The Art of Helping Others (and How to Avoid Resentment)

The Art of Helping OthersYou feel good when you can help others.  As social creatures, humans are meant to work together.

But what happens when all that helping and serving becomes too much and you start resenting the people you’re serving or the act of serving?

Whether you’re helping a family member, co-worker, friend or volunteering for an organization you care about, you start off giving of yourself because it feels good.

We’re taught that it’s good to help others.  It’s what we’re supposed to do.  So we seek out people to serve or places to volunteer.

Some people are fed by the work they do and would do it 24/7 while others feel like the serving is sucking the life out of them and begin to resent it.

What’s the difference between these people and the types of serving they do?

How can you serve others in ways that support you and spread happiness instead of resentment?

Look at why you’re doing it.

What’s Your ‘Why?’

If you don’t understand why you’re doing something, it’s hard to feel good about it, and chances are you won’t do it for very long.

You can also feel not-so-warm-and-fuzzy if you’re doing something because you think you’re supposed to.

If you’re serving from a sense of obligation, you’re acting to please someone else.  You’re doing it for a perceived level of acceptance you’ll receive if you do something that you think another person will appreciate.  You’re doing it for you, not them.

There are a few problems with this situation.  You’re assuming that:

  1. Your actions can make someone else happy.
  2. The other person will accept you if you do things you think they approve of.
  3. Their acceptance will make you happy.
  4. You can control someone else’s thoughts and feelings.

None of these assumptions are true.

You can’t make other people happy and other people can’t make you happy.  A person has to decide to be happy regardless of their circumstances or the actions of others.

No one can control someone else’s thoughts and feelings.  These are based on each individual’s history, personality and interpretations of their surroundings.

“I don’t want to live in the kind of world where we don’t look out for each other. Not just the people that are close to us, but anybody who needs a helping hand. I can’t change the way anybody else thinks, or what they choose to do, but I can do my bit.” ~ Charles de Lint

I’ve had the experience quite often where I do something for someone else that I think they’ll appreciate.  Then it doesn’t register for them that I’ve done something for them.  They seem to take it for granted or don’t even notice what I’ve done.

My interpretation of their response used to be that they were selfish jerks.

I’ve learned that this has nothing to do with them being mean, selfish or any other negative.

It has everything to do with me not understanding them well enough to know what will register for them.  The things I did for them were things that I would appreciate someone doing for me.

I wasn’t really serving them.  I was simply showing them the kind of thing I wish they would do for me.

Because of people’s different life histories, experiences and interpretations of those experiences, everyone appreciates very different things.

If I want someone to appreciate something I do for them, I have to take responsibility for understanding the other person well enough to discover what they appreciate.  What I think of the “thoughtful action” is irrelevant.

Here is a direct path to resentment for people who help or serve others:

  • Person A does something he/she sees as “nice” for Person B.
  • Person B doesn’t respond in the appreciative way that Person A expected.
  • Person A’s unmet expectations result in anger and resentment and an unwillingness to do something “nice” for Person B again.
  • Person B doesn’t understand why Person A is angry at them.

Only when Person A can 1) truly understand Person B’s needs and desires and how they need those needs to be met and 2) drop all expectations of how Person B should respond can Person A serve in way that’s valued by Person B without creating resentment in Person A.

Feeling Like You’re Doing Too Much

Another source of resentment comes when you teach others that you’ll always be there to do whatever they need.

If you’re the person that everyone at home or in the office goes to in order to get things done because they know you’ll get the job done (i.e. always say ‘yes’), then they’ll continue to drop things in your lap with the expectation that you’ll accept the project and complete it for them.

You feel like you can’t say ‘no’ because you’ll let them down (back to that whole ‘lack of acceptance’ issue we talked about earlier).

As you take on all the extra work, you become exhausted and resentful. You feel like you can’t change anything because people are relying on you, or that’s just the way it is, or if you don’t do it no one else will.

Guess what – Those are all simply stories you’ve made up in your own mind.  They’re not fact.  I challenge you to test those assumptions.

When you start saying ‘no’ in a thoughtful way, people may initially be surprised or upset, or not.

“I’d love to take on Project X but I’m currently bogged down with Projects A and B.  The soonest I can get to Project X is (sometime past their deadline).”

This is how you begin to train others to dump their projects on someone else.

This is how you train others to respect you and your time which is of equal value to theirs, regardless of everyone’s titles.

This is how you create boundaries and respect yourself.

Say ‘yes’ to things you love, are interested in or can serve a higher purpose for you.  Say ‘no’ to things that don’t.

