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One of the hardest lessons for some to learn in life is you cannot help everyone. To be clear, this does not refer to people who look for any reason to pass on helping someone instead of the one way in which they could. Those are the people who will refuse to help someone if the issue at hand is too big for them to address entirely. They do not really want to help in the first place, but can appease their conscience by chalking it up to, “I couldn’t really do much anyway, so why even bother.” Not focusing on them; today.
This refers to the people who could receive all the help in the world, yet still end up right back in the same place where they began. Sure we may think about the homeless person begging who is really just scamming people. But a lot of unhelpable people are often much closer to us. They are in our families or can be our closest friends. And sometimes it may even be us in certain situations; though we are either blind to it or in denial at the time.
One major tell-tale sign of the unhelpable is even though the same thing has happened to them 500 times, they always see themselves as the victim. At some point we figure they may actually consider the notion, “hmmm, maybe I’m part of the problem.” Good luck with that. And should we as a loving friend or family member attempt to point this out, they will quickly turn on you; even if you have been the one (or one of the ones) helping every time they get in the same mess again. In their eyes, you are just jealous or like to hate on them.
This leads into a second sign of the unhelpable. No matter how many times you have given them money, bailed them out, paid their bills or were their shoulder to cry on in the past, the one time you say no it all goes out the window. We not only should help them, but owe it to them; at least in their mind. Because we finally decided to stop enabling them to continue in a downward spiral and leave them to fix their own problems, we are now enemy number one. But there is no need to take their threats to cut us out of their lives too seriously (hey, it might actually save us some drama and money for a while). They will quickly find neither their pretend friends nor loved ones they have burned in the past care to help either.
Perhaps one of the most recognizable signs of the unhelpable, is how much they drain everyone who actually gives a crap about them. After a while you begin to feel they knowingly use the fact that you will not easily turn your back to their advantage. We care about them, but they only leave us feeling used. And each and every time we actually decide to stand our ground and say, “Nope, I’m not going to help this time,” they manage to get themselves into a situation where not helping will result in going to jail, being homeless, their kids suffering, etc… Even worse, instead of being a half decent person and spreading their using ways across several people, they come back to the one or two people still doing so until they burn them out. They are always on the take, but almost never stop to ask the question, “What is it I actually do for other people?”
But let us not completely trash the unhelpable. They actually are capable of caring about someone else and will even do something nice for them from time to time. The problem is, they expect us to sound the trumpets and throw a parade when they do. They never want us to forget that one time they went out of their way for us, but will trash a lifetime of our help the second we finally throw in the towel. The reality is, the nice gesture they made was never about you. It was just a way for them to clear their conscience or deny you the ability to continue saying they never did anything for you.
Something most frustrating about an unhelpable person, is their corrupt sense of loyalty. The people who love and care about them the most, are the first they will throw under the bus. But the people they are strongly loyal to, also happen to be the ones destroying them. Yes we have known them for 20+ years, but that guy they met 2 weeks ago is suddenly the person they trust the most. Sure we have put our neck on the line for them countless times, but they easily take what their loud-mouthed friends say as more reliable. And when those people almost inevitably use and abuse them, they come running back to us for help. Sure we told them exactly what would happen and they said we were crazy and heartless because we can’t stand to see them “in love” or being happy. Yet, it is always a surprise to them when our words hit their mark.
And finally, one of the most annoying habits of the unhelpable is their incessant complaining. No matter how much help and support is around them or how carefree their life clearly is, they can always find something to complain about. And of the things they can legitimately complain about, 9 times out of 10 it is usually their fault anyway. They complain about being broke, but refuse to get a job, look for a better one or stop spending on unnecessary things. They come to us day after day with a sob story about how terrible their significant other is, yet go back to them without a second thought. They whine about their “friends” backstabbing them at every turn, but continue to hang out with them or find some even worse. The worst part of the complaining is, they do it to feel important or relevant. We have given them sound advice they never seem to take, but keep coming back to us saying, “What should I do?” And sometimes we just get to a point where before they even open their mouth we say, “don’t even talk to me about it because you know what to do, but refuse to do it.”
One thing to note is every unhelpable person does not look the same. Sometimes it is someone with a drug or alcohol addiction. Other times it is the woman who keeps hanging on to that deadbeat, good for nothing guy (or girl) claiming “I can’t help it, I love them.” Perhaps it is the person forever on the edge of financial ruin refusing to put out a resume or accept they are not entitled to having the newest clothes, video games and cars. And some of us church folks recognize them as the person constantly talking about how the devil is ruining their life, but we know their bad choices leave little work for him to actually do.
The one key ingredient tying every type and form of unhelpable person together is…lack of accountability. They never own up to the role they play in every disaster they stumble headfirst into. It always “just happened” to them and now it is our job to fix it. We could give them $100,000, and rest assured two years later they would have nothing to show for it; except maybe more debt. But we should not be quick to label someone as unhelpable. This is a conclusion we should only arrive at when they have proven it to us through repeated actions. Sometimes the line between helping and enabling is terribly blurry.
There are people who really have just fallen on hard times and with a little help, will work furiously to pick themselves back up. They will actually chase us down to pay us back, because they cannot stand owing someone anything. To deny helping that person because we fear they are taking advantage of us, would be just as sinful as helping the one we know will be no better off based on our previous interactions. Therefore, it is necessary to have some sort of guidelines to navigate this sometimes foggy terrain.
First, never give cash when we can provide the actual resource. Pay it off or buy it for them, but never give them real money if we suspect they will use it foolishly. Second, only dispense advice when it is asked and discontinue if they suffer when disregarding it. Otherwise, we will only make ourselves frustrated. Third, if we threaten to cut them off but eventually give in, we cannot complain when they keep using us. At that point, we sound just like them. Fourth, understand it is rare for someone suspected of being unhelpable, to begin changing their ways on their own. When they cannot be counted on to be accountable to themselves, the best thing for them may be to let natural consequences run their course instead of hoping one day they will decide being responsible is fun. No matter how much they yell and scream no one loves them, tough love is a necessary part of love. Last but not least, be willing to take a look at ourselves and the role we play in what happens to us. The one thing worse than being used by the unhelpable, is failing to realize when we are in fact that person.
By Corey Dorsey