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Illustration for article titled An Open Letter on Helpers and Helpees (TW: Depression, Self-Esteem)

I always felt like my thing was helping people get better at their thing.

I have had a much harder time helping myself.

It's hard to admit - as someone who works every day at assisting others in loving and accepting themselves - that I often find myself quite unable to extend that feeling inward. Daily, I sit across from clients, students, people wanting to be heard and transform, but also wanting acceptance for who they are, and I truly believe they deserve that. All of it. They are beautiful and unique and important as they are, now, and as they grow and move through life and its changes. Some things will change, but their value will not.


But seeing that takes confidence and hope (along with so many other things). Often the person across from me does not/cannot see it at all, and I feel like I hold their hope for them, like a tiny flame inside a jar – brought in hastily, flickering, shaky, but still present. I feel honored that they have brought it to me at all, impressed at their efforts, past and present. We poke holes in the lid, they clean the outside, reposition the flame, and I hold it for them while they work.

I would love for them to take it from me, happily or angrily or tenuously, but they struggle to even see the flame. It's so small, and we feed it together so it will be brighter and strong when they take it back.


I empathize with this struggle because I struggle daily as well. My own candle burns behind me, and I tell myself it is less important to care for. Others come first. Let me attend to your candle, and hope mine gets stronger in the process. I would challenge such a sentiment in others; why do I let it settle within myself?

I don't want to look at my own candle, I don't want to accept it or feed it. In my heart, surrounded by layers of insecurity, neurosis, and perfectionism, I consider the idea of really seeing who I am and figuring out what I want dangerous. Feeding that hope can feel dangerous. It can feel frightening.What if I fail?


We both have the same fear. I'm sorry. We could do so much more if we accepted that embedded within failure there is still that flame. What are we really afraid of? We are neither of us cowards, we are capable of so much.

I look at you and wish you knew that the risk was worth it, and that you were worth the risk.


I promise to try to do the same for myself as well.

(ETA: My intention is not to categorize everyone's experience into mine, but rather to explore my own process. I'm also not trying to make myself seem like a martyr - my "sacrifice" often feels selfish, because focusing on others is so much easier. I have seen a lot of Groupthink posts recently about therapy/helping relationships, and wanted to share my own experience from a different perspective. This is just one helper's take on the dual process of learning and growing and hope that every person has, as both a helper and helpee.)

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