10 Signs It’s Time to Stop Helping Someone

Stop Helping

The desire to help others is innate. Scientific research has taken note of this altruistic tendency in humans being expressed as early as 18 months! Of course, helping others makes us feel good too. Mood-boosting chemicals are released in our brain when we give back and help others. It’s natural to want to come to the aid of a loved one who is hurting, whether they are struggling with mental health issues, behavioral problems, learning challenges, addictions, or other issues.



Constructive helping promotes other people’s growth and independence, and dysfunctional helping does the opposite. Click To Tweet

However, helping is not always good. If we offer too much, we don’t give others a chance to rise to the occasion, and we may inadvertently stifle another person’s growth. We may help out of obligation or manipulation. Or sometimes, others may take advantage of our good intentions, and we feel used. Helping can be complicated.

Providing aid in a way that feels constructive and truly benefits others without harming oneself is a learned skill. One of the best ways to hone this skill is to know when to stop helping.

Here are 10 signs that indicate it is time to stop helping.

1. When the help you’re offering is not helping.

Canadian clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson suggests that if you are offering help to someone—a family member, child, friend, romantic partner, or even a stranger—and it’s not helping, or they are not accepting the help, then stop trying! If you don’t, you might be wasting your time, or possibly making things worse. Instead, he suggests that you offer to serve those who want it and will appreciate it. He says to heed the wisdom of “Don’t cast pearls before swine.”

2. If you care more than the individual you are helping.

Do you ever feel more invested in helping someone than they are in helping themselves? Withdrawing your assistance may be the best thing you can do for all involved. If you are shouldering the concern, worry, and taking the steps on behalf of someone else, it basically alleviates them of the need to be invested in helping themselves. You are doing all the work! Don’t care more than they do. It’s amazing what can happen if you take a step back.

3. You are feeling angry or resentful about helping.

Feelings of anger and resentment about the assistance you are providing are often an indication that something is amiss. Check yourself. Are you giving too much? Are you helping out of a sense of obligation, or a desire to please or gain acceptance? Is your kindness being taken for granted? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, put on the brakes. Pull the plug, set a boundary, or simply say no to any further aid. Take care of yourself. Let someone else step up.

4. When the recipient of your help fails to meet agreements.

When a loved one fails to keep agreements, it’s important to your well-being to hold them accountable. Continuing to bail them out teaches them that it’s okay to disrespect you and break agreements. It is not healthy for anyone. Perhaps you have an adult child who struggles with addiction, and you lent them several thousand dollars in a time of need with the caveat that the money be used for rent. However, they spent it on something else—and they come back and ask for more. This is an opportunity to stop helping!

5. When your help fosters dependency and helplessness.

Constructive helping promotes other people’s growth and independence, and dysfunctional helping does the opposite. Providing help to others can be an ego-boosting habit that enables you to feel needed, in control, or like a savior. Yet, this can create dependency and helplessness in the recipient of your help, which can cause real harm. For example, this dynamic in a parent and young adult child is called parental codependency, and it can delay the young adult’s ability to become fully independent. If you are too helpful, it can enable others to be “small” and less than they are capable of.

6. Your offer of help is exhausting your resources.

Whether it’s your time, energy, or resources, help within your means. If assisting someone else is overtaxing your time, energy, or resources—stop! Even if you agreed to do something, if the cost becomes too great, whether that’s financial or emotional, you can back out or adjust how much you can help. If you are harming yourself, that is not helping. The goal is to provide help or support without draining your reserves.

7. If you feel you are being manipulated to provide help.

If you notice that you are being psychologically coerced into doing something for someone that you really don’t want to do, don’t help them! Typically, manipulation will trigger a gut feeling that something is off. If someone is bullying you into doing something for them, that’s manipulation. Watch out for people who play a victim and manipulate you with guilt. Set boundaries and hold them, even if the person asking for help gets angry.

8. If you are making excuses for someone or compromising your integrity.

If someone expects you to be dishonest, compromise your integrity, or put yourself at risk, that’s a clear signal to stop helping. Constructive helping does not require you to make excuses, keep secrets, or tell lies. If it does, it may very well be enabling. It’s okay to say no.

9. When you find yourself giving unsolicited help or advice.

There’s a 12-step recovery program called Al-Anon. It’s for the friends and family members of alcoholics who tend to get overly involved in taking care of, enabling, or trying to “fix” the alcoholic. Al-Anon members are advised to refrain from jumping in to help or give unsolicited advice to others. Instead, they are encouraged to tend to their own lives and let others experience the natural consequences of their actions.

