A Little Help for a Friend
“You’re so useful!” an elderly friend said to me the other day after I hung a few pictures in her sitting room and connected her new CD-player. She said it with a laugh and slight hesitation, as if one shouldn’t use that word in relation to another person. Usually we describe an object as being useful, not a person. And it made me think. I noticed that I was pleased to please her; it was easy for me to do these little jobs, but to her it meant a great deal.
So often people say when they feel bad about themselves: “I feel useless”. Evidently it means a lot to us to be of use to others or to be competent in certain areas, and to be seen and experienced as useful and competent. I think it’s a basic human need. It’s one way of connecting with others and to be mirrored by them.
Unhappiness of any kind, including severe depression, is almost always accompanied by isolation and disconnectedness which makes us feel useless: “There is no point to me, really, no point to my existence. I might just as well not be here at all; it wouldn’t make much difference to anybody else.” This is depression speaking, in its various degrees from feeling flat and uninterested in anything to feeling suicidal. And it has another destructive side-effect: our thoughts circle around ourselves, our own unhappiness, sadness, loneliness. We lose sight of others around us and their needs, big or small. We become unable to believe that we could make a positive difference in other people’s lives. We seem to be the needy ones and we are ashamed of it. But we are hiding that shame which makes our isolation even worse, and there goes the vicious cycle and becomes an endless downward spiral.
If you recognise yourself in this description go and get help! There is no need to suffer like this or to be trapped in a seemingly empty existence. To ask for help is the first step out of the prison of isolation. To give a little help to someone else is another step. It may not seem much to hold the door for someone else, to stop the car so that a mother with children may cross the road safely or to offer a cup of tea to our partner. All these are little services to others and show that you care, even if you don’t feel that sense of care to start with. But it will make another person feel nice for a moment and most importantly: it will make you feel nice. There is nothing wrong with “doing good” in order to feel better about ourselves. Selflessness is usually misunderstood and sentimentalised. We can’t be genuinely selfless if there is no sense of Self. So maybe you might want to try this as a little experiment: Do a little thing for someone else once or twice a day and see what happens. You may be surprised! People will like you better, and most of all: You will like You better.
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