Helping, selfless, yet jealous?
August 14, 2012 9:44 AM   Subscribe

On rare occasions, I dislike this feeling I get when I'm helping others. Why do I sometimes feel jealous if those that I help, spend time being helped by others? I should be happy for them, right? It is rare, but it happens and it is bothersome!

I have a few ideas on why I feel this way at times. As an introvert I get the feeling this could be more common if I were more outgoing and had more interactions. I normally wouldn't mind it enough to ask, so this is very much an impulse question.

1. Is this feeling normal? Perhaps a thorn in the selfless person's side?

2. As long as it is rare is it okay?

3. If you (a fellow mind) have felt this way. What did you do to get over it? Was it definitely an underlying issue as the root cause?
posted by Bodrik to Human Relations (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The people you are helping - are they people you are attracted to / would like to date?
posted by cairdeas at 9:46 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is it possible you'd like people to be as attuned to your needs as you are to theirs? I get a similar feeling as an introvert when I get frustrated or upset that some persistent, aggressive person can't see how uncomfortable they're making others. Can't they see how obnoxious they're being? No, they actually can't, and no amount of polite smiling and short answers is going to make them catch on that people around them are ill-at-ease. But this is because I'm more attuned to what's behind the smiles & small-talk, while they think that as long as people appear to be having fun, they must truly feel that way.

Perhaps you're also a bit jealous that some people seem to constantly benefit from the attentions of others. Are you the sort of person who ever asks for help? Do you imagine these people are just beset with offers of help all the time while no one offers you help?
posted by Kitty Stardust at 10:06 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I take that feeling as an indication that I'm forgetting my own needs. I think this can happen in two ways: First, the "holy crap, this organization needs me to prep for and schedule a board meeting and I'm out bike riding, what am I doing?" effect, second, the "Why isn't this person more grateful for all that I'm doing?" situation.

The first is a reminder that I need to let other people's problems be other people's problems. The second is a wake-up that I'm probably doing something for me, and not for them, and I should stop and figure out how I can either actually help them in a way that matters to them, or if I really do know better and I need to suck it up and keep going and they'll understand in a few years why this is important.
posted by straw at 10:08 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you talking about friends that you help to do some specific thing, like move a couch? Or helping like volunteering at a soup kitchen? If it's the former, my guess (as a fellow introvert) is maybe you expect that helping gesture to lead to a closer friendship, and reciprocity, but the other person sees you more as one of a large number of casual acquaintances, any one of whom they might ask for help in the future. So essentially you don't feel as if you're "special" or valued in their eyes.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 10:14 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you can let the feeling pass and still have a healthy relationship with the helpee, I don't see it as a problem.

If this feeling were intense and persistent, I could see it negatively affecting your relationship with the helpee. That is, if it manifests in some negatrive behaviour- for example, treating the helpee worse with passive agressivity or hostility. But it doesn't sound like you're anywhere near that.

The feeling could be a good reminder to try to, in a sense, hold onto people lightly. It's good to help people and it feels good when you can do something special for them. But you shouldn't hold onto this feeling and this relatioship so tightly that it causes jealously when they're helped by another.
posted by beau jackson at 10:18 AM on August 14, 2012

Can you explain a little bit of what you are jealous? Are you jealous that these people you are helping have others to help them, and you don't? Or are you jealous of something else?
posted by bluefly at 10:21 AM on August 14, 2012

I have done a lot of work in the nonprofit world, and resentment is something I've had a really hard time with. Unfortunately, issues are really complex. And our part in their resolution is not always readily apparent (and may at times even seem counterproductive!), and that can really sting.

Jealousy is only one facet of that. Jealousy that you swoop in to rescue others - and that nobody swoops in to rescue you when you might feel like you need it. Jealousy that "undeserving" (for whatever reason) people are getting assistance while other "deserving" (for whatever reason) people remain unaided.

It's a tricky situation and ultimately I decided that I needed to be away from the front lines of social issues for a while in order to calm myself down and find a way to participate that doesn't raise my blood pressure. My resentment was probably more frequent than yours, but was also colored by the fact that I was enduring a rather trying time in my life. Had I been able to step away and realize that I had to get things in order in my own life before I helped others, I probably could have been of greater assistance to those I was trying to help.
posted by jph at 10:25 AM on August 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think it depends on your expectations. I know when I delivered meals on wheels for terminally ill AIDs patients, I'd sometimes get cranky if the recipient was sort of offhand about my delivery or complained about the food. How dare they not see how helpful I was, and how nice the dinner was! But then, I sort of grew up and figured that the delivery was the main thing, not what the person did with it or how they responded to fresh green beans or to me. I don't know why you should be happy for them--your emotional response can be whatever you like, as long as your actions are productive. You can help someone in need and still think that person is a pain in the butt.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:36 AM on August 14, 2012

Oh, sure, its normal. We, no matter how noble our intentions, like a little honoring and even lionizing sometimes. Then comes the possible unhealthy reasons for giving: feeling forced to, giving to get something in return (emotional, social, or physical) not feeling like your No will be respected or that you have the right to say no.

