"...and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime."
Sometimes, those of us working in the helping fields forget this. A client pulls our heartstrings and we jump in to "save" them. Now please don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that helping people is wrong. It's not. But there's a way to help people that is for them. And there is a way to help people that is more about you. It's important to know the difference.
Are you helping someone to make yourself feel better? Or are you truly trying to help them? I once had a representative from a church call to organize an outing for homeless children staying in our shelter. I'll never forget his statement, "well I want this to be successful because I want our volunteers to have a good experience". I cringed. His volunteers? What about the children?
Not jumping in to save people can be even harder when they want you to save them. Some clients are quite dependent on others to take care of them and they may try to cast you in this role as their therapist, case worker, or other helping professional. But this doesn't really help them. It only reinforces their belief that they are unable to do it for themselves. One example I see repeatedly is caseworkers driving clients to appointments instead of teaching them to use public transportation. This makes the caseworker feel good. It may make them feel needed. It does not help the client. When the caseworker leaves that position for another job, the client is left adrift with no means to get places. If they had been taught to utilize public transportation they would have the freedom and the means to go where they like.
I believe it was the philosophy of the Montessori Schools that if you helped a child do something they were developmentally able to do themselves, you crippled them. If a child is old enough to tie their own shoes and you continue to tie them for them instead of teaching them how to do it themselves and encouraging them to do so, you cripple them. The same idea applies to adults.
And this is not only seen in helping professionals. Any relationship between two people can replicate this pattern.
I have seen parents who would not allow their adult children to experience the consequences of their behavior. This is especially true with adult children who have drug abuse problems. They will be arrested for possession or theft and mom or dad will bail them out every time. The parents then ask, "Why doesn't he stop doing this?" Why should he? He gets away with it. You save him every time.
A spouse can infantilize his wife by not "allowing" her to work, to drive herself anywhere, or by keeping her at home. The wife may go along with this, believing that he is "caring" for her. He may then complain the entire burden for the family rests upon him and him alone. This may make him feel important, or martyred, but it does not "help" his wife. This is not truly "caring" for someone.
Bosses can micromanage their staff to the point that the staff never learns to work independently. The boss may then complain that she can never find competent staff, she has to do everything herself, and she is exhausted.
If you truly want to help someone, help them be all they can be. Help them find their strength, their path, their skills, their wisdom. Helping does feel good, that is not to be denied. Helping someone can be mutual and beneficial to both parties and still be healthy. However, if you are saving someone instead of helping them, it is important to examine your motives and clarify your intentions. Who are you actually trying to save? Them, or yourself?