Being a Helper

The material in this series of 22 x blogs (of which this is number 7) with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network.  They are re-published with the permission of the authors for I am most grateful.

Regarding being a helper, theoretically it’s enough to listen!

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We are often most helpful when we are just listening. When others share their feelings with us, it is very easy to want to help them so badly that we give them good advice, take over their problem or—if its bad enough—try and take their minds off the situation. However, the most useful thing we can do is keep quiet, show them we care by the way we listen and attend to them and let them use us as a sounding board to vent off their feelings.

Being there for someone

One of the best ways in which we can help others when they have a problem is just to listen and act as a sounding board for their thoughts and feelings. This means caring enough about the person to put aside all thoughts of ourselves and concentrate our whole attention and awareness on them, in an open and caring way. The people we tend to find it easiest to talk to about our deepest fears and worries are those who don’t talk back to us very much.  Mostly they just listen and we go away feeling that we have really been heard and understood.

What these people are doing is allowing us to speak our worries freely without putting in their own thoughts and feelings to get in our way. Although they are often silent we know from the expression on their face and how they sit or stand that they are giving us their complete attention.


They show their caring, acceptance and trust to us and feeling this from them, we can let go of some of our fear and share a lot more of what is troubling us than we would otherwise do.  In doing so, we can see ourselves and our problem more clearly.  Doing and saying nothing but just silently being there, attentive and caring, can be the most profound help that we can ever give to another human being.  Yet, although we are taught how to talk, read and write, very rarely are we taught to listen, despite the fact that it is a communication skill like all the others.

Research has shown that people who are thought of as very good listeners tend to “match” the person who is talking to them. This matching behaviour includes what they do with their body and their gestures, the use of similar words and phrases and, more subtly, mirroring thought processes. Most of us do this to some degree, even if only at an unconscious level, and the skill can be developed considerably with practice.  Matching has the effect of putting the other person more at their ease and making them feel comfortable and accepted for who and what they are. This feeling of safety gives them the freedom to explore their problems more deeply and productively.


 The essential ingredients for a helping relationship

When professionals first started to train people as helpers, they spent years noticing how people who were naturally helpful behaved. In this way they identified five major ingredients that we can all usefully employ in helping both adults and  children:

1. Acceptance

Difficulty with acceptance is often bound up with issues of control.  We may find it difficult to accept others if we have the need to control or judge the behaviour or feelings especially when they are feelings that don’t fit with our picture of the world.  If we can cultivate a sense of impartiality, or an awareness of a clear distance between “me” and “you”, we will find it easier to accept others fully, and to accept what they say without judgement.

2. Care

Even as we are able to accept others and what is happening for them, without judgement, we need to be able to genuinely care about them enough to be able to want to help them both now with their problem and in the long term by helping them learn how to help themselves. This can be particularly difficult when dealing with those closest to us. It is one of the most difficult things a parent can do for instance, to watch while their children learn `from their own mistakes’.

3. Understanding

We can never truly experience things in exactly the same way as someone else – but to be understanding we need to get as close to this as we possibly can. Part of being a helper is taking the time almost to think ourselves into someone else’s shoes, imagining or visualising what might they be feeling like right now,  not in order to present them with our ready made solution but o be able to work alongside them in their task to find their own.


4. Trust

None of the above is a lot of use if we do not believe that the other person is actually capable of understanding their own feelings and issues, finding their own answers and looking after themselves. We need to be able to trust them to help themselves, which may or may not include asking us for assistance along the way. As we trust them more, they will come to trust themselves more and will grow – learning from their mistakes- to be more and more capable.

5. Being congruent Being congruent means that all the different parts of you match. They are all expressing the same thing. These parts include:

  •  Tone of voice.
  • Facial expression.
  • Posture and body language.
  • Internal feelings and sensations.
  • Thoughts and beliefs.
  • The words that are spoken.
  • The actions you perform.

For example, if you were angry, you would look and sound angry, you would be thinking angry thoughts and you would be expressing yourself verbally in an angry way.  No-one would be in any doubt about the fact that you were ANGRY! Being congruent involves:

Experiencing – having thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, physical tensions       

Awareness – knowing what you are feeling and thinking    

Communication – being able to communicate these things to others.

Quite often we are not congruent. For example, we may feel angry in our  minds and bodies but try not to show it. This is called a mixed message and these can cause confusion in other people because they can sense that something isn’t “straight”. Children are especially sensitive to mixed messages and may behave in negative ways when they are receiving them from you because they cannot cope with the confusion they are experiencing. We can be incongruent in three ways … we will do some more of this in the next posting!

There are many things that will help you in Sue’s book “Peace of Mind – Pathways to Successful Living”. Download chapter 1 free now!

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