Helping others but getting nothing in return

Scientifically reviewed by Viktor Sander B.Sc., B.A.

I got an interesting call from a friend who said:

“It feels like I help people a lot, but get nothing in return. I’m considering stop helping people but I don’t want to be a douche”.

I remembered how much I struggled with this. When I was a kid, I helped my friends because I was tech-savvy, and I remember how painful it was when they just took it for granted.

On the other hand, to just stop helping people is a surefire way to lose your friends. When you help people the right way you will get a ton of benefits in life. This was the advice I gave my friend:

1. If you feel that people don’t value your help, it might be because you don’t value it

Let your friends know that you enjoy helping them, but don’t say things like “It’s nothing, I didn’t have anything to do anyway” or “I need nothing back, I just think it’s fun to help”.

You don’t have to talk down on what you did. Instead, say something like “I’m glad to help, I think this will turn out great”.

Read more about how to get more respect here.

2. Help people with things they would struggle to do themselves (that are easy for you)

For example:

If you’re great at math and someone is asking for five minutes of your time to solve a problem, don’t hesitate to help that person out.

3. Don’t help people with things they could have done themselves with the same effort as you

If someone would have asked me for something because they were too lazy to do it themselves, I would simply ask if there’s a specific reason why they can’t do it. (But first, make sure they didn’t help you with something earlier and you just forgot about it.)

4. Help people with things that are easy for you to help them with

I gave the entire code of my website to a friend when he needed a new website. It didn’t take any effort for me so it’s obvious that I should help him out. (But I didn’t say “It’s nothing”. I said “I’ve spent many hours on my page so I’m sure it would save you a lot of time”).

Guess if he appreciated it? Spoiler: He LOVED it, and at almost zero cost to me.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for things in return

If you paid for the last lunch, the next one’s on your friend. If you helped someone with their math, it’s just natural that they help you out with another subject.[1] If they don’t want to help you back, make sure that you don’t keep doing them favors. Don’t let yourself be treated like a doormat.

6. If it feels like you always give more than you get back, bring it up with them

As long as you do it in a friendly tone, it will be great for your friendship. And if it turns out badly, it most likely wasn’t a friendship worth salvaging. Here’s an example of how you can bring it up:

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“Sometimes I get a feeling that I help you more than I get back. I’m mainly thinking about the last time when I helped you with [the thing]. I just want to let you know and hear what you think about it.”

7. Avoid offering favors as a way to make friends

It’s dangerous to help people as a strategy for making friends or being accepted. One example of this can be thinking “If I help these people out, they’ll like me more”.

If someone doesn’t appreciate hanging out with you, they might feel obligated to because they “owe you one”. Or, they might even start avoiding you.

Make sure that people are your friends because they like being around you (not because you provide them with services). Here are some ideas for making friends and being likable.

8. Tell people who are used to your help that they can no longer expect it

It’s natural that people get used to your help if they know that you are always there for them. The only way for them to know that something has changed is for you to tell them. “I know that I always use to help, but I’ve realized that I need to focus all my energy on my own work”.

9. Avoid helping friends who give nothing back

Some people use their friends and never give anything back. Avoid these people and don’t let them take away your faith in others.

Here’s a guide on how to spot a fake or bad friend from a good one.

You can still be their friend and be friendly toward them. But if they ask you for a favor, bring up with them that you feel that you give more than you get back.

10. Expand your friend circle to not depend on a few friends

Perhaps you feel that you might lose friends if you turn them down and that you can’t afford to lose them. Having too few friends puts you in a vulnerable spot that can make you needier and more likely to be taken advantage of. It can be a good idea to socialize and make new friends so that your old ones don’t “own” you.

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11. Be generous and help those who appreciate it

If you follow these rules and avoid helping those who don’t give back, those who remain won’t take your help for granted. Instead, they will look up to you because you’re in power to help them. They will see you as a generous person, which is attractive. Good friends will offer to help you out in return.

12. Know that people will like you more if you let them help

Make it a habit to take people’s help whenever they offer it to you. It can feel uncomfortable to accept help; it can feel like you test their patience. But studies show the opposite: When people give help to someone, they like that person more. However, when people receive help from someone, they don’t like that person more.[2] This is called the Benjamin Franklin effect.

13. Practice saying no

People who have a hard time saying no often feel like they have to over-explain and over-apologize.

Simply saying “I’m sorry, I don’t have the time, hope you’ll be able to solve it” is often enough. If saying no is hard for you, make it your mission to say no more often.

14. Be alert of feelings of resentment or discomfort

Those feelings are a good indication that something’s wrong.[3] Ask yourself: Why am I feeling these feelings? Deal with the root cause. For example, it could be:

  • You might feel discomfort that you help a person more than you get back. A solution can be to talk to the person about how you feel.
  • You feel resentment that you have to help or you might get rejected. A solution can be to try to make new friends so you are less dependent on your existing ones.

15. Improve your self-esteem if you feel that you’re not worthy of change

Sometimes, we have a bad relationship with ourselves. It might feel like we aren’t worthy to stand up for ourselves.

