Caretaking: when “being helpful” becomes toxic

People with Nice Guy Syndrome or People Pleasing Syndrome often pride themselves on how “considerate” and “helpful” they are, even to the point of feeling resentful about not being acknowledged or rewarded justly for their “kindness”.

One of the most painful insights I’ve ever had about myself is learning that my helpful niceness was actually HURTING people more than it was helping, and far from serving others it was in fact completely SELFISH.

Yes, it is possible to be helpful, kind, generous and caring in a healthy way… provided you meet some criteria.

Healthy caring:

1. The person has directly asked for your assistance from genuine desire for your help

2. You aim to enable the person to solve their issues themselves, with minimal assistance from you

3. You do what’s best for them rather than what feels good or makes you look good

4. They actually cannot solve the issue without outside support – they’re without doubt reached the limit of their capability

5. You don’t sacrifice your own wellbeing to assist them in managing theirs

So, if when you help people you have overt permission, and you coach them through it rather than doing it for them, and you refer them to experts rather than trying to be the expert, and you’re willing to hurt their feelings or have them dislike you in order to best serve them, and you take care of yourself first, then you can safely assume your help is healthy.

If not…


“Caretaking” is the term we use for controlling someone through the guise of being helpful, considerate or kind. What looks like good intentions masks a secret desire for control, obsession with order, insistence on emotional safety, and deep inner shame.

11 key signs that you’re caretaking rather than helping in a healthy way:

1. You didn’t ask for permission or get asked directly for assistance – you offered or insisted simply because a person expressed an issue, e.g. someone complains about their boss and you start giving them unsolicited advice on how to confront the boss.

2. You anticipated them potentially having some sort of discomfort before any evidence even emerged, and started trying to prevent it, e.g. anxiously offering someone a drink because it’s a hot day, even though they never mentioned thirst.

3. You don’t give them a choice in the matter – they must receive your help, e.g. sneaking away to pay the bill for everyone when at a restaurant.

4. You don’t trust them to meet their own needs or to have the courage to ask for what they want, and treat them like a child who must be told what they want/need, e.g. bringing someone sunscreen when they didn’t ask for it.

5. You disrespect a No, e.g. “Would you like a drink?” – No, thanks, I’m fine – “Are you sure? I can grab you a coke, no problem” – No, really, I’m good – “How about a beer?” etc etc.

6. You resent being unappreciated, or don’t help someone where there’s no recognition for you, e.g. not giving money to homeless people because “they’ll just spend it on drugs”.

7. You put their needs above your own (and expect to be admired for your “sacrifice”), e.g. changing plans to accommodate dropping them off somewhere, even though they could easily afford a taxi.

8. Your help is aimed at preventing or “fixing” emotions that you find uncomfortable, e.g. trying to cheer someone up when they’re sad, or trying to calm someone down when they’re angry.

9. Doing what gets praised rather than what works, e.g. letting someone vent about their relationship problems and reassuring them, rather than confronting them on being the problem themselves.

10. Assuming someone has a problem simply because you’re ashamed it, e.g. trying to get a single friend to go on a forced blind date because you’re ashamed of being single.

11. Doing it for them rather than helping them do it themselves, e.g. drawing up a budget for someone rather than referring them to a budgeting course.

Caretaking disables people’s problem-solving abilities. It creates a codependence where you gaslight them into believing they need your help. It enables victimhood and irresponsibility. It provokes people to become ashamed of perfectly normal and natural things, like emotions or relationship struggles.

It doesn’t help, it HURTS.

Here’s a frame that can help: imagine that people don’t actually need your help, even if it appears they do. Entertain the idea that evolution over hundreds of thousands of years has led up to humans being the most advanced problem-solving machines to ever have existed. Assume that trial-and-error and failure are actually incredibly helpful developmental learning experiences, and that letting people struggle emotionally is what’s best for them in the long term.

And ask yourself:

“If I wasn’t interested in controlling people, or dictating how others should live, or avoiding uncomfortable emotions, or trying to be seen as a ‘good person’ by others, or judging people as too weak to handle life without me, how much would I actually help other people?” The answer: fuck all. And that’s what is best for them!

Food for thought…

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