What do you say to…

by Annie Kaszina on February 28, 2011

the girl who “just wants to help him”?

“Hi Annie,

My name is Monica* and I stumbled on your webpage today.

I was just wondering what you would say to the girl who has left the relationship almost 2 months ago, and has had no contact with the guy whatsoever since the relationship ended. However, she still feels a need for closure, and she still feels a strong need to help her ex-partner.  He has depression problems and she just wants to help him so badly.  She knows it wouldn’t help her at all, but yet she still feels like she needs to help him.

I think what you are doing is great by the way. I’m very thankful I found the site”.

Hi Monica,

Thank you for your kind words.

What would I say to that girl?

I’d say to that girl that her need to help him is unfortunate.  I’d say she’s obviously a generous-hearted, loving girl.

And I’d also say that, with the best will in the world, she can’t help him, because she can’t help herself.

Because here’s the thing: until she’s learnt how to help herself, she will keep trying – without meaning to – to help herself through helping him.

That won’t work, and it simply isn’t healthy for either of them.   Not least because it will probably lead to her being sucked back into her abusive relationship.

But that’s not all.

That generous-hearted loving girl needs to help him for her own reasons.

That’s not what he wants.

If he wanted it, do you think he’d have a problem in letting her know that he wanted something from her?

I don’t.

He really does NOT want her to help him.

Much as he may need help, there’s no way he’s going to receive that help from her.

Besides, the whole notion is messy.  Loving someone and helping them are – or should be – two separate things.

Of course, we want to support the adults we love.

But part of loving them is respecting them.  Respecting them means that we only give them the support they want.  And, if they don’t want support, then we have to make our decisions accordingly.

Helping a partner is something different again.

When you support someone, you encourage them to walk along the path they have chosen for themselves.  (If you don’t feel that you can support them along their chosen path,  for whatever reason, you may well need to walk away from them.)

When you help them, you are saying:

  • “I know you can’t do this well enough on your own, so I’m stepping in to make it easier for you, by shifting the burden of personal responsibility off your shoulders”, or else
  • “I know better than you do what is good for you”
  • “I’m making you my personal crusade.”

In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether you are right or wrong about what is in that other person’s best interest.  If they are over the age of about 13, then they need to learn by their own experience.  When you try to protect them from that experience, or step in to give them the experience you think they should have, you are infantilizing them.   Chances are, they won’t appreciate that.

That girl’s need for closure is a separate issue.

She may want closure on the relationship that didn’t work.

What she really  needs is closure on her own emotional hooks. Those emotional hooks drove her into that relationship in the first place, and they’ve kept her fixated on a wounded guy who was never going to make her happy.

That kind of closure doesn’t happen automatically, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

But it is very important.

Because, without that kind of closure, she runs the risk of repeating the same pattern in future relationships.

And I’m guessing she feels too damaged by the relationship ever to want to repeat that destructive pattern.

That’s one of the 10 patterns I help emotionally abused women to break through my coaching program.  You can read more about it here: http://recoverfromemotionalabuse.com/coaching/

* Not her real name

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