Can’t help myself

Ahem. I would just like to publicly point out that I was not actually in the meeting where the lady cried all the way through (please go here first if you have no idea what I’m talking about). No, no, no. That would not happen on my watch.

In fact, the entire Bystander Effect doesn’t happen on my watch.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a helper. I’ve helped my mum (pet), I’ve helped my teachers (pet), I’ve helped the homeless, the downtrodden, the random crying people, the drunks and on one memorable occasion the police with their inquiries. It’s pathological helping; I can’t help myself.

Aside from the obvious volunteering outlet for us helpers, I’ve never understood how people can keep walking when there is an injured bird in our flock. I certainly cannot. One time I stood up to an irate 6′ tall giant who was threatening his girlfriend’s face with a bottle. It helps that I’m an irate 6′ tall giant myself, but then I still thought it was very brave and foolish thing to do. But she needed help, so help arrived. Mind you, there was a group of at least 10 other people around us (including one 6’4″ giant who I could really have used) and they did absolutely nothing to help that girl. Or me for that matter. Amazing.

Speaking of the Bystander Effect, I learned about Kitty Genovese when I was studying Psych at Uni and while everyone else was nodding along in recognition, I remember very boldly thinking “I would not have done nothing.” I would not have been able to live with myself if I heard that girl cry for help and did nothing. I would not.

Is there a Superman Effect? I honestly think I have that Effect because who do I think I am with all this helping? All I know is that it doesn’t feel right to ignore someone’s plea or cry for help, or even their random appeal. Hence, I’m always volunteering to do this, that and thisthatthisthatthisthat when I really don’t have the time. It’s not that I can’t say No (I am actually very good at saying No), it’s just that I can’t do nothing… like I said, it’s pathological.

Are you a helper? 
Have you ever not helped someone in need and regretted it? What kinds of things make you keep walking?
[Image from here]
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  1. says

    Sorry. I’m kind of a pedant, I can’t walk away without pointing out that the Kitty Genovese story is actually untrue. One person confronted her attacker and he left and returned later. The second attack was in a different place and was out of sight of anyone who had witnessed the first attack. The police were called but they gave the first call low priority because the caller thought it was a lover’s quarrel and after the second call they attended but she was already dead.
    I’m not questioning the existence of the bystander effect just debuking the Genovese myth. It’s astonishing how long one piece of bad journalism can live.

  2. says

    I’m shocked at how people will stand by and allow bullies (kids) to rampage without doing anything. My sister and I both wade in and tackle them, whether it’s our kids being bullied or not, and you’d be shocked how many tut-tut at our interference!

  3. says

    I can never stand by….whether someone needs help or a crime is being committed (or an array of other situations). I just get overtaken by an urge to take action and / or speak up.
    I once confronted a member of a car stealing ring who was about to steal a car right in front of my eyes (long story). At the time, I weighed about 52kgs and was 5 feet 3 inches tall. And I was on my own.
    Of course, he still stole the car….but I just felt I had to try to do and say something.
    I was able to provide a detailed description to police and helped produce a composite sketch which led to his arrest (and that of other members of the ring).
    Many people told me I was a fool for putting myself in the path of such potential danger (especially being so tiny)….but, like you, I can’t help myself.


  4. says

    dachlostar maybe my psych text books or memory are wrong (highly likely as I am chronically sleep deprived and foggy headed) but I am sure there were police reports saying there were x number (72?) of neighbours/fellow unit dwellers that heard struggle/screams etc and x ppl that came fwd after the event. Who knows ? I am sure there are the real facts and then the journalistic bent and the urban myth-ify that goes on but anyway kitty genovese or not there are plenty of other examples from real life and crazy 70s (pre ethics) pysch experiments that show the bystander effect (and many other crazy results….elec shock anyone?) time and time again

  5. says

    i don’t like injustice and i would like to think i would always give my help where it is needed…

    i have never given help where it was REALLY needed and regretted it although i have given money to a guy on the street who said he was hungry and hadn’t eaten for days…..and then ran into the same guy in the same pub as me later in the night….i was peeved but it def. was not enough to stop me wanting to help people out!

    it may be very naive of me, but i still feel many many people are willing to help others in need…

  6. says

    totally hon! that’s me too – if we were studying psych 101 together i would have nodded in agreement to you that Kitty should not have meet that horrible fate!! i help out too – all sorts of stuff. Bind people who get stuck, people who need clothes altered, or want something made up for their kids, i volunteer on committee’s and look after others’ kids left right and centre. I once parked next to a lady that had her car engine running but was unconscious on the steering wheel – i opened the door, turned off the engine, called the ambulance and police (whilst screaming hysterically!) and phew, she was ok! it’s just what i do i suppose!

