Is Helping People a Matter of Giving Them What They Need or Want?
It’s not as clear-cut as one would think.
We are not born with the inclination to help others. Human beings are selfish by nature; it’s a survival mechanism. But help is subjective. What is help? Can you do something for someone thinking you are helping them when you aren’t? Do you help people by giving them what they need or what they want?
The answer might not be as clear-cut as one would think. It’s important to remember that needs come before wants, but that doesn’t mean giving someone what they want isn’t helpful. Meeting someone’s wishes can help fulfill their needs in some way or another.
If help is making someone feel better in the moment, it would be more likely that providing comfort would help people more than solving their problems. But, if help means assisting others to become better people and improve their lives, it may benefit individuals to give them what they need rather than what they want.
The truth is that helping people might be more effective if you can help them figure out their problems. And solve those problems for themselves rather than comfort the individual in the moment of need. It could also be helpful at times to help an individual feel better immediately after something terrible has happened, even if this means offering support through words or physical touch until that person feels ready to face their issues again on their terms.
The Difference Between Needs & Wants
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a great way to understand this difference. The pyramid shows that people have different needs at different levels. And that once those lower-level needs are met, the individual can focus on meeting their higher-level needs.
At the bottom of the pyramid are basic physiological needs such as air, food, water, sleep, and sex. Once these needs are met, individuals can move up to meet their safety needs, such as having a secure job or home. After that come social needs (such as friends and family), esteem needs (achievement or recognition), and finally, self-actualization (fulfilling one’s potential).
The higher needs in this pyramid are often called ‘self-transcendent’ or ‘metamotivational.’ That means that these don’t help someone survive but help them thrive and become better people.
It is vital to keep the hierarchy of needs in mind when trying to help someone. Suppose you can help individuals meet their physiological or safety needs (or even social ones). In that case, they may be able to move up the chain on their own after experiencing some time where they manage meeting those lower-level needs on their terms. But, if you try advising without knowing what type of need it fills for your friend, lover, family member, etc., then there’s a good chance that you aren’t helping.
Understanding what help means to someone is also essential before you can help them. Or even know if your actions are helping them. Helping people understand themselves might be more effective than trying to help an individual cope with their problems at the moment, especially when that coping mechanism doesn’t fix any of the underlying issues that cause those feelings of dissatisfaction and anxiety, depression, etc. If it does not resolve anything, then there’s a good chance that person will go through this same troubling experience again at some point in the future unless something changes for them internally first.
One way to help people is by listening. The best listeners are those that take the time to listen and understand, rather than jumping straight into offering advice or sharing their own experiences. If you want to help others, help them understand themselves first before giving help. Providing an opportunity for someone to be heard will benefit both parties as they can offer insight on how one another might need help, which could lead towards solving problems and working through emotional issues a person may have with their personality traits or state of mind.
Another form of helping people is being supportive when they do not ask for help but instead display signs of needing support from others around them — such as going through a difficult time. In these cases, it is best to observe and try to help out in any way possible as the person might not feel comfortable asking for help or may not even know that they need help from others around them. If you are unsure, then it’s best to start with showing them compassion first before trying to help in any way possible — no matter how small or large of a gesture that may be.
In short, helping people with what they need — rather than giving them what they want — can be more beneficial for both you and the person you are trying to help. It’s essential to understand their needs before trying to help them meet those needs for everyone involved to get the most out of the experience. Keep Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in mind when attempting to help someone, and always remember that listening is one of the best ways to show support!