Simple Steps to Feeling Good About Serving

1. Know why you’re serving.

Why do you feel connected to the people or cause you’re serving?  Who benefits from your serving and how?  Why is this important to you?

Are you truly serving to help the other person or cause or are you serving with the expectation of recognition, appreciation, reciprocation or acceptance (that may or may not come)?

2. Give up any expectations.

Give to give.  Give simply because it feels good to you.

Don’t set up expectations of how others should react to your actions. You can’t control them.  They aren’t you and they won’t respond the way you would respond.  Let it go.

3. Take the time to more fully understand the person or people you’re serving.

Ask them what they want.  Ask them how you can help.  Don’t judge.  Give them what they want in the way they want it, without expectations.

4. Know where to draw the line.

You’re always teaching others how to treat you.

If you’re feeling like a martyr it’s probably because you’re acting like one and people are taking advantage of that.

Change your actions to change the outcome.  Don’t wait for others to realize what they’re doing and change their ways.  That will never happen.

Respect yourself.  If you can’t love and respect yourself, no one else can do that for you.

There’s no one out there watching and judging you for how much or in what ways you serve.  How and how much you serve is completely up to you.

Giving and serving others can be a wonderful thing that fills your heart and makes the world a better place.

Reaching out to people you would never have interacted with can help you to stretch your comfort zone.

Serving can turn around feelings of anxiety and depression because you’re shifting your focus from your own problems to the (probably bigger) problems of those you’re serving.

“Those who believe in the importance of serving others should lead the way by fighting against the temptation we all have, and maybe especially as we age, to close in upon ourselves.” ~Marvin Olasky

Before you begin, check your motives and expectations and know where to draw the line.

What have been your positive and not-so-positive experiences with giving and serving and what made them so?

 

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37 Responses to The Art of Helping Others (and How to Avoid Resentment)

    Jim
    Commented:  09/29/2013 at 6:04 pm

    I liked your guest post – right on. I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that it is better to do what is asked of me than to do what I think needs to be done for another.
    Jim recently posted..Thank You!My Profile

    Reply
    Jeffrey Fischer
    Commented:  09/29/2013 at 6:41 pm

    Paige,

    As you state, it has to come from inside you. You must know yourself. You must know your values and reasons for helping others at all times. I know my help to others from my religion, faith, in a belief that everyone at some point in their life needs a helping hand. I have more than 15 years of Boy Scout training and trainer in me that says “do your good turn daily” and live up to all of those laws that express the same values as your faith.

    Feeding upon why people do not react in the manner to which you expect them too or why people whom you believed shared your values but turned their backs upon you and took another road that was more selfish is “devils work” in today’s world because it can destroy your focus upon improving the world and helping others rise above the abyss of their lives.

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  09/30/2013 at 1:38 pm

      Great comment Jeffrey! Yes, taking things personally and distorting the message does distract us from the help we were intending in the first place. Focusing on the good helps to spread more good.

      That Boy Scout training has stuck with you a good, long time – more time for you to spread that helping hand.
      Paige Burkes recently posted..The Ultimate Productivity HackMy Profile

      Reply
    Manjunath R.
    Commented:  09/30/2013 at 12:17 am

    Dear Paige,
    Thanks for the timely article. I was serving without purpose, working to my desires and needs rather than what was expected of me in work. Thanks for the eye opener.

    Reply
    Meg Sylvia
    Commented:  09/30/2013 at 7:56 am

    I really enjoyed this article. You always have such wise insight, Paige! I think you’re so right that often we help others only to gain their approval or out of an attempt to control them in some way. When those are our motives, it definitely is discouraging when they don’t respond in the way we’d imagined (an expectation issue too, maybe?). Will definitely try to be more mindful of my motives when I try to help others!

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  09/30/2013 at 1:48 pm

      Thanks so much Meg! So often I hear people say that they’re doing something for someone else’s “best interest” when it’s the giver’s best interest and opinions that are the true motive.

      Sometimes it can be difficult to help without being attached to an outcome. When our giving aligns with our values and we can release those attachments, feeling good about helping becomes much easier.
      Paige Burkes recently posted..Mindfulness In a Bad RelationshipMy Profile

      Reply
    Elle
    Commented:  09/30/2013 at 8:26 am

    “I wasn’t really serving them. I was simply showing them the kind of thing I wish they would do for me.” Wow Paige you’ve hit the nail on the head with this one – I remember when. I think once we learn to value ourselves, even just a little more, once we learn to appreciate and approve of ourselves, we’re less likely to be doing things for the sake of being approved of.

