Here he rejoices, hereafter he rejoices….He rejoices and greatly rejoices when he sees the purity of his own deeds.
– Dhammapada 16
My parents have always taught me that helping others and being there when the needy are in need of help is one of the most beneficial and satisfying things there are in life. The saying “help yourself by helping others” is no illusion, it is one of the core values of Buddhism as I will explain further down the page. Helping others is the way forward in life, but you have to be mindful of some pitfalls along the way
The causes of my PTSD and BPD can be found in my urge to help others. That may sound strange, but I’ll try to explain. I developed something which my psychologist calls a ‘saviour complex’. When my parents walked a path of physical and mental illness, I had to be there for them. These dark days in life even further nurtured my helper’s instinct. From then on I have always sought to help others in life and I always wanted to work as a soldier or a firefighter, helping others who are in extreme need, untill that calling was smashed by poor eyesight, leaving me depressed. In past friendships and relationships I always found people who were looking for help, I have singled out people who were struggling or who were in mental distress. Seeing it as my task to give them happiness and a new purpose. That led to me clinging on to these people, not wanting to give up and passing myself by in the process. That is , of course, never a healthy basis for a relationship.
I still have that helper’s instinct however, it is part of who I am. Last week I stopped along the road at night to help a woman who was stranded with her car and who had been waving at people for help for over thirty minutes. For me, helping her is something obvious, but in modern times, helping others does not seem to be self-evident anymore. Helping is not part of our culture anymore. People are afraid to be robbed by muggers who pretend to need help. They don’t want to get caught up in fights, they are afraid to become victims themselves. People always have something to say about anything, but they rarely find the courage to act and help out. Asking for help at work is also not encouraged in our current competition-based and financially-driven society. Asking a colleague for help may imply that you don’t know what you are doing, it may seem unprofessional, it exposes a flaw in your working-personality which in turn may lead to you being rebuked and in the end even fired. I have talked to many friends and dear ones who are coping with this problem. We are becoming afraid to ask for help!
When I was in the car crash I blogged about, it took almost twenty minutes before anyone came to my aid, while hundreds of cars were passing by my wrecked car! Even when I had placed a warning triangle on the road, another car just ran it over. When I was bullied in high school, many saw it happen yet no one intervened! I always told myself: I will not be that person, I will help. Unconsciously you start becoming a kind of hero in your head, you become the person that wants to make a change too much. You have probably read stories or you’ve seen movies about this kind of people. They usually don’t end well. Ever since I was trained in Krav Maga and realistic self-defense, I developed a new side to this helper’s/ saviour-complex: I don’t run away from screaming or fights, I run toward them in order to help. It is not just behaviour anymore, it has become part of my instincts. Evidently you run into trouble this way. Therapy is helping me to channel my emotions better, since it is not always my task to help. I have learned that help is only useful to others only when those people accept your help. But still, when people need me, I am not afraid to help!
Sometimes people are too haughty or stubborn to ask for help. I have been too stubborn, I admit. When everything went downhill in my life in 2007 I cried for help many times, but no one came to my aid directly. I developed an image in my head in which I have to help others and in which I don’t need help from anyone, me being some kind of hero, a pinnacle in the dark clouds. I did call for professional help when everything collapsed in 2014, but I felt like it was already too late. I had to wait six months until I was taken in for therapy and it took three more months until I was at the right branch of mental healthcare. This enforced the fact that I didn’t ask for help anymore, I only had the misanthropic thought that no one either would or could help me. I thought that I was the only one who could help myself. It only happened recently that I dare to really ask my therapist for help immediately when the need arises. I kept him out at the times I needed him most. But now I send him an e-mail as soon as things go wrong and he will contact me as soon as possible. I regard it as a major breakthrough. I ask friends for help, I ask my parents for help and I try to help myself and others where I can. I have some dear friends who will always be there to help me, no matter what, as I will also be there for them.
Through experience, I have learned that I am not alone. There are still many people out there who are prepared to help If you need help and you want help, just ask! You can help by doing little things, by being good to others. It will make you feel better. In the Sedaka Sutra the Buddha mentions this: “Looking after oneself, one looks after others. Looking after others, one looks after oneself.” With ‘others’ the Buddha aims for all living beings. That explains why I find joy at working at the animal ambulance, where I can help people and other animals alike! The Buddha taught the following to his son Rahula (from “Old path white clouds” by Thich Nhat Hahn):
“Rahula, practice loving kindness to overcome anger. Loving kindness has the capacity to bring happiness to others without demanding anything in return.
Practice compassion to overcome cruelty. Compassion has the capacity to remove the suffering of others without expecting anything in return.”
The path of the Buddhist is mainly characterised by two qualities: wisdom through the dharma and through insight on the one hand and loving compassion on the other. Compassion here is not just a moral value, it is an affirmation of the impermanency of all things and therefore it should come naturally to you. If you see that everything in life is subject to constant change, you will stop grasping and clinging on to the perishable. You will see how others are suffering through ignorance, hatred, intolerance and greed and from that insight you will feel compassion: the inspiration to help others to overcome these obstacles. Through helping others without expecting anything in return, you will gain more insight and you will learn to love yourself. That’s what today’s story is all about.
But what about the saviour-complex? What about being a hero toward others? Can you still be the hero of your own story?! If you look up ‘hero’ in the dictionary you will find something like: “One who is admired for his brave achievements and noble qualities.” Bravery for me is having the courage to face my own demons and to fix the problems caused by my mental illness. It is the quality that keeps you going when all lights begin to fade. It is the quality to help people where others don’t, but it is also the courage to dare and ask for help yourself. Noble qualities for me are acts of virtue and selflessness, qualities which are all defined in the Dharma and the Noble (!) Eightfold path, the teachings of the Buddha, of which compassion is the chief one.
My ex-girlfriend wrote me a loving and inspiring card when I was feeling down in which she said to me: “Never forget that you will always be my hero and don’t you forget it!”, followed by this quote of Christopher Reeve (1952-2004), the actor who played Superman:
“I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles”
In the end, if you feel worthless and you are waiting for someone to save you, try to be your own hero instead. Show goodness through the small things, even if they go unnoticed and you cannot gain any credit for them. You can learn to accept yourself through helping others, you will find this even more rewarding than sincere gratitude!
And never forget, almost every hero has a sidekick who acts as his or hers conscience, on which the hero can always fall back! Heroes should also never forget to band together in order to combine their powers! You can help yourself by helping others and others help you in the process. In the meantime, I hope I can help or inspire you by the words contained in these pages! Be a hero: dare to ask for help!
Keep on going, hero! Be victorious!