Helping Others and When to Say No

If you are the type of person whose loved ones would be quick to describe as kind, compassionate and understanding, you may be the person that these loved ones go to when they need a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. This can be great, not only because you get to do something for another human being, but also because helping others is incredibly rewarding on a personal level. However, it is extremely important to know when you are able to help, and when you need to say no.

Although it may be hard, we have to learn to care for ourselves first before we can care for others. The best example of this is the oxygen masks that fall down in an airplane when cabin pressure drops. If you go to put the oxygen mask of the struggling person sitting next to you, but neglect to put on your own mask first, you may become unconscious before you can help the other person. Then there are two people who need help! To put this into everyday perspective, if a friend calls you and needs to vent about a bad day with their boss at work, but you’re headed into the gym to relieve some stress of your own, tell your friend you will call back after you work out. You likely won’t be able to listen as well or respond in an understanding, non-self-related way if you are too stressed yourself.

To extend the oxygen mask further, say the person sitting next to you has a physical ailment that makes putting their oxygen mask on quite difficult for you to help with, as you aren’t sure what their needs are. This is where it is extremely important to acknowledge that you cannot help; although you may want to assist this person, if you are not equipped to do so, it may bring more harm to you (and the person) in the long run. To bring it back to everyday, if your friend who is calling is crying and yelling about their workday and wants you to tell them how to handle it, but you know that being yelled at can cause you to feel very anxious, you need to be honest and say that you are sorry, but you are not the best person to help. It might seem as though you’re abandoning a friend in their time of need, but this is not true. Taking care of one’s own well-being is the top priority, and you are not responsible for anyone’s well-being but your own. Like I said earlier, you can’t help someone with their oxygen mask if you yourself can’t breathe.

Learning this skill of when to say no to helping others will be very challenging for some people; for others, they are very familiar with their limits and can separate themselves from the situation easily. Knowing what your limits are may take some time and experience, but try to self-reflect on what those limits are before the cabin pressure drops.