    At the end of the day it’s all about love. Love yourself and love others – equally – and we’re more likely to be acting from a space of love and resentment can’t live there. :-)
    Elle recently posted..Why Don’t MY Dreams Come True?My Profile

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  09/30/2013 at 1:53 pm

      You got it Elle! Many people look for other people to love, trust, respect, appreciate, accept and honor them when they can’t give themselves these gifts. If you can’t give these to yourself, you won’t know what they look like or how to accept them even if someone offered them.

      Loving yourself always comes first – just like the book I recommended a few posts ago: Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It by Kamal Ravikant.
      Paige Burkes recently posted..Choose YourselfMy Profile

      Reply
    Michael Durek
    Commented:  09/30/2013 at 11:09 am

    THANK YOU!!

    I read this 4 times since it plopped in my inbox, and personally sent it to 4 friends who have gone through resentment because of the mistaken assumptions you laid out. It was exactly what I needed to hear. And in the music world, this happens ALL the time. Someone will do something for someone else, and then attack them out of the blue months later and the person’s like WTF? The world needs to read this!! All the happiness to you! Thank you!
    Michael Durek recently posted..9.3.2013 Rachel Mason at HarvestworksMy Profile

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  09/30/2013 at 2:05 pm

      Wow! Thank you so much for your comment and sharing this story Michael!

      I never know what’s going to come out of me when I start writing. Many thanks to David S. (a member of our Simple Mindfulness community) for the suggestion of this topic!

      When I was finished writing, your response is exactly what I was hoping for (but not attached to). I’ve personally dealt with this issue in my family since I was a child, in myself and in many others in my life.

      Mindfulness has helped me to step back from the drama and see where the real source of these issues come from. As with most issues, the pain stems from me and my interpretations (or misinterpretations) of situations and not from the people around me.

      We always have the ability to choose how we see and interpret everything around us. These little shifts can open the door to so much happiness. We just have to allow ourselves to open those big, scary doors that shed light on what’s really going on inside of us.
      Paige Burkes recently posted..How to Recognize and Overcome the Fear of FailureMy Profile

      Reply
    jamie flexman
    Commented:  10/01/2013 at 2:35 am

    Hi, whilst researching an article several months ago I discovered that people who are truly altruistic tend to live longer than those who are self-serving. It didn’t go into the why’s. I don’t think they knew exactly but it was an interesting read.

    You know it’s hard to give up ALL expectations. I think it’s just the way we have been brought up in this world. We hold open the door for a stranger, totally selflessly, yet we are peeved when they don’t say thanks. Surely there is a conflict there?

    For me, the truest act of helping another person is simply to be there in their time of need. They aren’t ‘taking’ anything from you and you aren’t in ‘need’ of anything in return. It’s an honest offering.
    jamie flexman recently posted..Stop Using Your Age as an Excuse!My Profile

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  10/03/2013 at 11:00 am

      Regarding the study you mentioned, there’s lots of scientific evidence out there now on how negative emotions create ill health. Bitterness and resentment are killers.

      Yes, giving up all expectations is very difficult but, as you mentioned, it’s what our society teaches us. I’ve read about a number of indigenous societies where everyone shares everything freely – stuff and time. It’s just the way they do things. They never expect anything in return. They help the group and they know that the group will be there when they need it. There’s no score-keeping.

      Doing things for others simply because it’s what you want to do is the key to happiness in those situations.
      Paige Burkes recently posted..Finding Balance Amidst the ChaosMy Profile

      Reply
    Simon
    Commented:  10/05/2013 at 7:12 am

    Interesting article Paige. You have spelled it out really well. A lot of us have been there where we are just doing too much for another and we just end up being resentful.

    I believe the solution is to muster the courage and talk about it. Sitting and talking about this kind of issue can work wonders because a lot of the time, the other person does not even realize what is going on.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  10/07/2013 at 5:42 pm

      You’re exactly right Simon. I’ve seen and been a part of too many situations where one person gets angry and resentful and the other person has no idea why. Communication can sometimes perform miracles to clear the air and bring in more happiness, as long as any bitterness is left out of the conversation.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

      Reply
    Angela Artemis|Powered by Intuition
    Commented:  10/08/2013 at 6:54 am

    Paige,
    What an absolutely wonderful post. I couldn’t agree more.
    Lately I began feeling resentment over some of the “helping” I consistently do for others and it felt awful!

    I had to step back and let go. It was the only way to remain in my calm center and not let the resentment eat away at me.

    You’re so right to point out that you need to know your reasons for doing what you’re doing. If it’s all about acceptance then you are surely setting yourself up for resentment.