We can all heed this wisdom. Parents will often jump into rescue or give advice to their children instead of simply listening, allowing them to struggle and figure things out, or asking if they want help. Sometimes it’s easier to try to “help” than feel the anxiety of seeing your child or loved one struggle.

10. When helping another person is dragging you down.

Jordan Peterson also talks about using the “lifeguard rule” to avoid the kind of helping that will drag you down. Here’s what he means. When a lifeguard approaches a person drowning, they employ a firm measure of self-protection by offering a buoy or rope. That’s because a drowning person is in a state of panic. It’s well documented that this panic can cause them to latch on to whoever is offering help and drown them too! According to Peterson, the lifeguard rule gives permission to the lifeguard to let someone drown if it’s clear that helping will drown them both. If helping someone is dragging you down, you may need to let go and move on to preserve yourself. A great example of this is a practicing addict. If helping the addict is killing you, then it’s a signal to let go.

Eliminating unhealthy forms of helping helps you. With all your extra energy freed up, ironically, you may have more time to help in healthy, meaningful, and rewarding ways.

Dysfunctional helping, codependency, and mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 855-923-4731 or visit our contact page here.


  1. As a chronic helper who also works in a “helping”industry, your excellent article is on-point and thoughtfully explained. I think it is relevant to everyone and especially for people in care giving where the boundaries get blurry and it’s sometimes hard to see where your help veers into harm— be it enabling or self-suffering. Thanks again, I’ll be sure refer people to your article.

    Comment by Suzanne Dudley Schon — June 6, 2022 @ 4:50 AM

  2. Guilty as charged.

    In fact my name means help in Spanish chosen by my mother from Our Lady of Perpetual Help , one of the Catholic renditions of Mary.

    I thought I was supposed to help. I’ve been noticing lately that my help is not so helpful for all the reasons you listed. AHA moment of truth!

    So I am going to change. I have to change. My so called helping is not working obviously. I’m sending this article to the people I have been “helping and hurting.”

    Comment by Socorro — June 6, 2022 @ 5:22 AM

  3. Thank you for this, Dr. Amen. You touched on many different scenarios which helped me. The guilty/manipulative person is hard for me to deal with mentally but I have learned to say, ‘no.’

    Comment by Deb — June 6, 2022 @ 5:30 AM

  4. These are all true statements. I can only hope others see and do what is being stated. I was in an alcoholic relationship for 30 years, I tried many times to save my marriage, after years of counseling, interventions, sober/not sober, dry drunk stages, I recently divorced. My advice is don’t wait 30 years, heed these warnings!!!! I am free from codependency. Finding myself after all these years.

    Comment by JL — June 6, 2022 @ 5:35 AM

  5. All of it’s true ..

    Comment by Sherry Kelley — June 6, 2022 @ 5:52 AM

  6. I am helping a man who had a stroke. Your article is helpful with my situation. I thought I was trying to get to know him and build a relationship but after he got his second vaccine he had a stroke. He lost his left side. Throught PT and OT he has gained use of his left leg but has a drop foot he needs a brace and refuses to wear it. He would not do what he needed to do for his left arm and hand. The idea of stop helping him when he efuses to get himself dressed which he can do. He does try to manipulate me and I am doing some of the things you suggest. Thank you for posting this article it is helpful..

    Comment by Kathy Lescalleette — June 6, 2022 @ 6:14 AM

  7. This is valuable information.

    Comment by Denise Caruselle — June 6, 2022 @ 8:05 AM

  8. This is VERY helpful. Thank you!

    Comment by Erin — June 6, 2022 @ 8:08 AM

  9. Thank you! Your articles are amazing. What if this article completely applies, but the person you’re challenged with is 12 yrs old, who harms themselves, is suicidal, is ruining her life with risky behaviors, and doesn’t see the value of help? How can I let her go at such an age, as I am already drowning with her? 😞

    Comment by Jess — June 6, 2022 @ 10:04 AM

  10. I need help in building new and positive relationships and I found your 10 signs on helping someone very informative and I printed out for me to keep me on track- thank you so much…

    Comment by Kim VonBlon — June 6, 2022 @ 10:28 AM

  11. When this popped up in my email, I was so excited to read this article cause I have a few family members who are struggling with alcohol and drug addictions,mental health issues, sickness and grief. I’m a helper and everything in this article is true. I find myself having to pull back and remove myself from different situations involving family members. It’s hard to see them go through but I am learning to set boundaries, not feel guilty and say “No” when it’s necessary. Thank you for this article.

