I was all set to write my blog about something else, when I ended up spending 90 minutes on the phone with a friend who is breaking down mentally, emotionally and physically. This is not the first time you have heard of this friend.

So, it’s making me think about how we help each other, or not. We all know, at this point in the evolution of therapy and politics, that helping people is questionable, because it tends to be about our own needs and not theirs. People need empowerment not help.

However, it’s hard to resist that impulse. Friends are in distress and often want our support. So we listen, analyze, and advise. And then we watch as our advice is ignored or proven wrong. But it never stops us having opinions another time.

I was a chronic helper when I was younger. Undoubtedly, it was a strategy to avoid the discomfort of people’s pain and to give myself validation. I have dated two alcoholics, albeit briefly, and gladly threw myself into the role of saintly helper. I watched in confusion as they continued to destroy their lives and pulled me into their dynamic only to sustain it.

The myth of Cassandra stuck with me as a teenager, the tragedy of a woman who can see the future, but will never be believed. We’re each other’s Cassandras in the present. You can see what’s wrong with me and I can see what’s wrong with you, but it doesn’t make any difference to our behavior.

We are doomed to be ourselves.

17 responses to “Help”

  1. Scotty says:

    One of my closest friends is someone who usually only contacts me when he needs help. And when I call him just to chat he usually seems disinterested in what I have to say, often making snide remarks like, “it must be nice to have such a great fuckin’ life.”

    The hard part is that when he calls me because his life is completely broken, he usually starts with the deepest most heartfelt apologies you could imagine, telling me that I’m the only person that he really cares about and that is ever consistently there for him (which is true). At this point, I always buckle and become his shoulder.

    Being his helper is not something that I revel in, but I also consider him to be family, and I’m not one to turn my back family. And I do love him with a depth that is hard for me to understand sometimes. That said, I have tried to break up with him several times, but he always comes back with bigger problems that I feel compelled to help him with.

  2. Eric Jones says:

    Thanks for the post.

    I have a friend–don’t many of us have one such as this?–who calls me every week or two, briefly asks how I’m doing, then goes on for an hour about how fucked up his life is–his next court date, the latest job he’s lost. I listen, make affirming noises. Don’t offer much if any advice, unless it’s one of the rare occasions when he solicits it. Then the call is over, and I feel like I’m free again to go about my own life. I feel like a wall when he’s talking to me. I’m not disinterested in him and his troubles, but I feel useless and at times, even a little used. But what to do? I wouldn’t choose to have him out of my life–we grew up together, and I care about him, his goofy problems and all. So if I’m the wall for him to sound off against, so be it. The movie “Old Joy” comes to mind. . . .

  3. trixie says:

    a friend of mine only calls me when she doesn’t have a girlfriend.
    whenever we do talk, she mentions how much i mean to her, and how she wants to be a better friend to me than she is.
    i still love her, but i can’t imagine calling her if i were in crisis (hasn’t worked out that well the previous times i have tried it)
    like scotty, i have a hard time completely turning my back on people that i love, and she and i do go way back, almost 20 years.
    ironically,i feel as though i am decieving her in that i allow her to think that we are good friends, but really i don’t feel as though i could rely on her for anything.

  4. trixie says:

    deceiving, i mean.
    of course.

  5. cynthia says:

    I am like you guys, I have a friend that basically only calls when she is going through something. Then when the shoe is on the other fooot she is too busy or she will call me later but never does. I keep hoping she will change but so far no such luck. Like you Trixie I know not to call her when I really need someone. Like you Eric I grew up with her and do want to help. if I get a word in edge wise it is usuallylike your friend Stella, I am usually ignored. What are we to do.

  6. Marleyfan says:

    I don’t have any friends…

  7. julie the ping pong queen says:

    I also have been the helper but I must think aren’t we all just enabling this unbalanced “friendship” by repeating the pattern of listening and canceling out ourselves?

  8. Marleyfan says:

    This is overgereralizing, but- Often I find that my friends who are women, need to be listened to, and don’t need alot of advice; the men are looking for solutions. But we all need empathy, and validation most of all.

    But isn’t it hare to give empathy and validation when they have thinking errors?

  9. cynthia says:

    I agree with you Marley Fan

  10. Matt says:

    I used to get so turned on when people told me I was their only friend. Now I know to run the other way. It’s just a coded way of saying, “I have issues that most people won’t tolerate.”

  11. bryan says:

    scott — i hope you have a dozen or more friends out there lurking who read this today and said, “yikes! is he talking about me?”

    [you’re not talking about me, are you?]

  12. autumn says:

    I know this feeling, but I also feel the need to speak up for the groups of people who share, solicit, advise and accept help from each other. It’s what a (good) relationship is all about. I say that there are some that go deep (as mentioned) and those roles become layered in a familiar kind of love that is a little more allowing–but, if they aren’t deep and you don’t care…do everyone a favour and cut all ties.

    I am so grateful for an inner circle of brilliant thinkers, feelers, advisers and sometimes–yes, just good sounding boards. I know that I am a better person because of it but also one with a low tolerance for less than.

  13. cynthia says:

    I think you said it exactly right autumn.

  14. Demosthenes says:

    I am your friend Marley. And you help me out and listed to me all the time. Thanks

  15. actually, this post reminds me of something marleyfan once wrote. i hope he finishes it. hint hint.

  16. Scotty says:

    BW: Outside of the TGW, I have like three friends.

  17. Mark says:

    #8 : Please don’t validate the rabbits.