By Judi Light Hopson, Emma H. Hopson and Ted Hagen McClatchy-Tribune News Service.
Have you ever gotten tangled up in someone else's bad luck? Maybe you tried to offer advice and fix a quarrel between two people. Or, have you ever tried to bail someone out of debt?
There are healthy ways to assist others, but many times, we can get into deep trouble trying to help certain people. The rope you toss them, meant to keep them from drowning, winds up around your own neck!
"I keep thinking it's important to help other people, especially with our economy so rocky," says a real estate agent we'll call Pauline. "I'm a grandmother, and I worry a lot about people with small children and grandchildren."
Pauline confessed to us that she's given over $10,000 in loans to some of her co-workers. "I've dug deep to lend money," says Pauline, "but now, my husband is very angry with me!"
If you're the type of person who loves helping, be sure to avoid over-helping. If you sink your own boat to help someone else, this is dangerous for your own survival.
These tips can help:
-Don't give or lend something you really need. For example, if you're getting ready to retire, don't lend your adult child $50,000 from your retirement fund to build a house.
-Examine someone's character closely. If your neighbor, for instance, has been convicted of a crime, don't sell the neighbor a car and co-sign the loan for him at the bank. How someone behaves in one area of life indicates how they will behave in another area.
-Help someone find a solution that works well for all concerned. You might, for example, offer to help a friend who is a recovering alcoholic search for a job. Help this person find companies to call, but don't do all the legwork yourself. Spending time to help someone can be costlier to you in the long run than lending money.
"Codependent people often act as care-takers of other people," says a psychologist we'll call Chris. "Care-taking types often ignore their own problems to rescue others. But, this seldom works. None of us have the power to actually fix someone's deep problems or a bad life."
Chris says that he has worked with many clients who borrowed thousands on credit cards to help bail out relatives on drugs and alcohol. "They were fueling a wildfire with their borrowed money," says Chris. "In the end, this helped no one. Some of my clients wrecked their homes and marriages doing this."
The best way to really see if helping someone might actually work is this: Watch how someone makes decisions. If they are complaining loudly that their life isn't working, notice how they are managing changes in their life. If they take no action, and just complain a lot, it's a good bet you can't make a dent in their problems.
"People who are serious about finding solutions come up with a plan," says Chris. "I won't work with any patients in therapy, who need to make a major life change, if they don't devise a sound plan and follow it. I will not waste my own time just listening to people gripe."
When we each focus on making good decisions for ourselves, we will maintain a relatively healthy lifestyle. All of us have to be careful about letting our hearts tempt us to give too much to others. ___ (Judi Light Hopson is the Executive Director of the stress management website USA Wellness Cafe at www.usawellnesscafe.com. Emma Hopson is an author and a nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.)