“Care is no cure, but rather corrosive for things that are not to be remedied.” —William Shakespeare
Could you be hurting yourself or someone else more than you’re helping?
After a friend and bookstore owner broke his leg, a customer insisted on taking him to a doctor’s appointment. He thanked the Good Samaritan with assurance that he could manage although he hobbled around on cast and crutches. When she persisted, he reluctantly gave in to her requests in his words “to get her off my back.”
On the appointment day, the bookstore owner had to bend double to squeeze into the Good Samaritan’s tiny compact car, grimacing after banging his leg against the door frame. Before he was fully inside the vehicle, the woman accidentally slammed the door on his cast, whereupon he screamed in excruciating pain. Crutches stuck out the window, the small car puttered down the road—the Good Samaritan wearing a warm glow in her heart, beaming smile on her face and the bookstore owner, sweat pouring from his brow, agony tattooed on his face.
This true story illustrates how helping can do more harm than good when performed from a need to be needed or when the helper benefits more than the recipient. Much has been written about the commendable actions of caring, spirituality, and acts of kindness. Helping others can make life worthwhile and give us a sense of purpose. Studies show that compassionate people have more vitality, calmer dispositions, and longer lives than non-helpers.
But there’s a big difference between compassionate caring and careaholism—the craving to be needed at any cost, even if it means that things go wrong rather than run smoothly in order to self-medicate unmet needs. Careaholics overload themselves with other people’s problems as an escape from their own worries and stresses often to the point of experiencing what is commonly known as the helper’s high.
If you insist on helping people—even if they don’t want or need your help—you could be feeding your own needs instead of practicing selfless compassion. You’re genuinely caring when you have an unselfish desire to give without making others dependent on you or taking away their ability to care for themselves. You give only as much help as needed. And sometimes you even let people fall down without rescuing them.
You can follow four rules if you want to avoid corrosive caring and practice genuine compassion: