Helping vs. Saving

I’ve recently found myself conversing with clients on a very important topic, which so important I want to share in depth about it. Certain people have a knack for wanting to help others, and if you are one of them, you might find yourself in relationships where the other person needs your support, heavily and often. With joy you may give them support, feeling valuable and worthwhile as you are so much wanting the world to be a better place. This relationship may go on for weeks, months, years. You might notice you feel drained. You might also notice after a while, it seems the person doesn’t take your advice, or the person finds themselves again and again in situations that are repetitions – unable to take in a different perspective or empower themselves, this person might put themselves in a bad position again in need of being “rescued” – emotionally or physically.  Perhaps you gave them tons of great advice. What did you do wrong? How can you be more effective? Are you beating your head against the door, trying harder?

It may not be about you trying harder. This is a classic case of trying to save someone else from themselves. Its not a helping relationship, its a white knight and damsel in distress relationship – your friend is helpless and they need you to save them. Its totally draining, and ineffective. The damsel gets so much attention and feels love being rescued that she will put herself in precarious situations again and again. And, doesn’t have a reason to learn otherwise, with all these great friends around to rescue her if she goes down the wrong path again. This is all unconscious, of course. I doubt anyone even realizes what they are doing, or that your friend even knows she is pulling for another “save me” job.

Here’s what the signs are that you may be engaging in a “Saving Relationship”:

1. Does your friend sound helpless, with a tug of energy from your core going out to them to help bolster them up?

2. Do you feel drained after talking to or supporting this friend?

3. Do you find yourself caught up thinking about your friend’s life and activities and coming up with great ideas of what she or he should do?

4. Does your time together tend to focus on their life, business, needs, problems, issues?

5. Do you feel really good when you’ve downloaded a bunch of really good advice and helped turn around this friends attitude, business, relationship, or problems, only to find yourself crushed or pissed off when you find out weeks or months later they have taken action on none of those awesome insights?

These are just some of the clues that you may be finding a sense of self-value by being up in someone else’s business in a way that you are invested in saving them, not helping them. What is the difference?

Here’s some of the keys about when we are truly helping others:

1. We help another out because we can, have the time or energy, and release what they do with it or when they will return the favor.

2. We stop helping when it appears to be reinforcing helplessness. We are all empowered in our lives with choices. Sometimes things have to get ugly before they can get better- someone may encounter unfortunate circumstances, for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to their belief structures, habituated patterns of living and thinking, or choices… its not our place to judge. We can let the person sort it out, or we can choose to help, and if we choose the latter,  can we do it non-judgementally and with compassion? If not, best to ask yourself, why are you trying to help? I personally look for a willingness to change.

3. The energy exchange is sacred and important. Without an exchange of energy, the help you offer may not be valued. This is why the relationship with a counselor or support person is so helpful – in a professional setting, a person can arrive at their own conclusions and choices without friends  – who mean well – telling them what they should or should not do. Your life is your own, don’t live by your friends’ limitations and wounds.

4. The sensitive subject of pro bono: some teachers say never ever give anything away. Some say give everything away. Some healers don’t charge (note: they live in foreign countries and are fully supported by their people and communities to not need to ask for money) This is like skating on a frozen lake. How thick is the ice? Yes you can skate but listen carefully to the ice.  When does giving a free session or three spill into saving someone? Is it empowering the person that they are capable of going forth to earn the money to spend it on their personal growth, they are worth it and valuable? Or are you confirming the person is helpless and needs to be saved? Which one do you think would be more likely to disrupt that damsel in distress pattern? How are you going to teach someone to value themselves if you aren’t making them put their money where their mouth is?

I tend to find place for my generosity with my clients – those who are willing to transform their lives – with extra time, love and support. If that is too much “extra” that is taxing to my energy and nervous system – there’s a boundary that needs to take place (I’ll go more into that in my next post). I have occasionally been moved to gift my services to someone in need. It has to be a person whose circumstance is truly vulnerable and truly cannot pay for the work and yet transformational work would help turn their life around. I enter into that arrangement with the agreement I am not saving them, I am helping them, because at the moment I can. Perhaps I ask something of them in exchange, for instance, I will use their sessions as a case study. If I do not feel met with commitment by that person to do the work provided to them, I end that particular arrangement.

The last point I wanted to share is a very important one. When someone grows up in an environment which a parent needs too much from the child – and the child finds themselves overly invested energetically in trying to save their parent – one of two things might happen. Either the tendency to continue to save everyone in need, or the exact opposite, avoiding everyone who might have needs, in an over emphasized boundary in an attempt to protect oneself.

