Few people would argue against the benefits gained from helping others butwhen people experience hardships or challenges in their own lives, they are frequently less inclined to devote time to altruistic endeavors. Instead, the most common behavior is to dwell on whatever hardship they areexperiencing without any consideration for helping others, even though it can provide significant potential to help themselves. It takes a certain amount of emotional maturity to try to find ways to help others in need while we are confronted with our own issues.
Studies have found that those who give help or support others while confronted with their own hardships are often keenly aware that they still have to deal with their own problems, but also realize the tremendous benefits that can be gained from helping others during these times. When they are able to deliberately abandon their own problems, even if only for a brief period, they can oftentimes gain valuable insight into how to deal with their own struggles. I like to refer to this as “getting out of ourselves”. By “getting out of ourselves” our focus is drawn away from our own problems and directed towards the problems or challenges of others. We all have a tendency to view problems of others differently than we view our own. Many times we can be more objective with others and help them find better solutions. By doing this our own decision making skills are improved and we become more adept at helping ourselves with our own challenges.
A recently published article by Dr. Elizabeth Hopper titled “How Helping Others Gives Meaning To Our Lives” (2016) presents new research indicating that helping others is an important ingredient to developing a sense of meaning and purpose.
Working with many different clients from all walks of life, as well as including observations from my personal relationships, I have observed many intrinsic as well as extrinsic benefits prevalent in those given to providing altruistic help to others.
- Increased Compassion – both for self and others
- Being less self-absorbed
- Reduced need to obsess and talk about own problems
- A healthier sense of self
- Improved coping skills
- Better all-around attitude to overcome problems
- Bonding with others, even strangers can enrich our lives and give us inspiration
- Understanding we are not isolated in our pain or suffering. Others have pain and suffering as well!
- Giving meaning to our life by providing us a sense of interconnectedness with others; a reminder that our problems are universal
- Providing space between us and our problems so new insights can emerge
- Increased potential for release of “feel good” hormones
I’m sure many of you can relate to some of the following examples associated with helping others. Some simple actions to help others can be empathetic listening, without judgment and uninvited criticisms. Taking the time to engage in a needed conversation with a friend or loved one can uplift them and provide them the support they need. Making the conversation about them and not us shows that we are willing to “get out of ourselves” and be compassionately present for those people we are helping. When we ask questions from interest and care for the person and without our own agenda, it can be invaluable to others. Additional ways to help others and ourselvesis making a short-term commitment to community service work, such as a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
I hope I have been able to provide some insights about one of the best ways to help ourselves, especially when we are experiencing hardships or challenges in our own lives, is truly by helping others. I know I have personally benefitted from this approach, and the first person that modeled clearly for me, was my mother. I remember as a child during some especially painful times my mother and I faced, she plunged herself in helping others. Her empathy and compassion had always been in her nature, but to observe a tangible example like my mother’s behavior during such awful times, gave me an appreciation of the potential for compassion we all have within us. I also noted with utter amazement how her disposition radically changed as a result of helping others instead of focusing on our hardships. To me, she became a role model of what is possible in humanity. Without a doubt, my mom left an indelible impression upon me, to this day.
I feel that when we observe altruism in it’s most sincere form we are not merely witnessing our own yearning for kindness, but also a desire to know that we have the potential to transcend our own problems– and having that awareness is, empowering, especially when faced with our own personal challenges.