Road of Helping Others

“One of her greatest fears is that her partner will change after she leaves and someone else will reap the reward of her effort. She lives between if I can just hang on long enough, he will change  and if I leave and he changes, I will miss out.” Joanna V. Hunter[1]


This seductive route involves pouring energy into changing others. The attractive posters along this route are “Help Me” and “Compassionate Care.” Wanting to assist others in nonjudgmental ways is a positive quality; being a compassionate person feels gratifying. However, this strength can be twisted by the winds of coercive control.

If we get hooked into doing for others what they can do for themselves this becomes a problem. Alcoholics, controllers, and others with narcissistic traits are great at inducing or coercing others to take care of them, and then they don’t follow through with their part. They can be good at blaming their woes on other things or people, hoping that you’ll feel sorry for them and take over. The unadvertised catch is that ultimately they begin to blame you for their problems and resent you if you hold them accountable.

Compassion is a desirable quality in any relationship.  The key to whether people’s desire for compassion is healthy lies in whether they maintain their own sense of boundaries and responsibility. Another key is whether compassion and helpfulness are mutual. When it’s a one-way street, this is a clue you’re faced with controllers or narcissists. Remember, when people hold you accountable for standards or expectations that they don’t apply to themselves, this is a danger sign.

When we are blind to our own “internal predators,” it is easy to focus on changing the other person as being the only option. Often people wear themselves out, going from therapist to therapist, trying to figure out how to get “him” or “her” to change. Controllers encourage this many times by occasionally acknowledging they have problems and pleading for your help. Being seduced by promises of change that are not attached to demonstrated behavior is a dead-end street. It is important to pay attention to the flashing sign “Not Invested,” which indicates others aren’t as interested in altering their behavior as we are.

Words are cheap, as they say. The best response to empty promises is  “Show me the money by changing your behavior.” If there is no change, BELIEVE that the person doesn’t want to change. As befuddling as that may be, it is true that some people give up everything to keep things the way they are internally. I encourage you to stop trying to understand it; it is not rational. Just believe it when you see it.

It is very easy on this highway to devote so much attention to caring for another that you neglect yourself. This is true even when the person you care for isn’t a controller. The internalized predator here is tricking yourself into thinking that your needs aren’t important or that it would be selfish to pay attention to yourself.

[1] Joanna V. Hunter, But He’ll Change: End the Thinking That Keeps You in an Abusive Relationship. Center City, MN.: Hazelden, 2010.


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