top of page

The Fine Line Between Helping and Ego-driven Rescuing

offering help to others

As humans, we possess an inherent inclination to assist one another. Nevertheless, our well-intentioned actions can sometimes lead to detrimental overcompensation and enablement. Our attempts to "rescue" someone may cause more harm than good, impeding their progress and personal growth.

So, how can we differentiate between genuinely helping someone and rescuing them? When does this distinction become unclear? And how might our desire to help stem from our ego's desire to fix and control?

Helping vs. Ego-driven Rescuing:

Helping is assisting someone who asks for it or needs it. Showing kindness by providing guidance and support is crucial in helping individuals handle their situations without taking over completely. It may involve simply listening and allowing them to openly process what they are going through instead of offering advice. Whatever the case, helping allows others to learn from any mistakes they may encounter. This empowers the individual to take charge of their own life without denying them the opportunity to make their own decisions.

The goal of helping someone is not to control them or the situation but instead to equip them with the skills and confidence they need to take ownership of their own life.

This means understanding when it is time to step back and allow someone else to take the lead or when it is appropriate to offer advice while respecting the individual’s autonomy.

Ego-driven rescuing, however, is a sign that our ego is getting involved. While it may appear that we are just trying to help, the ego makes us feel as though we need to take control of the situation to protect someone from the consequences of their actions. We may think this is the only way to help them, but when we rescue someone, we deny them the opportunity to learn and develop from their mistakes. This can be very damaging in the long run, leading to a lack of independence and problem-solving skills. In addition, if they do not accept our advice or assistance, we may become upset, frustrated, stressed, or resentful.

Sometimes, helping can gradually turn into rescuing when we cross the boundary between supporting to over-responsibility. We may begin to take on someone’s problems, putting their needs before our own, or we try to solve someone’s issue when it’s unnecessary. This can lead to an overstepping of boundaries as we begin to give unsolicited advice or offer too much assistance with a problem. These unwanted interventions can also lead the other party to feel resentment, tension, and a sense of disempowerment.

It’s crucial to seek balance, to help without being overbearing, and to be supportive without over-responsibility. We can start by acknowledging the power of letting go and the beliefs attached to our impulse to rescue someone. Remember, the person we want to help is an independent individual, fully capable of handling their life, regardless of our opinion. Just like us, they have the right to make their own decisions, even if we may disagree with them. They need to take responsibility for the outcomes of their choices.

When offering help, it's essential to understand our intention, what we want to achieve with our assistance, and what it means to the person we're helping. It's crucial to acknowledge that each person's journey is unique, and we should respect that their pace and progress may differ from our expectations. The best help we can offer someone is to listen, empathize with them, and occasionally check in to ask if the person still wants our help instead of assuming they do. Helping requires us to respect people's autonomy and support their decisions regardless of whether we agree.

How to tell the difference between help and ego-driven rescue:


  • You only help when asked or given permission.

  • You do not impose your beliefs on them.

  • You set clear boundaries when offering help, such as stating your limits in terms of time and resources and communicating them upfront—avoiding enabling bad behavior.

  • You do not allow yourself to get emotionally involved with their life choices.

  • You don’t feel the need to ‘fix’ the other person.

  • You keep your advice to yourself unless otherwise requested.

  • When giving advice, you share your perspective as just that, yours. You do not imply that it is the solution or best practice.

  • You can sit silently without needing to interject (rescue) as they process their challenges.

  • You do not hold anything you have done for them over your head—checks and balances.

  • Your primary objective is to help them reach their goal(s). However, you do not use force, badger, or keep tabs on their progress unless they ask for an accountability partner. And even then, you do not allow yourself to become anxious due to their lack of follow-through.

  • You know when to step away when they are not truly ready to make changes in their life. Let their actions speak, not their words.

  • You do not take their behaviors personally.

Ego-driven Rescuing:

Ego-driven rescue has an air of self-righteousness about it. We may feel superior to the individual we are helping, believing that they can’t do ___ without our assistance. Here is how to detect if you are allowing your ego to get involved:

  • You feel a strong compulsion to help this individual, almost taking on the burdens of their challenges. While this may appear to be a force of love, it is actually the ego masking itself as a caring savior.

  • You find yourself frustrated, angry, resentful, or bitter when they don’t accept your advice or fail to follow through on what they said they would do.

  • You fail to set boundaries yet become upset when they overstep time and time again.

  • You label them. I.e., lazy, worthless, weak, a problem, broken, lost, etc. This shows a lack of empathy and acceptance of where they are in life.

  • You talk poorly of them and their lack of progress—to their face or to others.

  • You believe they owe you for your help and assistance.

  • You allow their life troubles to impact your quality of life.

  • You believe that you have the solution and that your way of doing things is best.

Helping is a beautiful act of kindness, but it can also harm the person we’re helping and ourselves if we're not mindful of the line between helping and ego-driven rescuing. Recognizing when we are crossing the line can prevent us from being over-responsible and enabling negative behaviors. Help should involve respecting people's autonomy, setting boundaries, and empowering them to handle their lives independently.


bottom of page