When Do You Assist, Support, or Inflict Help?

My husband, Mark, momentarily lost his keys this morning. Except, it wasn’t just a moment—it was about five minutes. He planned to load several items into the car, return to the house to kiss me goodbye, and then leave.

Except, he was stuck on Step 1, loading items into the car.

We have other car keys for his car, so he could have used those. But, as he said, “I just had them! In my hand!”

As the minutes ticked by, he said, “I didn’t leave them in the fridge.”

Ever supportive, I asked, “Why not check?”

He did. No keys.

I asked, “Want my help?”


He patted his pockets again, searching for the keys.

I tried a little support again, “Too bad you don’t have an AirTag on them.”

“I do!” he said and used the app on his phone to search for them. The phone beeped. “The app says I have them on me.”

I shrugged and said, “So pat all your pockets again.”

He did. No keys.

“Want me to inflict help?” I asked.


His phone beeped again.

“You might want to believe the phone,” I said. I knew I was inflicting help, but I just could not stand it.

He didn’t respond. However, he unzipped his jacket and felt around in his vest. Aha! The keys were there.

He proceeded with the rest of the plan. When he returned to the kitchen, he laughed and said, “Yes, I do expect to see this as a blog post.”

Good thing.

Differentiate Between Assistance, Support, and Inflict Help

When we solve problems with others, we can offer assistance, support, or inflict help. Let’s define these terms first.

While the dictionary says that assistance and support are the same, I categorize them differently. Assistance means we collaborate on solving the problem together.

We support the other person when we help the other person think about the problem differently. When I support people, I try to keep my hands out of their situation.

Then, there’s the little problem of inflicting help. I inflict help when I tell people what to do. And when. And how.

Yup. I excel at all the telling. That means I need to choose.

Choose Which Stance and When

Since Mark did not want my help this morning, I did not assist him.

However, I did help him to accept that there might be more alternatives than he’d initially considered. All of my above comments were supportive.

Right up until I inflicted help when I said he should believe the phone.

The problem with help infliction is that it tends to raise the relationship tension and stakes.

I am sure you’ve had times when you only wanted someone to listen to you. Instead of asking if you wanted assistance or support—or just that sympathetic ear—they inflicted help on you.

Or, you wanted to think through your options, but the other person wanted to collaborate on fixing that problem with you.

Maybe you wanted collaboration, but the person wanted to rethink their approach with your support.

When we have a mismatch of expectations, we ratchet up the tension. That tension can increase how often we inflict help instead of asking how to support the other person. (It does for me. You’re probably more mellow than I am.)

Check What the Other Person Wants

Mark did get everything in the car this morning, ready for his adventures. He left happy with himself and with me. (Phew!)

When I check what the other person wants, I’m more likely to help that person in ways that work for them. And I try to inflict less help, but I sometimes slip into old behaviors.

When I realized I could name each of these ideas: support, assistance, and help infliction, I realized I could choose. So can you.


My copyeditor has the manuscript for Become a Successful Independent Consultant. Don’t buy the book yet, unless you want to see how much I changed between the original version and this version.

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Till next time,


© 2023 Johanna Rothman

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