Supporting vs. helping...is there a difference? Written by Brendan Mooney Psychologist
Often we might interchange the terms support and help as meaning the same thing. However, what if we considered there is an important difference between supporting someone and helping them?
Supporting someone is being fully committed to a person every step of the way, whilst allowing them to do their part in terms of making any changes necessary. Supporting another empowers them, as it comes from connecting to another as an equal and understanding that they have the power within them to arise above whatever is challenging them.
If we imagine a line, when we support someone we essentially go all the way to the line, but not beyond it. This allows the other person to come to the line and join us, but this is their choice to do so or not. In some cases they do, and sometimes they do not. This approach offers the opportunity for both parties to work together by taking responsibility for their own respective parts.
Helping another is when we essentially go over the line and enter into the other person’s space in an attempt to bring them to the line. This approach occurs when we perceive another as a victim of their circumstances, and judge that they are incapable of coming to the line for themselves and hence feel that to ‘support’ them we need to do the work for them.
The problem with helping another in this way is that, even if we do succeed in getting the person to come to the line it is essentially our energy doing it not theirs. There are many cases of this happening in the world, whereby one person motivates another to make changes but that the changes are maintained only for as long as the person continues to motivate them.
Whereas when a person is supported to make changes for themselves, the changes are able to be sustained because the person themselves 100% chose to make the changes.
Whilst it may be easy to recognise the difference between supporting someone and helping them, the problem is that we often find it difficult to be lovingly detached and not step over the line when it comes to our closest loved ones, particularly when they are in pain or hurting in some way.
The most obvious symptom related to helping another is feeling in any way drained, depleted or exhausted afterwards. Whereas supporting another is rejuvenating and, whilst it can be physically tiring, is never draining.
Perhaps the above explains why there is such a high burnout rate amongst health professionals. Learning how to support clients but remain detached is the key.
When people hear the word ‘detached’ it can bring up beliefs about being heartless, clinical or cold towards another. However being detached is simply not taking on another’s issue/s, understanding that it is their issue not yours to deal with. Whilst we can provide all the support a person requires, ultimately it is up to them to address whatever is troubling them…so to never take on their issue as your own and work through it. Otherwise the ‘helper’ essentially becomes a ‘human sponge’, taking on everyone else’s issues under the belief that somehow they are doing good.
What if there is self-interest in helping others, given it is so exhausting to do so? For example, what if helping another keeps our attention on someone else and hence provides an effective distraction from dealing with one’s own issues?
Therefore never feel guilty or heartless about supporting another, but remain in the understanding that in supporting them you are not imposing what you want or need them to be, but simply presenting the potential next step whilst allowing them the freedom to make the choice for themselves.
More will be written in an upcoming series of articles on this topic. If you would like to read more be sure to subscribe to receive email updates.
BIOGRAPHY Psychologist Brendan Mooney works with adults, adolescents and children. With a genuine interest in people's well-being, Brendan brings a warmth, practicality and an equality that supports clients to truly address underlying issues and blockages that are preventing them from moving forward.