If one has special gifts of compassion, or sight, and ability to help others, these two can end up in conflict, wrestling with the energy within.  There is a middle way, of using ones’ gifts in a helpful way, when we are clear and know our own shadow. As mentioned above, one way is professionally. But that is not the only way. Afterall, being that we are all in this together, all of us on this Earth, when do we choose to pause and lend a hand? One of the downfalls of the recent transformational movements is the focus on the “I”.  What gets forgotten is that we are all part of the same planet, and what happens to one is happening to the whole. When do we choose to turn around and help somebody, at no gain to ourselves? I’ve touched on this topic a few times here and its a deep one. One big way I have not yet mentioned is by being present, and compassionate. When we see something in someone else, we see their suffering, can we witness them and by a simple gesture or kind word, let them know they are loved? That we are all connected? That they aren’t truly alone? Its more simple that you might think, and it doesn’t have to take much time or any energy away from you. (If it is, are you trying to save someone?)

I will share with you a personal experience that involves an unseen person – a guide, an angel, a spirit, I am not sure – that touched my own life in a deep way, with just a gesture. I would not still be on this planet, doing the good work that I do, if someone didn’t stop to presence me at a moment of crisis. A few decades back, I stood on a bridge psyching myself to jump. My life was miserable and I’d lost everyone I’d loved, after so many hard years. There was nothing to live for. In that moment as I leaned forward, hearing the thoughts in my head that this was the day, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned, but no one was there. My energy shifted, I felt a little lighter, and a little hope came in at that moment. Maybe things could work out. I went home instead, quit my job, moved out of state. After another difficult year things got much better in my life. I never ever forget that moment on the bridge, where an unseen spirit put a hand on my shoulder and let me know I was not alone. I was not “saved” – I felt met by another with compassion for what I was feeling, who communicated to me somehow, hope.

The smallest gestures of kindness and connection may be enough to encourage someone to make a different choice in their life. In that way, we are all angels, should you choose to accept. Angels don’t save people, spirits who are true higher guides don’t meddle in peoples lives – they practice free will. We have to ask for their help. Except in those little moments of crisis where we might not know to ask – like my sad day on the bridge suffering extreme depression – sometimes they just show up, and give us a chance to see we may have more help than we know. Angels have appeared many times in many forms in my life – in bodies too. For instance, I recall a particular head nurse when I was undergoing serious surgery who when she walked into the room, completely shifted the energy, with her complete attention, compassion, and kindness. I’d swear to this day she is an angel incarnating just to bring that level of healing to that hospital. Have you had unexpected help show up that felt like a gift of the Divine?

The important thing to check in with yourself around is, looking for the hook. Am I hooked into taking action to save this person? Is there a lot of energy in it for me? Am I getting a rush or a high off of being so helpful? I may be hooked in to getting my own needs met by the exchange. If we found ourselves trying to save one of our parents – we often made this choice out of wanting love from them, for them to be more present for us. As adults, we’re still wanting that love, if we haven’t been aware of this pattern, and found a way to give that love to ourselves.  If we are doing it to get our own needs met, we will end up at some point disappointed, for no other person can fill the whole in our heart. We have to fill it – with our own soul, our own love. If we fill ourselves up with love, and help from that place – we are more able to listen to whether we truly have the energy to help another in this moment, and to be able to release attachment to the outcome, and still reach out a hand to help.


Mardi Storm is a healing arts practitioner, bridging the spirit realms in every day reality, there is no separation between there and here, helping to heal others both living and non-living, multi-dimensional traveler, and visual artist expressing these energies, spirits and dreams. She is more recently a farmer, moving into deep relationship with the teachings from the world of animals, nature, and the souls of animals, plants, and all beings part of this Earth. She learns every day from the grace of the divine and the lessons given to make her a more conscious soul.

By Mardi Storm

Healer, therapist, artist, supporting others professionally since 2002. Working in community settings and private practice, offering private and group work. My art has been published and is on public display.


  1. This message is really meaningful to me. For the last few months I’ve been working intensely on untangling myself from unhealthy family dynamics: noticing when I’m trying to save my mother and sisters, getting into their “business” both asked and unasked, noticing the way I get used, noticing that I think I know what’s right for them and acknowledging that maybe I don’t.
    I was moved by the telling of your experience on the bridge. I, too, once felt a physical angelic presence when I was deeply depressed and suicidal. It brought me back from the brink and helped me slowly recover from my feelings of complete hopelessness.

    1. Hi Andrea- I only now saw your reply. Thank you for writing to share your experience. Its so important and helpful for us to live our lives fully to learn to let go wanting to help others when its not asked for. This is early conditioning. We see things, we want others to see what we see. Other people have to be ready and wanting that kind of advice, and often from a family member its hard to take in. Learn to dial back your energy and give to yourself that which you are seeking from your mother and sisters. When we find it within, we are able to drop the entangled energy and be in relationship from a more clear place. I’d love to help you, I have a few different ways to connect. Including a weekend workshop next month on exactly this topic! Blessings, Mardi

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