One of my mother’s favorite defenses:
I was only trying to help.
It is a great confrontation stopper. How can you continue to yell at someone who was only trying to help? However misguided the help, she was acting with the best of intentions. Right? Wrong!
Help was used in an array of different ways. One thing was constant: it was never about me, it was always something self-serving. Whether helping me to exercise control over me, over a situation or as a build-up to a bigger con… there was always something my mother was trying to achieve. That is why I call it manipulative help, it was a tool for control and power. Oh, and it pretty much guaranteed deniability, let’s not forget that.
Help With Strings Attached
I am not saying that expecting someone to return a favor is always a bad thing. In fact, it is the balance that keeps most human relationships working. It becomes problematic when the help offered is only a means to bargain the counter-favor.
In other words, when I help my best friend move, I want to contribute to them being happy in their new home. I do not do it as a calculated investment into my plans to re-landscape my garden. Even if my friend indeed ends up helping me with the garden, my intention was still to help. I wished to contribute positively to their life, and maybe get my hands on a slice of thank-you-pizza…
Slap in the Face Help
Some help is just a way of letting you know you are a huge failure, ‘You need help? With THIS!’ can be a great way to give your self-esteem a dig. Although this ‘help’ can in fact be much more subtly disguised. When my partner lost his job in the financial crisis, my family started sending him job listings. Very helpful on the surface, right? Except the job listings would be things like: door-to-door make-up sales lady (that was the exact job title in fact). These were not job ads that made any sense at all. They were not helpful whatsoever. And, they were just insulting and frustrating in an already difficult situation.
Sometimes manipulative help feels almost like actual help. Sometimes even the most toxic of people needs to build up some credit. As part of the push and pull effect of emotional abuse, a bully will occasionally offer help that is actually useful.
But, the true intention is clear when you look more closely – this help usually comes entirely at the terms of the bully.
For example: I will pay for your education, but ONLY if you agree to study subject X. There are many smaller and more subtle examples, but the help will make you feel like ‘maybe they DO care’ and/or will make the world see how great a parent/partner/manager/etc. the toxic person really is.
Status Quo Help
Sometimes help is just helpful enough for you to not make any real changes to your life (and thereby the relationship). It is just helpful enough to keep you in your place. In the same situation when my partner lost his job, we decided to put the house on the market and down size. We simply could not afford the place on one income.
When we made the decision and told the family about the plan we almost drowned in the flood of arguments against selling. When we stayed with our decision, my parents offered to pay my partner for doing jobs around the house so we could pay our mortgage. And so we stayed. We stayed in the house 15 minutes down the road, and my partner placed himself at the mercy of my toxic parents as his “employers”. Let’s just say that did not turn out well…
Real Help Simply Feels Different
Since starting on my Healing Journey, I have come across a few pretty sticky situations. Circumstances that I managed to navigate with the help from my new Family of Choice. Those situations have taught me so much about real help.
Real help – imagine that.
Help that is only offered in an attempt to make a positive contribution to your life. Wow! Does that kind of help feel different? Real help is about taking worry away from you. It is about fixing something practical that is adding stress, or about opening a door and welcoming someone in when they are in need of a bed. Real help does not take your choice away, it simply gives you better options to choose from.
It is hard to explain how different real help feels, so let me try this: when I needed some help rescuing some belongings from my family’s storage, my friend loaded her kids in the car. She drove me up to the storage. She loaded up the car and helped me drag my stuff upstairs to my apartment.
My friend did all this without once asking me why. She is my friend, she knew I needed this done and she was able to make it happen. End of story. THAT is real help.