    Big hugs to you beautiful Paige!
    Angela
    Angela Artemis|Powered by Intuition recently posted..Intuition, Destiny and the Call to Return HomeMy Profile

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  10/10/2013 at 10:20 am

      Thank you so much Angela! Using mindfulness to notice why we do things, it’s surprising how much we do to be accepted by others and are upset when our expectations in that area aren’t met (which is all too often).

      Mindfulness is such a powerful tool to opening our eyes to the things that are right in front of us.

      Big hugs to you!!
      Paige Burkes recently posted..When It’s Time To Say NoMy Profile

      Reply
    Gavriel
    Commented:  10/16/2013 at 6:55 am

    My experience with serving has usually not been a nice one. I began helping people out of good will until I felt they started taking advantage of me, at which point I didn’t know how to say no, it is always so difficult for me to say no. Then the resentment begins, but I am learning to set my limits. It’s not always easy to know why or why not I am doing something, and though some times saying no does cause anger in others, I recognize how important it is do so in the kindest way possible and start listening to myself. It’s not an easy path but I have made a few steps.

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  10/17/2013 at 2:22 pm

      Congratulations Gavriel! Being aware of your choices and taking those first few steps are huge!

      Many times we do things simply for the expected acceptance and appreciation of others. Then we’re angry or resentful when our expectations aren’t met.

      I’ve learned that other people’s reactions to my actions are completely out of my control. We can all make the choice to stop doing something for someone as easily as we make the choice to start. Their anger is simply their own expectations not being met.

      We help others. They begin to expect the help. We stop helping. They’re angry because they expected us to keep helping.

      So many negative emotions are rooted in unmet expectations.
      Paige Burkes recently posted..Creating a New Life By ChoosingMy Profile

      Reply
    Gayle Esther Levy
    Commented:  10/16/2013 at 10:21 am

    When I discovered I was a co-dependent I felt like I had been slapped in the face! Here was me, believing all my life that I was just “too kind for my own good” and it turns out that this was a “method” I had learned during my highly traumatic childhood to “earn love”. Until last year I was living with a man that literally leached off me emotionally for nearly 20 years..and I was letting it happen. Watch out.. being kind is great but if you have trouble saying no and always put other people’s needs above your own you could be a co-dependent.
    Gayle Esther Levy recently posted..3 Top Messaging Myths DebunkedMy Profile

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  10/17/2013 at 2:30 pm

      You bring up a great point Gayle. It’s amazing how long we perpetuate the personas of our childhood. We create a persona to survive in our earliest years. Over time we forget that it’s not our True Self and we assume that we are our persona and we take that persona into our adult relationships.

      The big rule is that we can’t take care of others very well if we don’t take good care of ourselves first. And that includes drawing healthy boundaries.

      Thanks for your comment Gayle!
      Paige Burkes recently posted..Mindfulness In a Bad RelationshipMy Profile

      Reply
    Joe
    Commented:  10/17/2013 at 8:14 am

    “When you start saying ‘no’ in a thoughtful way, people may initially be surprised or upset, or not.
    “I’d love to take on Project X but I’m currently bogged down with Projects A and B. The soonest I can get to Project X is (sometime past their deadline).”
    This is how you begin to train others to dump their projects on someone else.
    This is how you train others to respect you and your time which is of equal value to theirs, regardless of everyone’s titles.
    This is how you create boundaries and respect yourself.”

    I like this. I find I am taken advantage of by some people simply because it would be easier for them to dump their stuff in my lap instead of making the effort themselves. It’s a good lesson to learn, saying no like that, without actually saying no.

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  10/17/2013 at 2:33 pm

      If it’s easier for someone to dump something on us, it’s simply because we’ve chosen to allow the other person to do so.

      If “no” is difficult to say, “okay, but…” is a great alternative.

      So glad this was helpful for you Joe!
      Paige Burkes recently posted..When It’s Time To Say NoMy Profile

      Reply
    HappinessSavouredHot
    Commented:  10/18/2013 at 12:58 pm

    It’s been shown that helping others (and even spending money on others) can make one happier than focusing on oneself; however, I have seen this go too far. In young mothers, especially, who sometimes forget about themselves altogether. A fine balance! We were people before having kids, we are still people now, with needs and limits!

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  10/19/2013 at 12:42 pm

      I couldn’t agree with you more! Being the mother of three small children myself, I’m constantly pulled to give to my family. The practice of mindfulness has helped me to notice the feelings of exhaustion earlier, then it’s an internal battle between my True Self and my monkey mind to act on those thoughts and feelings and take the time to care for myself.

