what you are responsible for
Define clearly what you (still) want to feel responsible for. Consider what you actually have control over. Often you can make a contribution, but you don’t have control over the outcome. Example: You want to help refugees find work. You do something for them when you post an appeal on your Facebook profile, establish a professional contact, forward a CV. However, you are not responsible for the fact that the work works.
4. Be upfront about where your help must end
Those who need help usually have more than one problem (e.g. health, emotional and financial worries at the same time). You can never solve everything at once. Be open about what you can do and where your help must end. Example: You want to support an elderly parent but work full-time and have children. You may only be able to come by on one or two working days in the evening and half a day at the weekend. Your openness allows the other to plan accordingly.
5. Give back the responsibility
Basically, every adult is responsible for himself, children and young people slowly grow into this responsibility. So when you help, always think of it as limited support. Always give back responsibility. You don’t have to stick with it until the other person has no more problems. If an adult is permanently unable to look after themselves (e.g. due to illness or addiction), legal assistance or a guardian often makes more sense than private help.
6. Only commit to what you can afford
When you go your separate ways, it’s tempting to try to ease the uncomfortable tension with the next promise: “But you can always call me,” “I’ll get in touch if you need anything!”. But that would mean repeating your mistake. Therefore, it is better not to make any new promises. Only promise what you can really do. Say goodbye neutrally: “I wish you all the best”, “Take care!” If you want to offer further help, it is better to do so later, when you are absolutely sure.
7. Learn from previous mistakes
If you regularly overdo it while helping, reflect on your true motives. Do you secretly feel guilty because you are better off than others? Are you afraid of appearing selfish if you think about yourself too? Also think about recognized boundaries. Example: It quickly becomes too much for you to share your apartment with others, even though you have enough space. Both will help you better understand your needs and get involved in a way that suits you in the future.
You will regularly hear or see people in the media who rise above others and claim that there is a fundamental “moral obligation” to help others. Pay attention to what the person in question is doing on their own. Does she really stand up for others herself or does she actually only distribute what others do (e.g. tax money, donations, working hours)? This view puts some self-presentation into perspective.
Attila Albert, born in 1972, is a communication expert, coach and author. He began working as a reporter at the age of 17, has since written for national and international media and is still a columnist today. He studied business administration, web development and completed coaching training in the USA. He was in charge of global marketing communication for a Swiss industrial group. He is the author of several guidebooks.
You should decide according to your own resources, especially according to your time, energy and money. You may not be able to take in refugees at home, but you can help out in a relevant project for an hour a week (e.g. accompanying them to visit the authorities, practicing German). Think long-term and therefore always plan recovery times. Example: If you are caring for a parent, set aside one evening per week for yourself.
It is best for everyone involved if everyone gives and takes, helps and gets helped. Therefore, look for ways that the other can also give something back. Maybe he has no money, but has time and a talent that would be useful to you (e.g. keeping you company, cooking, repairing something). This balance protects you from being overburdened and gives the needy their dignity: they too can contribute.
Basically, you should be suspicious when help becomes a permanent subsidy. Example: The adult child who still regularly expects money from his parents. Here is a regular no, as difficult as it is, the best support: you encourage and urge people to help themselves, even if you would prefer to solve everything yourself. However, helping never just means that you do and solve everything for others.
It is always enlightening to experience how someone reacts when you no longer want or are unable to help. Does he thank you for your commitment or does he even blame you? You have to reckon with both that you will be accused of “selfishness” or “ingratitude” if you are no longer constantly available. See such outbursts with empathy, even if you are angry. They express anger, frustration and helplessness.
Serving others is a beautiful, enriching and rewarding experience. But often frustrating, annoying or disappointing at the same time. Make it a point to stick with it for a certain amount of time (e.g. three months) so that it remains predictable for everyone. After that you can of course stop or switch. It is permissible and not shameful to volunteer elsewhere, or even temporarily, if your interests, beliefs or circumstances have changed.