When Helping Hurts


I have shared a lot recently about my life as a co-dependent enabler. I talk about the years in my past when I (subconsciously) sought out needy people with the goal of “fixing” them. I point out that my helping not entirely altruistic; it was the little girl living in my adult body and her desperate need for love and affirmation that motivated me. Because of that drive, my helping often caused pain and heartache for me and my family. It even harmed the people I was helping because my “fixing” kept them from learning how to cope with their problems on their own.

People who hear this story often say, “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Or they point out that God can make good things happen from bad. I respond that I am not being hard on myself;  I am speaking hard truth – even though it is painful.  And I agree that God is the great Alchemist, creating life out of darkness.  However, I am still responsible for the bad choices I made.

Today, I heard the story of Seane Corn, a yoga master and social activist, on On Being, hosted by Krista Tippet. Early in the program Seane shared her sexual molestation as a 6-year-old and some of the problems that resulted from that experience. Later Krista Tippet asked her to share how she became involved as a social activism. Here is her story.

Seane’s Story

“Well, when I was young, I started getting involved in activism aroundimages (1)AIDS — when I was 19. But I was a horrible activist. I was on the soapbox with a megaphone and a finger up and telling everyone else how to live their life. Because I hadn’t dealt with my rage, being an activist was an outlet for me, and not an appropriate one. It’s not an effective way to create healing. So I got out of activism . . . .

“Something happened in 1999 where abundance came into my life. . . . I made a little bit of money, so I thought, well,  my skill is yoga and there’s an at-risk community out there and they could probably use a little breathing and some yoga work so, maybe I’ll work in the prison system.

“So I researched and I found out about Children of the Night [an organization in Los Angeles that helps child prostitutes between the ages of 11 and 17 get off the streets and begin to build normal lives.] So I thought, Oh, okay, adolescent prostitutes, mostly girls. Oh, they need to get in their body. They need to learn about breathing. This’ll be great. I can help them to connect. I walked in, you know, all white and fluffy-headed and the girls  at that shelter at that time are mostly black and Latina, and there were a couple of boys, homosexual, all street hustlers. They were defiant, rude, so completely not impressed by, you know, the fabulousness of me. They just couldn’t care less.

“The only reason they did anything was, because there were counselors around forcing them to, essentially. . . . You could just see the darkness on these kids, and they seemed to me in that moment as hopeless. That’s how I felt. I left the shelter after just a horrifying experience trying to teach them yoga.

“I went to my car and I was really emotional. I was just thinking,’These kids are messed up. They’re never going to get better. They’re going to go back out into the world as criminals.’ I was going on and on in my head. It always takes me a while to kind of, you too get to where I always think Spirit’s saying ‘You done yet? You going to wake up to this yet?’ I realized that I had just met the part of myself that I had denied, that I called into my experience the child in me that had been, that is, defiant and angry and scared to death and has absolutely zero tools for healing. . . .

 “I got exactly God was saying, ‘It’s time. It’s time. You can’t deny this. If you really want to heal and open your heart to love, then you’ve got to find the places within you that are disconnected from God. And I’m giving you an opportunity. Go back. And don’t serve these girls; meet them. Go and meet you.’  And that’s exactly what happened.

“I went back to those girls, and the next time I went in, I shared my story. And instead of teaching them anything, we just played and we connected and we laughed. The yoga was, you know, a mess to the outside eye. It was just a bunch of human beings laughing. And the more we laughed and giggled and just connected, the more they opened to me and the more we realized that we were both alike. And it was by learning to love those little girls, I learned to love that part of me that I had felt, especially the part of me that had received pleasure from the molestation, I got to reclaim her and understand. I understand that little girl and really forgive her and bring her back home again. So I always say, like, who got served? It wasn’t those kids. It was me.”

Seane vividly describes what I have been trying to say. When we try to do good out of our hurt and anger, it can’t work. When we are healed and can share the hurt and the healing, we can bring real love and real connection – and real help.

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