146: When Helping Doesn’t Help!

Hi Listeners:

Most people do not do a very good at helping loved ones, colleagues, or friends who are upset and complaining. Have you ever noticed that when you try to help or give advice they just keep complaining? This can be very frustrating–fortunately there’s a fabulous solution to this universal problem. 

This special podcast features our guest, Dr. Jill Levitt, the Director of Clinical Training at the Feeling Good Institute. Jill is also one of the teachers at David’s Tuesday evening psychotherapy training group at Stanford, as is our esteemed podcast host, Dr. Rhonda.

Jill describes the “helping” errors she made when her son became despondent after some painful foot surgery. Following the surgery, he was in a cast for weeks, and when the cast was removed, he discovered that he could not move or feel his toes. This is common, and results from muscle atrophy when you are in a cast, and is not dangerous.

However, Jill’s son was very discouraged and frustrated, and told his mom that he didn’t feel like going to school and thought he wasn’t ever going to get better. Jill felt exhausted from all the demands on her that day, trying to get him off to school, and trying to get to work on time, and so forth, and gave in to the urge to say things like, “You’re going to be fine,” which were totally ineffective. 

Jill describes a similar error that she made when her mother also complained about foot problems and the need for surgery. Her mother loves to hike and was upset that she’d be unable to hike for some time. Jill, perhaps feeling a little impatient with her mom, suggested other forms of exercise, like swimming, and this simply increased her mother’s complaints.

I’ll bet you’ve experienced this same thing when you tried to “help” someone who was complaining. Even therapists make this type of error all the time. 

Rhonda, Jill, and I discussed the most common errors we all make when we lose patience with someone who’s complaining, and illustrated the techniques that are effective. As usual, they involve the Five Secrets of Effective Communication, especially Disarming, Stroking, and Feeling Empathy, along with some compassionate I Feel Statements.

We also discussed the phenomenon of drifting in and out of Enlightenment, a concept first described by the Buddha. It is easy to drift out of enlightenment when we are rushing around, trying to get breakfast on the table, lunches made, kids to school, and ourselves off to work. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed and frustrated at those moments.

Part of the process may include forgiving ourselves when we make mistakes, and using the 5-Secrets to repair relationships with our loved ones when we do. In fact, this can even lead to deeper and more loving relationships. 

We also discussed a closely related and possibly controversial theme–is it okay to use the Five Secrets just to get someone to stop complaining, especially if you’re angry with that person and they tend to complain most or all of the time? Do you always have to use the Five Secrets in a totally sincere manner? 

I want to thank Dr. Levitt for joining us in this inspiring and illuminating podcast. Whenever Jill teaches, the heavens open up, and this podcast is no exception. Jill is simply a fabulous therapist, teacher, and human being! 

Click here if you are interested in some online training with Jill!

David and Rhonda

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You can reach Dr. Burns at david@feelinggood.com. Dr. Rhonda Barovsky practices in Walnut Creek, California, and can be reached at rbarovsky@aol.com.

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