    Comment by Subrenna — June 6, 2022 @ 10:58 AM

  12. An EXCELLENT article. As a “recovering codependent and rescuer,” I saved this article to help keep me on track.

    Comment by Carol H. — June 6, 2022 @ 11:53 AM

  13. Wow this is a great article and could be a whole book- one chapter on each.

    Comment by Laura Gargano — June 7, 2022 @ 6:41 AM

  14. thanks

    Comment by Shammy Peterson — June 7, 2022 @ 8:39 PM

  15. Good reminder.

    Comment by Kris Lau — June 8, 2022 @ 3:36 AM

  16. I have been suffering from OCD, anxiety and sdv for a long time… And this article really upset me, literally killed me… I need treatment, but I don’t have money, many years of suffering, due to the lack of this damned money. The irony is that MOST PEOPLE turn away from SICK PEOPLE or betray THEM … Why? Because they can’t help, they feel helpless and buggered by these feelings, ignoring the fact that I would love to be treated but just don’t have the money. This whole damn world and unfaithful people are killing me ….. Sorry for the negativity, my soul hurts a lot, too much ….

    Comment by Tina — June 8, 2022 @ 9:05 AM

  17. We help as much as we can. I have found difficult to take care of my 93 year old mother who has advanced alzheimer’s .
    i am considering additional assistance. I feel stuck at the moment.

    Comment by Anna — June 8, 2022 @ 6:38 PM

  18. This article is so eye-opening, each and every point, and so timely. I’m the parent of an adult child (35 years old) who has been dealing with addictions, risky behaviors, homelessness, incarceration, etc. for approximately 13 years. The help I’ve been giving is not only hurting but is causing issues with my husband and me because my husband sees and knows that it’s not helping but indeed hindering and hurting. Although very difficult, I’m making the decision today, 6/9/22 to stop it not just for me but for him as well. He can never be responsible and accountable for his behaviors if I continue to jump in and save him. I’m using this article (will give the proper credit of course) in my life coaching practice as I know so many of my family members, friends and clients can use this information.

    Comment by Deborah — June 9, 2022 @ 10:28 AM

  19. I feel resentful and mentally exhausted assisting my 94 year old mother in assisted living and now a nursing home. We’ve never been close so even just buying the essentials she needs at assisted living was wearing. But who else is going to do it? Plus the paperwork etc. I’m just tired of helping. Any ideas anyone?

    Comment by Lisa — July 4, 2022 @ 10:53 AM

  20. Everyon should read: ‘Co-dependent No More; (Wonderful Sub-title) – How to Stop Controlling Others & Start Taking Care of Yourself’ – a MUST READ to possibly recognize oneself.

    Comment by Jo Hebert — July 8, 2022 @ 3:18 PM

  21. Amen! So true. Deep down I know this but my “mom code” kicks in and I slip into old habits and try to help “one more time”. I’m bookmarking this article and setting a weekly calendar appointment to review it. Thank you for posting it!

    Comment by Melissa — July 15, 2022 @ 8:10 PM

  22. Thank you for this great article. So timely as I have just gotten off a call with my sister who lives in another country and my google question was how do I help a seriously depressed person who is not willing to help themselves. Golden!

    Comment by Lisa — October 3, 2022 @ 12:27 PM

  23. Does this list apply when talking about your parents? I am a wife and a mother trying to provide for my family, but my mother who struggles with mental illness and addiction consistently asks for money. I have helped her in the past, but have had to create boundaries. I feel terrible bc she is my mother and her mental illness isn’t her fault. But I am just not sure what to do. She says awful things to me when I do not help her. I’ve tried helping her by getting her setup with resources to help her get out of her situation, but she refuses.

    Comment by Chelsey — November 15, 2022 @ 10:02 PM

  24. #6 and #10 said it all for me. When you feel yourself drowning and your financial and emotional resources are being drained, it’s time to stop helping. Thanks for this important message.

    Comment by Kathy — December 2, 2022 @ 6:34 PM

  25. I think some of what you are saying is
    reasonable, however, have you ever been isolated and totally alone?

    Mental health is affected by so many things.

    I find some of your ideas and insights seem to be sanctioning punishing a person when they are most vulnerable.

    Not sure that the 'tough love' approach is best, particularly for frail elderly.

    Surely the answer involves more support for family members trying to cope without professional knowledge and resources.

