Why does it seem like every time you turn around there’s always someone up in your grill? Seriously! You might appreciate some help sometimes, but you’re not completely useless. You can do things for yourself… if people would let you.

The thing is, there’s a big difference between two kinds of helping: One that really is helpful (okay, you gotta admit that if you’re on crutches it’s kinda nice to have someone hold the door), and another kind of helping that does more for the other person than for you.

Here are some of the reasons for helped-focused over-helping:

  1. Guilt: An able-bodied person without a serious illness can feel guilty about his or her health. Over-helping you is a way to feel a little less guilty about their good luck.
  2. Feeling Like a Good Person: If you’ve ever stopped to help someone with a flat tire, you know how good you feel afterward. Over-helping can make someone feel like they’re all-around awesome.
  3. Discomfort: It can be hard to watch you struggle. It can be much more comfortable for an onlooker to swoop in and help. But is that really what’s best for you or does this kind of help just let the onlooker feel comfortable quickly?
  4. Impatience: In addition to impatience with you actually slowing things down (like taking too long in the grocery line), people can feel impatient just watching you do things more slowly than they could do them. These people might try to help just to speed things up.
  5. Worry: Some people simply worry that you won’t be able to do what you’re trying to do. Or they worry that you might hurt yourself or break something. But within reason, struggling may be the best way for you to learn to do these things on your own.
  6. Being Seen Helping: The first five are pretty understandable mistakes. But this one is kind of ugly – the truth is that sometimes people help because they want other people to see them helping; they want other people to say, “Wow, what a good person for lending a helping hand!” If you carry water balloons, this is the time to use them.

But then there’s the kind of help that people really do think will make your life easier. Remember, even if you would rather not be helped, there are good people in the world who try to do nice things for people. You’re going to be offered unwanted help enough in your life that you might as well come up with a polite response to use. Try something like, “I got it! Thanks!” or try redirecting people to things that you really would like help with.

Think about what helping means for the person offering assistance. And then decide whether it’s worth accepting help. If the answer is no, you can be as firm in declining help as you are in asking for help when you need it.

Kristi Pikiewicz
Dr. Pikiewicz earned her PhD in Clinical Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, CA. She completed pre-doctoral training at the Nan Tolbert Nurturing Center in Ojai, CA, and her post-doctoral internship at the Boulder Institute for Psychotherapy and Research. At both sites, Dr. Pikiewicz worked with a range of adult, adolescent and child clients in individual, couple, family and group settings. She also holds a B.S. in environmental science from Allegheny College and a teaching credential from Western Washington University.