A client who frequently loses focus in her own life when she notices that someone else is in pain or difficulty asked me if I could help her get to the state described by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the following quote.

“A mind committed to compassion is like an overflowing reservoir – a constant source of energy, determination and kindness. This is like a seed, that when cultivated, gives rise to many other good qualities, such as forgiveness, tolerance, inner strength and the confidence to overcome fear and insecurity. The compassionate mind is like an elixir; it is capable of transforming bad situations into beneficial ones. Therefore, we should not limit our expressions of love and compassion to our family and friends. Nor is the compassion only the responsibility of clergy, health care and social workers. It is the necessary business of every part of the human community.” 

This client confuses the feeling of compassion with taking action that may or may not help the recipient, but is damaging to herself and her goals for her own life. 

She often becomes a Rescuer instead of a helper who puts on her own oxygen mask before assisting others. When she Rescues from this caring but thoughtless position she eventually becomes a Victim who needs assistance herself. 

In Transactional Analysis terms the kind of compassion described in the quote comes from an integrated Adult. An integrated Adult in a mature person attends to and considers (Inner) Parent rules, (Inner) Child needs and the constraints of reality before making decisions to take action. 

My client often makes decisions from a Child ego state, eager to please someone, and/or a Parent ego state that discounts the needs of the Child ego state and who tells my client that the needs of others are important and her needs are not.

These guidelines can help anyone in this position, who feels compassionate and wants to help others to be genuinely helpful instead of risking martyrdom.

Guidelines for Helping Without Rescuing 

  1. What do I think would be helpful?
  2. What evidence am I using to decide that help is needed?
  3. Do I have the resources to provide this help?
  4. What will helping cost me? (Time, energy, money, etc.)
  5. How will helping benefit me? (I’ll have more fun, feel less tense, feel like a good person, be more comfortable asking for things for myself later, etc.)
  6. What is likely to happen if I don’t help?
  7. Given these predicted costs and benefits, do I really want to help?
  8. Has the other person asked for help?

    If the answer is yes and you want to help, clarify what you can do and go ahead and do it.
    If the answer is yes and if you don’t want to help, decline and suggest an alternative.
    If the answer is no and you still want to help, don’t just go ahead. Instead offer some specific help. Wait for the other person’s agreement. If you don’t get agreement, don’t help!

  9. Check to see if your help is actually helping. (Ask questions, observe)
  10. Give only as much help as needed. Giving more than is needed often leads to resentment for the helper and low self-esteem for the recipient.
  11. Accept the positive strokes youget for helping. (Say thank you.)