      Yes, it’s a constant balancing practice. Noticing when our feelings our shifting from feeling good to feeling used up and resentful is the key to maintaining balance and happiness.
      Paige Burkes recently posted..How to Shift from What’s Wrong in Your Life to HappinessMy Profile

      Reply
    richmiraclefiles
    Commented:  10/20/2013 at 3:23 am

    Hi Paige
    Help received is as valuable as the recognition of the circumstances it has been obtained in.The cost it took the provider to render the aid.It is a learning experience.There is enormous value in the learning from inconspicuous circumstances of life.
    Many times the unsung heroes of real life carry deeper values than we pause to examine earnestly. Giving indeed is truely beneficial for the giver and the receiver,both, when it is done without any expectation or memory of it at all.that is the highest form of altruism and selflessness.The Bible tells you that the left hand should not know what the right is giving!
    Thanks
    Mona
    richmiraclefiles recently posted..Do We Have To Endure The Roller Coaster Ride Of Our Emotions,Forever?My Profile

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  10/20/2013 at 4:05 pm

      Giving and receiving are both arts. They both take practice to master, especially to overcome the unproductive messages that society and families feed many of us.

      Yes, Mona, giving without expectations, without attachment to the outcome, is priceless.

      Thanks for your comment!
      Paige Burkes recently posted..The Ultimate Productivity HackMy Profile

      Reply
    Bethany @ Journey to Ithaca
    Commented:  10/20/2013 at 3:17 pm

    Wow, you completely hit the nail on the head. I used to consider it to be a chore, when I helped others, because I was doing it in the hopes of gaining validation and approval. Then, I went through a very dark and difficult winter, and a friend (who I had previously not known very well) was constantly available, and really saw me through this time. I felt like a burden, because I had never helped anyone just because I could. I often say that I was not fully capable of loving, until I was loved so completely, by that friend and others who would come out of the woodwork. Truly helping others does not mean being a martyr, and it often does not get us recognition. We just help because we can. (Here is a blog post I wrote about my thoughts after last winter: http://myjourneytoithaca.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/lesson-2-love-is-the-only-thing-that-is-real/ )
    Bethany @ Journey to Ithaca recently posted..The Day my Brain was HijackedMy Profile

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  10/20/2013 at 4:10 pm

      You’ve touched on some great points Bethany! When giving feels like a chore, so does receiving. If we give, seeking something in return, we have a hard time receiving because we think we’ll have to “pay it back,” and we end up moving forward with a sense of obligation.

      Give, being grateful for the opportunity to give. Receive, being grateful for the opportunity to receive. Do both simply because it brings you joy. It’s that simple.

      It’s wonderful that you were open and able to learn so much in a tough time in your life. Thanks for sharing your post!
      Paige Burkes recently posted..How to Shift from What’s Wrong in Your Life to HappinessMy Profile

      Reply
    Amanda
    Commented:  10/23/2013 at 1:46 pm

    Great info. I often have problem with this, usually I try to help too much. Going to change that now!

    Reply
    Robert
    Commented:  10/25/2013 at 8:38 am

    Hi Paige, I really enjoyed your article – thanks a lot.

    I think, the ideal solution is to combine doing what you love most while serving at the same time. We are all unique, we have a unique set of talents and if we focus on those talents, on our life mission, we will find personal fulfillment and be perfect servants as well.
    Robert recently posted..5 Simple Ways To Add More Fun, Passion and Excitement To Your LifeMy Profile

    Reply
    r.b.
    Commented:  01/26/2014 at 4:51 am

    Excellent article. I felt the words were just for me!!

    I’ve been serving someplace 10 years and realized in 2012 I need to resign. I’m still there. Lord help. Lol. But, in general I’m stuck. I have skills and talents to be successful in other arenas but I feel paralyzed. I hate my day job but stay there taking the discrimination. No love relationship. I battle feeling no one wants me although I’m quite attractive. The aftermath of divorce has been the reason I faced all my issues. How do you recommend I go forward so I can truly thrive and live?

    Reply
      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  01/26/2014 at 2:55 pm

      r.b.
      It sounds like it’s time to focus on you instead of others for a while. Learning to love and accept yourself as you are will help you to feel your innate worthiness and give you the confidence to make the changes that it sounds like you want to make.

      What are the fears stopping you from making changes? Speak directly to those fears as if they were another person. Facing and accepting fears tends to lessen their impact on our lives. Resisting and denying them gives them more power.

      It’s OK to stop living for other people’s expectations. Do what feels good for you. You’re enough and perfect right now.
      Paige Burkes recently posted..How to Mindfully Boost Your Self-ConfidenceMy Profile

      Reply
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