  7. says

    I had this conversation with some friends of mine just last week. I called it the “flight or fright” effect. I’m the fighter. I can’t help it. If someone is in trouble, my adrenaline takes over and I go in to battle. Mind you, I’ve never actually fought anyone. I’ve just moved my way in with steely resolve to settle a dispute or help someone injured.

    A few months ago I was put in this position – A young girl having celebrated schoolies and perhaps drinking a bit too much, had a fight with her boyfriend. She walked passed me on the beach crying and walked straight into the waves with all her clothes on. She was determined to head out to sea. Before I really thought about it, I was out there with her. We stood there waist deep for about 20 minutes. I managed to calm her down and walk her home. She later said she couldn’t believe that I would be so kind to do something like that. I was floored because I thought anyone seeing her in distress would have done this. I’d hope to god that when my girls are older that if they do something like that, someone is there to steer them back on the right path! Having discussed this with friends, it appears that no, not everyone feels comfortable or able to help another person in distress. The fear kicks in and they’d rather take flight than fight. It’s a really interesting discussion but sadly, I think us ‘fighters’ are outnumbered.

  8. says

    I once stopped a child from being run-over while her Mother was chatting on her mobile phone not paying attention. I ran onto the road and picked the little girl up as the oncoming car screeched to a halt about a metre from hitting us both – I did it completely without thinking – instinctual I guess. The bit that upset me was how angry the Mother was towards me – so much so she slapped me in the face and told me to “get my hands off” her child. I was so shocked I walked away without saying anything.

  9. says

    Yes. A definate helper and i cannot help myself but always be checking if everyone is “ok”. It is tiring and i sure as hell can say no, but like you the need to help where possible IS important to me. I’d have a lot of guilt if i didn’t help.

    Have i helped when i shouldn’t have? Yes. I’ve helped out and found myself then in the middle of sticky situations and having the anger then turned towards me by both parties. I’ve had people use me just for the fact they know i’m a helper. So i’ve learnt to tune down the help a bit, unless i am close with someone i try to keep at bay, offer a general help and leave the offer open, whereas with a close person i will just start helping. Almost forcing my help upon them. Strangers are another thing. I have that strong urge in me that says HELP THEM! But then the safe part of me kicks in, this is a dangerous world and it’s full of crazies so i tread carefully and only help when i think it’s emergent life or death type stuff and even then i prefer to keep at bay and just call the cops or something.

  10. says

    Compulsive helper? No. Helper. Yes. I help when I can but I am not the one doing mouth to mouth with a complete stranger without the requisite skills. Within my limits, I help. x

    PS Interesting sidebar on the Genovese Effect. Our gnome-like Psych lecturer (name escapes me) would be proud of your recall!

  11. says

    This is a topic close to my heart. I am a helper. I am shocked at how people can just walk on by. I was on my way to work, running late as usual and there was a blind man with his dog trying to pick up his mobile phone. All these people were pushing past and no-one was helping him. He actually pushed it into some dogs poo and it was just horrible. Of course I stopped and helped him. I felt so sad that day to think that he was completely ignored. I can’t imagine a situation where I wouldn’t help. Knowing my personality I am more afraid of my in built guilt trip than potential danger! x

  12. says

    Tonight I’m feeling very grateful to helpers. Out walking my dog, toddler on my back, and a nasty dog came and started attacking my dog. Some people heard me yelling, people driving by saw me struggling – and they stopped and helped me. Without people stopping to help each other now and then, well…

  13. says

    I am a complusive helper from waaay back. Compulsive police calling goes hand in hand with this disorder, I find. I have the local police on speed dial. Some of my (not so) finer moments include:

    1. Observing what I assumed was drug deals taking place in the city (during the hight of melbournes heroin epidemic of the late 90’s)… calling the police, they arrive in time to ‘catch’ them, I feel like a hero…. only to discover they were needle exchange volunteers!

    2. Calling the police on my neighbours in the middle of the night after mistaking them for car burglers – they had locked their keys in their car! Oops.

    PS – my word vero is ‘champ’…and that I am :)

  14. says

    I am a complusive helper from waaay back. Compulsive police calling goes hand in hand with this disorder, I find. I have the local police on speed dial. Some of my (not so) finer moments include:

    1. Observing what I assumed was drug deals taking place in the city (during the hight of melbournes heroin epidemic of the late 90’s)… calling the police, they arrive in time to ‘catch’ them, I feel like a hero…. only to discover they were needle exchange volunteers!

    2. Calling the police on my neighbours in the middle of the night after mistaking them for car burglers – they had locked their keys in their car! Oops.

