The selfish act of wanting to help others and why it can be followed by an inability to function


As a philosophy student i naturally question everything, most often myself. Recently i started wondering why i have such a compulsion, a need, to help others. I want to spend my time making others feel better, helping them achieve their goals, helping the community with issues they have etc. This hasn't always been a good thing, often my help is unwanted or i help in the wrong way and this leads to not only the person or people i am helping being annoyed with me but me feeling bad for trying to help or in some cases offering to help then being unable to undertake the task. 

As any academic would i turned to research. I wanted to learn WHY i feel the need to help others. It turns out it is linked to my overwhelming need to feel a connection with people, most likely linked to my mental health condition. 

Whilst reading this article by Ron Carucci i found out that 

"When we help others, our brains emit three chemicals, often referred to as the happiness trifecta:

  • Serotonin (produces intense feelings of wellbeing)
  • Dopamine (intensifies motivation)
  • Oxytocin (increases a sense of connection to others)"
    Carucci, R
This information was eye opening but also concerning for me. Does that mean then that my wanting to help others actually stems from a selfish need. A need to feel these chemical rushes that make me feel better when what I thought I was doing was helping others. Does that change things, does that make me a selfish person? 

I ended up down a rabbit hole reading and researching more and more about whether Carucci was right, are we drawn to helping others because it makes us feel good and does that even matter. Does it take away the fact that we are doing something positive for others? 

I came to the conclusion that it is very much subjective to the situation in hand. Each situation is different and therefore can be viewed differently by both the helper and those being helped. 

I went on further to try and understand more and to read about how in some situations the initial thought of wanting to help and of offering help is quickly followed up with a feeling of inability to do so. A fear of judgement that you'll do something wrong or that you simply are wrong for getting involved. This is something I struggle with often. This sudden lack of motivation to actually do something after offering to do it isn't born of lazyness it is a paralysis created from the fear of negative judgement. The fear of doing something wrong and letting people down. (Which is odd since often not doing something after offering is letting people down anyway - but at the time the anxiety causes a literal inability to function) I expect this is hard for those with healthy brains to understand but for those with mental health conditions like mind I'm sure you can relate. 

*The picture of the sleeping dog, my Lexi, has nothing to do with the post other than she is my reading and writing buddy who sits with me when I research and write. 

This late night random research project that started with the simple question of 'why do I want to help' lead me to learn a lot about myself and about how our brains function, especially those of us with mental health conditions. What I've learnt isn't going to stop me from helping where I can but it is going to make me stop and think before I act. I'm going to actually slow down and really consider if what I'm offering to do is something those it will affect want and also if I'm physically and mentally able to complete the task. 

I've decided it's good to want to help but the important thing is to stop and consider things first. Don't rush into things. Easier said than done for someone with a brain like mine!