"I LIKE HELPING! As long as I take care of myself in the process"

✦ Many ACoAs are trained from birth to be helpers, regardless of their native personality style & interests. There’s an ironic saying in recovery circles: “ACOAs are born with an MSW (Masters in Social Work) and get their Birth Certificate later”!

✦ This generally represents the Hero role ( pg.20 on SiteMap) which is most often the job of the first born child in a dysfunctional family. They’re supposed to pick up the slack where the parents leave off – being the little adult to make the family look healthier than it really is, but at the expense of the child.

✦ This caretaker role becomes so deeply ingrained that it is usually carried into all of our ADULT relationships. It requires unceasing effort on behalf of others instead of caring fully for ourselves. (‘RESCUING – False Helping’).

✦ On the other hand, there are ACoAs who, by their very nature, are meant to be in the helping or service professions (including people born with strong Water Sign influences in their astrological chart – esp. Pisces & Cancer).

✦ For those of us so designed, the ideal is to be of genuine help to others, as a way to express our Highest Self – without resorting to the toxic patters of co-dependence, self-hate, boundary invasion, fear of abandonment & over-control.

1. OVERVIEW - Before Helping, ask yourself:
a. What do I know about the person I may help?
• are they responsible & self-caring?
• did they ask me directly& specifically, for something?
• will they be OK with you, if you can’t do what they want?
b. What exactly do they want?
• can they truly do it for themselves?
• is the request ‘clean’ (emotionally & verbally honest)?
• how many parts to the request are there, actually?
• what are the consequences/ price TO ME?
c. Can I Comply?
• am I really able to do this? (not beyond my ability OR not being asked to do the impossible?)
• do I WANT to do it? If ‘Yes’ – what’s my motive?
• what does it require of me – specifically?
• will I be angry if I do it, OR remorseful/ guilty, if I don’t?
• do I want anything in return? What are my expectations?

2. Prerequisites - for H.H.
a. In US
• having good self-esteem, solid sense of identity not dependent on others
• having developed strong boundaries, not needing to be symbiotic
• not needing to use people to feel good about ourselves
• being able to keep the ‘focus on oneself’ – not be enmeshed with the needs & emotions of others
• knowing our individual and human limitations, without judgment or self-hate
• knowing what’s real, in the recovery process, about:
– emotions: each person is responsible for their own, & are manageable
– the growth process: it’s slow & has to be experienced personally
– what mental health is (pgs. 59, 60, 63 from sitemap)
– what can be dealt with: what’s possible or not possible (ACoAs tend to get these backwards!) Refer to “The Serenity Prayer”

b. In THEM
If they ARE:
• actively taking care of themselves (personal responsibility)
• actually ask for the help they want or need
• be clear about what they need (be direct & specific)
• are truly ‘dis-abled’ in some way (ADD, PTSD, depression, physical illness…)
• are able to use what you give then – apply it to their lives & use it to grow
➼ “Give a man a fish & you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish & you feed him for a lifetime.” Chinese proverb
DON’T help if they :
• need to suck you dry / cling, use you as a parent substitute
• try to copy your personality, instead of forming their own
• expect you to be perfect, know everything, take care of them
• blame you for things that don’t work, that they can’t do, for disappointing outcomes

3. WHEN….
• you don’t have to keep your antennae up all the time – to check for what’s wrong, walk on egg shells, worry about being accused wrongly…
• it’s short term, bcs they’re growing, learning, changing
• you only have to do ‘so much’ & then back off & let them handle things
• don’t take an action from being guilted or shamed by someone
• not to boost your self-esteem or sense of identity
• you’re cup is full enough that you’re not draining yourself dry
• don’t NEED a return for your efforts – it is appropriate to get paid, get thanked, have some reciprocity, BUT not secretly NEED it
• they genuinely can’t do something for themselves, but it’s temporary
• you can do it without being resentful or hurt yourself in some way
• you’re NOT trying to do the impossible (force-fix someone’s damage)

4. HOW
• by setting limits with self & others
• speaking the truth (emotional or intellectual); some won’t want to hear it & will go away, but others will appreciate & value it
• ASK Qs – Re. their problem: What do you need from me? What have you already done? What are you planning to do?…
• give EMOTIONAL support (heart), instead of solutions (head, actions)
• be clear about what you can & cannot do OR will & will not do
• wait to see if they CAN do something on their own OR if there’s someone else who can / will help them
• help someone think a problem thru – THEIR way
• don’t jump in, don’t assume you know what’s needed

➼ SOMETIMES, DO-ing NOTHING is the best or only option
• OK to do someone a favor sometimes – even if they can do it themselves, if it’s on your way, not a burden, something you like to do
• OK to help someone get thru emotionally hard times – death of loved one, work trauma, health problems…
….AS LONG AS the HELPEE is respectful of your time & efforts, appropriately (not overly) appreciative & is not an emotionally bottomless pit

a. IN US - WE
✧ feel satisfied, pleased, ‘full’, comfortable, relaxed
✧ feel good about ourselves, but don’t need it for our identity
✧ are not depleted or resentful
✧ feel more connected to others, & the world
✧ don’t have to ‘hide’ any more from needy ‘pests’
b. IN THEM — if they’re OK (reasonably healthy)
✧ they grow & improve, no matter how slowly
✧ are empowered & gain self-esteem
✧ don’t resent or blame you
✧ are appreciative but not fawning
✧ become more independent, & inter-dependent
✧ get real nurturing from your help
-- if they’re not OK (still too damaged)
✦ they’ll be resentful, attack you, accuse you of not caring, bad mouth you to others, accuse you of abandoning them & of being SELFISH….
….BECAUSE you’re NOT rescuing them!

6. DON’T Do Something IF:
• YOU are needy/ in need, at the moment OR Overextended
• you’re going to do it out of guilt or from too great an obligation
• they need too much from you – - more than you can give or more than is appropriate to ask
• you just do not want to OR it is truly, deeply not right for you to do. Do not JUSTIFY your ‘NO’
• you don’t feel safe helping a specific person, because they’re a taker, user, abuser, bully… &
no matter what you give, it will never be right or enough!


Author's Bio: 

is a psychotherapist in private practice for 24 yrs in New York City,
specializing in ACoA RECOVERY (adult-children of alcoholics & other narcissists).
She has appeared on radio, television & at New Life Expo, created & presented ACoA / Al-Anon intensive weekend workshops & ran an ACoA therapy group for 6 years.
She was an instructor at the NY OPEN CENTER  for 9 yrs, presenting her 12-week interactive lecture course “KNOWLEDGE Is POWER: What makes an ACoA”

She works with individuals & couples/partners, in person and by phone & Skype. FREE Intro Session, to see if there is compatibility.

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