How Helping Others Heals Us
Updated: Jan 6, 2022
What drives us to help others, what makes us become 'healers' in roles such as therapists, volunteers, nurses, counsellors, teachers? In this blog I want to explore how the healing of others is beneficial to our own personal healing.
Altruism is acting out of concern for another’s well-being. Often, people behave altruistically when they see others in desperate circumstances and feel empathy and a desire to help. As altruism is defined as “good deeds done out of nothing more than unselfish concern for others", what motivates people to perform unselfish deeds in a world that is so often very selfish?
There are theories to explain why altruism exists amongst us humans, such as: biological reasons; kin selection is an evolutionary theory that proposes that people are more likely to help those who are blood relatives because it will increase the odds of gene transmission to future generations, environmental reasons; a study at Stanford Uni suggests that our interactions and relationships with others have a major influence on altruistic behaviour, social norms; society's rules, norms, and expectations can also influence whether or not people engage in altruistic behaviour, and cognitive reasons; while the definition of altruism involves doing for others without reward, there may still be cognitive incentives that aren't obvious, for example, we might help others to relieve our own distress or because being kind to others upholds our view of ourselves as kind, empathetic people.
And then their is "Reciprocal altruism" a term used by evolutionary biologists and psychologists to characterise the decision to help others with an expectation that one will receive some benefit or payoff to oneself; this may be done unconsciously & I'm talking about emotional, psychological or physical rewards, so called 'helpers highs', such as:
1. HELPING OTHERS GIVES US A SENSE OF PURPOSE AND SATISFACTION.
The most profound on this list, we are all looking for more meaning in our day-to-day existence. Studies show that being altruistic or becoming a 'healer' enhances an individual’s overall sense of purpose and identity (without which we may have conflict in ourselves).
2. HELPING OTHERS CAN HELP YOU LIVE LONGER.
Research has shown that helping roles can improve health in ways that can lengthen your lifespan—volunteers show an improved ability to manage stress and stave off disease as well as reduced rates of depression and an increased sense of life satisfaction, this might be because volunteering alleviates loneliness and enhances our social lives—factors that can significantly affect our long-term health.
3. ALTRUISM IS CONTAGIOUS.
When one person performs a good deed, it causes a chain reaction of other altruistic acts. One study found that people are more likely to perform feats of generosity after observing another do the same. This effect can ripple throughout the community, inspiring dozens of individuals to make a difference.
4. HELPING OTHERS MAKES US HAPPY.
One team of sociologists tracked 2000 people over a five-year period and found that people who described themselves as “very happy” volunteered at least 5.8 hours per month. Of course it's important to remember that one must feel valued also, so volunteering may not be for everyone! Researchers also think that giving back might give individuals a mental boost by providing them with a neurochemical sense of reward.
5. HELPING OTHERS MAY HELP WITH CHRONIC PAIN.
According to one study, people who suffered from chronic pain tried working as peer volunteers. As a result, they experienced a reduction in their own symptoms.
6. HELPING OTHERS LOWERS BLOOD PRESSURE.
If you’re at risk for heart problems, your doctor has probably told you to cut back on red meat or the hours at your stressful job. However, you should also consider adding something altruistic to your routine: training in something therapeutic, or volunteering at a dog shelter. One piece of research showed that older individuals who volunteered for at least 200 hours a year decreased their risk of hypertension by a whopping 40 percent. This could possibly be because they were provided with more social opportunities, which help relieve loneliness and the stress that often accompanies it.
7. HELPING OTHERS PROMOTES POSITIVE BEHAVIOURS IN TEENS.
According to sociologists, teenagers who volunteer perform better in school & have higher self-image.
Check out these great quotes that go to show that I am not the only one to place such great importance on the healing of others healing ourselves;
“No one has ever become poor by giving.” ― Anne Frank, diary of Anne Frank: the play
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” ― John Bunyan
“Love is not patronising and charity isn't about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same -- with charity you give love, so don't just give money but reach out your hand instead.” ― Mother Teresa
“If you're not making someone else's life better, then you're wasting your time. Your life will become better by making other lives better.” ― Will Smith
“Remember this. Hold on to this. This is the only perfection there is, the perfection of helping others. This is the only thing we can do that has any lasting meaning. This is why we're here. To make each other feel safe.” ― Andre Agassi, Open
Psychotherapy sessions are not only healing but also offer 'Psychoeducation', and skills that you may practice yourself and even pass on to others.
Contact me for a free initial telephone consultation here
Eve Houseman MBACP