“Let me know how I can help”: the art of healthy detachment

No time to read? Listen here!

When someone comes to me with a problem, I’ve learned (through many painful experiences!) to automatically organize my thoughts.

“There are three ways I can help,” I say…

    1. “I can just listen.”
    2. “I can help you brainstorm solutions to your problem.”
    3. “I can take an active part in helping you implement one of those solutions.”

Two takeaways from my list:

First, the choices increase my degree of involvement. “I can just listen” is a light touch to help the person feel heard and validated.

The next choice — brainstorming solutions together — takes more time and thought. And of course, actively helping someone devotes even more time and energy.

Depending on the person and situation, I may offer all three options or just one or two.

Second takeaway…

…all three choices are driven by the person, not by me. I am literally saying, “Let me know how I can help you.”

“Let me know how I can help” doesn’t sound like much, but it’s huge. It says, with genuine respect, that this is the other person’s challenge to rise to. I can’t — and shouldn’t try to — fix it for them. Instead, I’m offering to help them solve it for themselves.

They’re in the driver’s seat, and I am healthfully detached.

Empowered and confident

In just a few words, I’ve also communicated my respect: I believe they have the strength and intelligence to handle their own stuff. I’ve seen the impact of this: when I ask, “How can I help?” (instead of jumping to a bossy, “Here’s what you should do…”) the person’s body language changes. They sit up straighter, shoulders back, face alive and animated. They feel empowered and confident, and it shows.

Now us

Healthy detachment also applies when I’m the one facing the challenge. I’m in the driver’s seat; I decide if I want someone to just listen, to brainstorm solutions with me, or to actively help me.

And you too, beautiful someone: never give anyone permission to decide what kind of help you need. You get a flat tire and suddenly, uninvited, someone’s telling you what brand of tire to buy and where to have the car serviced. If you don’t do what they’re “helpfully” telling you to do, you owe them an explanation. They feel entitled to know why you didn’t do it their way.

And if you get another flat tire, you will hear it: “I told you what to do. See what happens when you don’t listen to me?” You’re constantly dancing around what to tell them about what’s happening in your life just to avoid the exhausting demands of this game.

Sounds like…

When a torrent of unwelcome advice comes at you, here’s what your own healthy detachment sounds like:

    • “Thanks, I’ve got it.”
    • “I just need to be heard and validated right now. Not looking for solutions.”
    • “That’s one approach. Not sure yet what I’m going to do.”
    • “At some point, I might want to brainstorm solutions. Not right now though.”

Essentially you’re saying, “I’m capable of handling my own stuff, and by the way, so are you. I’m not going to solve your problems for you, and unless I ask you, I don’t want you to solve mine.”

Healthy detachment is an essential boundary, and its secret ingredient: self-love. As a bonus, when we live with healthy detachment, we encourage the people around us to do the same. The result: a whole lotta healthy confident people who treat each other with mutual respect.

Swish! Nothin’ but net.