If X person gets helped by Y person, it can be seen as de-valuing and diminishing your help.

For me, it calms me down (usually!) to go: Ok. I helped. I did something good and well intentioned, no matter the outcome. Also, we can never really tell how X feels/what they got out of it. Basically, seeds have been planted, and in the end, that's what matters.
posted by Jacen at 10:46 AM on August 14, 2012

Happens to me all the time. I'm guessing that I'm a bit insecure and derive some personal validation from the fact that I'm able to solve other people's problems and then feel a little cheated when they have a problem I could solve and they ask someone else and thus deny me this little ego boost. Also, why would they ask someone else? Wasn't my help good enough? Do they hate me? Am I a terrible person?

Usually rationality intervenes around this point and I stop caring, secure in the knowledge that I'll get to reaffirm my worth again on some other occasion, like all the times before this particular imaginary slight.
posted by themel at 11:10 AM on August 14, 2012

I'm a little unsure what you mean. Do you mean, like, if you help someone you know try to achieve something, and then they do go on to achieve it and everyone is paying attention to them? Or you help someone who's in a jam and so do a bunch of other people and you're jealous of the attention they're getting? Like: you contribute to someone's walkathon efforts, or you contribute to a fund if they lost something in a fire or you spread the word about how they need a roommate, but then you get jealous of how everyone's talking about them and not noticing that hey, you helped?

It may be a LITTLE normal, but easily dispatched by trying to achieve things yourself or by asking for help your own self.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:23 AM on August 14, 2012

Do you feel manipulted into doing things for others?

Do you feel comfortable saying "no" or "not this time" if someone asks you to do something that isn't convenient for you at the time?

Are your efforts appreciated?

Do you feel your needs are being met?

Do you have issues you need help with that you can't get help with, or don't feel comfortable asking for help with?

Are you comfortable speaking up on your own behalf?

Any chance you've been doing a lot for others for a while are a bit burnt out?

Are you hoping that your efforts will net you some gain other than the satisfaction of helping someone? Love, recognition, a job offer ... ?

I think the answers to these questions might shed some light for you. Giving feels best when you feel you are giving freely, of your own volition, and that you are appreciated.
posted by bunderful at 11:54 AM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

You deserve to want a turn as the person being helped, being cared for, being catered to.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:23 PM on August 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have a feeling that you are a giver that doesn't get taken care of in the way you take care of others. It's sort of like having a bank account; if you're always doing withdrawals and never getting any deposits, eventually you start seeing red.
posted by Hello Darling at 12:57 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Why do I sometimes feel jealous if those that I help, spend time being helped by others?"

It's quite simple, actually:
You feel important when you're helpful.
You feel less important when others can be equally (or more?) helpful.
posted by Mr Ected at 2:11 PM on August 14, 2012

To clarify, am I right in reading that as you experiencing jealousy if you help someone and then someone else helps the same person e.g. you listen to A's problems and advise her and then you find out A has also asked advice from B?

Could it be you want to help people so you can build a closer relationship to them? So when A approaches you with an issue you think it is a sign of your deepening friendship but if they approach B too then it means that there is at least one other person that they feel they can turn to. Do you want to be the one person that everyone can rely on? This is based on my experience of the feeling - the cause may be different for you.

As to whether you should worry - well, if you don't act on it then it's not hurting anyone else. You only need to do something about it if the feeling's causing you sufficient pain that you think its necessary, or holding you back from doing things you want to.
posted by Laura_J at 2:13 PM on August 14, 2012

Sorry for taking time to respond. This was very much an impulse question to the start of very stressful week.

I marked a few answers that focus on what I feel my feeling was coming from and also what I thought were approximations as to what the frank results are.

The person I'm helping is in a precarious situation going over several months now. So I did not expect and was not ready for some of the events that occurred this week to happen, especially as we had (I thought) an understanding about how to approach a particular dimension of the problem. It is not to control or anything, but it is due to legal and social ramifications that could occur if done carelessly.

I spoke with the person about this in the later half of the week and on the weekend and feel a lot better about it... We are sort of like lawyer and client so I just was unprepared for what happened.

I did not mark answers about jealously and wanting a better relationship due to the fact that I'm already on good terms with this person, but from an objective standpoint I can only be friends to this person and not anymore then that. Perhaps only 10% wants that. I don't have this mixed stance with people I want to have a exclusive relationship with.

So part of this was the aspect of some shock at the events and then some underlying emotions coming out of that 10% I guess.

Thank you all very much.
posted by Bodrik at 9:20 AM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

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