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People Pleasing: Stop training people to depend on you

Feeling overloaded? Stop training people to depend on you.

Have you ever felt snowed under because of the commitments you have to other people? Have you just accepted that this is how it needs to be? If you have then you may be training them to depend on you either practically or emotionally. Even worse your act of kindness might not be as kind as you think.

I speak to a lot of people who suffer because they are providing support to other people. Whether it's children, partners, friends or anyone else, they put a lot of pressure on themselves with the support they offer to others. As you can imagine, people who do this often put themselves last.

Now you might be thinking, 'but isn't it nice to help other people?' and of course it is nice to help someone out by picking up the slack in the short term. However, if this becomes the norm then the supportive person is likely to end up suffering in some way themselves and despite their good intentions, they may end up doing the person they are supporting a huge disservice.


"Here, I'll help you"

"Let me do that"

"I'll do it for you"

Nice things to hear aren't they? Or what about when we're having a bad day and someone just comes along and does something to takes the load off us and helps us feel better? It's great, isn't it?

We all need a little help sometimes but what happens when your words or actions are constantly telling someone that you will take on the leg work?

Think about this:

What kind of person do you say "I'll help you" to?

Someone who needs help.

What does this say to someone?

That in your opinion they need helping, implying that they are helpless or at the very least not very capable.

Obviously, if you are saying this to a small child who can't dress or feed themselves then it's an appropriate thing to say. They genuinely need your help. But what if you were to keep saying this to them at 10yrs old, or 15 yrs old or 25 years old? Would it be helpful then?

Giving support to someone all the time plants the seed that they are not very capable and that they can't thrive without your intervention. This is reinforced if you criticise their efforts ("No that's no good, here I'll do it............"). Repeated over time it reinforces the idea that their own ability to deal with something isn't good enough and that they need you in order to cope. Whether it's for practical tasks or for emotional support, the more that you reinforce the idea that they need you to get things done or that they need you to feel happy, the more they doubt their own capability. This in turn further convinces them that they need you and creates an unhelpful cycle.

"But they need me"

You might tell yourself that you have to do these things or that will disaster will strike if you don't keep doing what you're doing. You might even tell yourself that you are being kind, but consider this:

What would they do if you weren't around?

Struggle? They probably would at first but ultimately they would find a way to cope.

Turn to someone else? They would find someone else who could share the load.

Give up? Whatever they needed your help for, they might just let it go or do something else instead.

Get resourceful? They might go and find out how to cope with the situation themselves. Ultimately they would find the resources they needed to do what they needed to do if they had to.

Sometimes being kind isn't kind

When someone has a need and you are constantly meeting it for them you teach them 'learned helplessness'.

This term was first coined after some experiments which involved administering electric shocks to groups of dogs. One group of dogs had a lever which allowed them to stop the shocks, the other group didn't. Over time the dogs who couldn't control the shocks learnt that they were powerless to avoid the pain. This idea became so conditioned that even when they were presented with a situation where they could escape they didn't take it because they didn't believe that anything they could do would make a difference. You can read more about this here.

This also applies to people too. When we are intent on helping others we can sometimes inadvertently give the message that they are not capable.

Sometimes this happens because at one point they genuinely needed our help and somehow being helped became the new normal.

Sometimes we help others, not to help them but because it allows us to feel something that we need. Helping others can help us feel needed, important, noble, strong, in control, the list goes on....

Ask yourself:

  • What would this person do if I wasn't around?
  • Am I robbing them of an opportunity to develop some useful skills or emotional resources?
  • Is that kind?
  • What am I telling myself about my role in this situation?
  • Is that about making me feel good?
  • Who is the main beneficiary in the long term?


What role do I play?

If you've been someone's emotional crutch or practical support for a long time I'm not suggesting you pull the rug from underneath them right away but consider:

  • What role do I play in this situation?
  • Has the situation changed, am I still needed?
  • Am I still needed to the same degree?
  • Do things need to change?
  • How can I start to train a new, more helpful behaviour in others?

Do you recognise this in yourself?

Do other people do this for you?

Let us know in the comments section below or on the facebook page.