Suppose you have a friend who is in a bad spot.
It could be academic – maybe he failed to do a project on time due to problems that are beyond his control or maybe he simply did not plan ahead. On the other hand, your friend could be struggling with a relationship – there may have been signs of cheating or the two of them may no longer have the spark that brought them together.
There are many other problems that may occur, so take your hypothetical pick.
As a good friend and (hopefully) a good person, you offer to help and provide counsel for your friend.
You talk with him or her and try your best to get your friend to calm down and think logically. Your approach will differ depending on the type of problem. You may offer to help finish the incomplete project and provide additional dialogue on how he or she may improve on it. You might listen to your friend as he or she rants about why the relationship went sour, while providing guidance on what to do next. At this point, you've done what you can do and told your friend that he or she needs to take action. Now, you wait to see what happens and hope for the best.
From here, the situation may have different routes but can lead to the same conclusion. By offering to help your friend, you've shown that you can lend a shoulder for him or her to lean on. In a sense, as his or her friend, it is your duty to help whenever possible. Most of you would agree with that – after all, what good is a friend who can't help?
Suppose, however, that your friend in question continues to ask you for help. In your friend's eyes, you had an amazing ability to solve conflicts and problems, or at the very least, offered to be by his or side when things got rough. As a friend, you help without hesitation.
This is where things begin to go bad.
By consistently offering to help your friend, you begin to create a dependent relationship. The hallmark of this interaction is the high amount of dependence of at least one party on the other. Your friend continues to ask you for help, and you continue to accept – as a result, your friend begins to lean on you more and more. Eventually, your friend starts taking your word over his or her own, and soon you find he person can no longer think for him or herself.
Even worse, you may find that you are dependent on your friend too – you become dependent on feeling good after helping him or her. Neither of you may have intended for it to happen, but now you find yourself struggling on how to distance your friend without destroying your friendship.
Such relationships display the hidden and destructive consequences of helping others too much. When you help others, you aide them for their future well being.
You don't want them to grow obsessively attached to you (think of the overly-attached girlfriend meme). It doesn't seem as absurd when I say you shouldn't help others too much because it doesn't just constrict and hurt your friend – they'll drag you in too. When you find a friend in trouble, provide guidance and support, but don't get too involved with their life affairs.
Find the balance and help only when they truly need it. You want your friend to think for and trust in him or herself, instead of always going to you for answers. After all, no one has all the answers – it would be deceptive to make it seem you have them.
If you want to help your friend, don't help too much.
Jan Urbano is a senior in biological sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.