    While sometimes manipulation could be an issue, most elderly sufferers don't want to 'bother' anyone.

    Laying alone in a darkened room, no one to speak with, not able to eat, appetite suppressed, no energy to cook or shop, No interest in any usual everyday activities, it's beyond their control I believe.

    No amount of tough love, a refusal to engage with the person would help the person experiencing that sadness & could be fatal,
    I believe.

    Comment by Kelly — January 6, 2023 @ 7:36 PM

  26. Thank you for your article. It has given me the emotional compass I needed. I’ve had confusing feelings of anger, compassion and guilt relating to how much to help my son.

    Comment by Pam Rose — January 8, 2023 @ 3:01 AM

  27. I have been feeling increasingly frustrated with anxiety and a feeling of being stuck in a situation while living with my daughter in law. I have been trying to find an answer to how I can go forward and your article has been very helpful. Thank you for hitting the mark on different ways to stop helping someone that doesn't want to help themselves. This was plainly spoken so anyone can understand and relate. I'm begining to have hope to move forward in a way that is needed to help us both.

    Comment by Peggy — January 19, 2023 @ 2:28 PM

  28. Its a tough gig. As a mother of an adult daughter having her own issues, over time I am struggling too and have started seeing a counsellor. I'm supposed to be the strong one because I'm the mother. Being a mother doesn't imbue me with magical super powers of immunity to emotional trauma. It's rough and I can see that there are now 2 people struggling and not one. Social stigma dictates that as family I have to stand by her, even though the rest of the family have disappeared. It dictates that you do adhere to the lifeguard principle but if you let someone drown, you can be castigated after the fact by being castigated for "not doing enough". I can see where the emotional trauma comes from as I become overwhelmed by it myself. You are literally damned either way.

    Comment by KC — February 7, 2023 @ 3:09 PM

  29. I have been helping a friend by giving her bags of groceries as she always claims to be broke with nothing left in her cupboards or fridge. She lives on a disability pension and lives in a rent-geared-to-income apartment. Her medication costs are paid by the government and her utility expenses are supplemented. She is bi-polar. Some mutual friends discovered she is buying and smoking pot. I can smell it on her clothing and at her doorway when I bring her food. I now realize that by providing her with groceries she is spending her food budget (and more) on pot. I need to step back and not feel guilty about it. I don't want to enable her in any way that allows pot problems to escalate. I feel so torn between wanting to help and knowing that my help is really not helping her at all. Your article is the wake-up call I needed. Thank you for that.

    Comment by Leona Moote — March 17, 2023 @ 9:48 AM

  30. I am in college and I have been helping my boyfriend out financially in every way possible, most of the time I accept money from other men , I feel like I’m at the edge of loosing it all and I don’t want to be in this relationship anymore but how do I leave?😭

    Comment by Ifeoluwa — March 29, 2023 @ 11:29 AM

  31. !!!!!!! Thank you for sharing this

    Comment by CG — June 13, 2023 @ 2:18 PM

  32. Dave Ramsey said: "If you have to buy your relationships, that's called prostitution. It's not a real relationship."
    Also: "It's ok to say no, and you really, really need to."

    Comment by Sheryl — June 28, 2023 @ 11:02 AM

  33. This situation is going to kill me. I have to stop it doesn't help. My "help" doesn't help. Ay all. For Years

    Comment by Sandy — October 20, 2023 @ 4:35 PM

  34. While I do understand the helping can lead to codependency, and my help maybe isn’t helping, I am frustrated because my son is an alcoholic. He has multiple health issues related to drinking. I had to kick him out and now he has no where to stay. He is sick!! What kind of a mother does this? Help!!

    Comment by Deanna Driver — November 8, 2023 @ 11:00 AM

  35. I was excited to find this web site. I need to to thank you for your time for
    this wonderful read!! I definitely savored every bit of it and I have
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    Comment by bounce house rentals Scottsdale — November 28, 2023 @ 2:33 AM

  36. I have a 40 yr old son currently clean from crack cocaine. He suffers from chronic depression and has lost everything.
    I try and help but recently I feel I can't do this anymore. Emotionally and financially I am unable to help.
    He's only got me as his siblings and father won't help anymore
    I've suggested he needs help at hospital. He's been in and out of rehab for 20:yrs. And in psychiatry ward numerous times.
    I don't know what to do anymore.
    He won't go to hospital.

    Comment by Liz — December 10, 2023 @ 7:30 PM

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