    PS – my word vero is ‘champ’…and that I am :)

  15. says

    I’m a giver more than a helper – I guess they go hand-in-hand, really. I’ve never regretted NOT helping anyone – ever – because there would have to be a legimiate reason for not helping, and so no regrets. I’m sorry to say there have been times I’ve regretted helping, though. Sad but true. :)

  16. says

    I actually witnessed an attacking in the middle of a main street once. Two young men were jumping on this other guy, belting him into the ground. People were standing around watching, but not doing anything. In that situation, I was heavily pregnant, so I did not jump in to help him, for obvious reasons, but I did stay there and called the police, who luckily were around the corner and soon broke it up. Why no-one else had done the same thing is beyond me.
    I, like yourself, can not stand back and not help. It’s just not comprehendable.

  17. Cristina says

    I’ve always thought of myself as a helper, but I’m just learning that often I help in all the wrong ways. So I’ve got to relearn a few habits; like finding where my limit is where I have to say ‘No’ (and not feel bad about it), finding out exactly what the other person wants help for and sticking just to that, not getting too sucked in to other people’s problems. lAnd more in that vein…

    There’s definitely an art and a balance in being a successful helper I think

  18. says

    Yes, I am a helper. The only time I haven’t helped I have regretted it – I had moved into my first (ground floor) apartment near Kings Cross & heard some huffing & puffing going on outside my kitchen window. There was no shouting or anything. At the time I assumed some people where having sex, I was just around the corner from ‘The Wall’! Anyway, I did nothing, & a week later found out that it was actually a fatal stabbing.

    Mrs BC

  19. says

    I did one of those enneagram personality tests once and I am definitely “the helper”. My husband was “the achiever”. Not sure that looks so good for me…?

    P.S. Oh Mrs BC – that’s awful! There’s such a fine lime between helping and putting yourself in danger.

  20. says

    I’m a helper, but it’s difficult to know if your help will be welcome or treated like an insult. Still – I welcome help when I need it, it’s so much nicer than the ‘tut-tutting’ of others. And I hope people know that if I offer to help, it’s not because I’m judging, but it’s because I’ve been there.

  21. says

    I think I would say I was more of a helper before Bip and Bop came into my life…. Now my time is taken up dealing with ..well you know what I deal with… that I tend to not help out as much as I use to… I miss helping out..but if it was a bystander then yes… I would be the first in there…like the old lady who was 93 and was trying to shovel snow from her path way … bless her… me and bop did it for her

  22. says

    I think I’m like Multiple Mum – a helper, but with some limitations.

    For eg, when I was living in Perth, I witnessed a couple of domestic altercations. One outside my work (across at the service station – the guy was beating his girlfriend’s head against the car), and one outside my house (neighbours across the street’s son & his girlfriend had a doozy). Anyway, I wouldn’t go out there and jump in during either domestic, but I called the police straight away and assisted them any way I could.

    If my kids were in trouble? LOOK OUT!

    I’ve gotten out of my car and stopped traffic to help a little old lady across the road (cliched, but true!) and I’ve always been the kind of person that people sometimes turn to for advice etc.

    Some people though, no matter what you do, you can’t help. I worked with a girl once who was such a downer on herself and I tried and tried and tried to get her out of it, and help her to socialise etc, but there was a LOT of negativity going on. I gave up. Maybe I should have tried harder, but she wasn’t willing to help herself. I’ve often thought though: was she depressed? I don’t know. She could be kind of nasty about people, and I think she was just a very negative person.

    Good for you helping: but be safe. These days, there is SO much anger in the world, that people are doing really, really stupid things.


  23. says

    I’m a sort of a helper..I find it hard to turn away animals. I force myself…but I repeatedly find myself paining when I have to turn away. I rescued my dog off the street in the middle east. And then I spent a month trying to find him a home. And then I spent a month researching how I could keep him, whether I could take him on trains in Europe, where I could get accomodation with a dog, how I could take hime back to much it would cost.
    And then I saved up enough money to buy a car/put a deposit on a small flat – and used it to ship my dog home.

    And just now, when the lightning cracked so loud, I ducked…I realised it was time to go next door and keep Mavis, our Octagenarian (?) neighbour, company.

  24. says

    I’m with you. As everyone is walking away from the fire, I am running towards it with my tiny little water bottle. I call behaviour, if someone is giving the silent treatment I ask ‘what’s wrong.’ Problem is when you give so much and often don’t get back much in return it can be a little weary-making. I sometimes question why I bother when it is so much easier to say/do nothing and others are so comfortable with that. Obviously my genetics got it wrong when they made me this way and stuck it in a 5’2″ package- some giant genes would have been handy :)

    • Maxabella says

      I wish I could let the silent treatment people do their thing without giving them the satisfaction of asking! That bothers me about myself no end. Don’t give them the satisfaction, I say, but then I do it regardless. WHY!?!! x

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