It can help to be more self-compassionate: Fully accepting yourself. In practice, this is done by changing the way you talk to yourself. Instead of saying “I messed up and I suck”, try saying “I made a mistake. It’s human to make a mistake and it’s likely that I’ll do better next time.”

Over time, changing the way you talk to yourself changes the way you see yourself.[4]

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I’d like to recommend this list of the best books on self-esteem.

16. Don’t expect people to understand your situation unless you explain it to them

If you feel stressed, overworked, taken advantage of, or taken for granted, don’t expect people to understand that unless you explicitly tell them.

“I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that because I’m too stressed.” 

If you feel like people don’t understand your situation, explain it to them in clear and specific terms.

17. Break old patterns by setting up boundaries

It can be easy to repeat old patterns and start over-helping new people as a way to get approval. If it’s been a pattern in your life, it’s good to reflect on how you can change that pattern.

When a situation occurs when you have the chance to help someone, what’s a new strategy you can use to not end up over-helping? What are the things you feel good doing, and what are the things you do not want to end up doing anymore?

The strategies in this guide can work as inspiration, and here’s a good guide for setting boundaries.

18. Remind yourself that the power is in your hands

It’s easy to feel powerless when you feel taken advantage off. But remember that you are responsible for your life situation. If you don’t like the way something is in your life, you are the only person who can change it.

This can be a harsh way to view life, but it’s also empowering. What’s one real change you can do in your life right now to improve the situation?

How do you feel about helping others and asking for help? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below!

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David Morin is the founder of SocialPro. He's been writing about social skills since 2012. Follow on Twitter or read more.

Go to Comments (24)

24 thoughts on “Helping others but getting nothing in return”

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  1. Wow! I also have a friend and she always asks for favours but when I need her the most she always disappear and gives me excuses inspite of just saying NO/ I DON’T HAVE.
    Whenever I am bringing up a topic to talk about she always go like I am not in the mood. Just because I am talking a fact.

    Reply
  2. I am often helping others out, but I rarely, if ever, ask for help. I just don’t know how to ask and I usually feel that either I ought to be able to do it myself, or if I can’t find a solution, then others are not likely to want the challenge.

    Reply
  3. In our Arabic culture we say :” if you help someone dont say it and it someone helps you don’t forget it” I have respect for Europeans but here I am sorry to say no, because most of the time an European before offering any help he thinks first about what to get back from that.and if he offer an help and although he gets back what he wants , he kept telling only about his help😔

    Reply
    • I don’t like friends who ask for money, most of my friends never ask for anything. People should realize that no one is responsible for their needs, they should be able to pay their own way.

      Reply
      • I live in Amsterdam , so many time someone get suddenly Some problem that hè needs Some finance help. I alwayse helped. The most people i helped were french . Like one boy hè came in weekend with his friends with car , they drink And hè lost them And his papers And Mobil phone left in the car. The Guy speaks only french. I saw him asking dutch people And IT seems none do speaks french And willing to do something. So i went spontanious to him to help him .i bought for him train ticket to Paris where hè comes from And bough for him an sandwich And sigaret. Hè was so happy And surprised especialy. Hè say that hè never expected an moroccan living in Amsterdam can do this !!
        And i did this so Often. But one time i was driving with car from morocco to Amsterdam And the time i arrived to an city called Poitiers in France. My bank card didnt work, is damadged. However i had moroccan money that i Need only to change IT into euro , i tryed And none wants to help me, and IT start geting dark ,so i even went to police Office And information Office ..none wants to help. So i slept in my car that night until morning..then i start trying to find solution, none care With my mobile ( lyca) i couldnt cal then ( 2015) from France !! So i must look the last change in my portmoney to buy french sim car To cal friend in Amsterdam . Even that IT doesnt work Lyca asks registration ! So i went to an Turk snack to sit first And ask a drink like an client. only then i could ask the Guy about how lyca mobil works in France, And then hè knows how complicated And so hè gaves me his phone to cal ! And finaly i could go on!

      • Sorry but you seem greedy. I know an dutch Guy called Jan Dekkers , i was in a situation that i need to borrow money after my bank refused. And Dekkers told me that lending money is never good iT affect badly friendship bla bla. Later i found out that hè was asking money for rent from so many people. I think you also if you fail in a situation that you need rent you Will allow iT then.

  4. Or you could be like and stop helping and let them handle their own shit. Last time I checked people are not obligated to help others. Also if the author is reading this you need to grow a spine and get new friends.

    Reply
  5. one of my close friend want help from me in her project. I gave her middle part of my project that she can understand easily and compelete her project. the submission of project was after one month. I called her before two weeks of submission, to give my project back,so I can compelete it on time. But she didn’t gave me. she told me to took the project from her house. but i was not able to go there due to some reason. after 3…4days she came to my house,she want my 11th std. books for her younger sister . But, at that time she didn’t bought my project. I call her everyday but she make silly excuses .She lives very far from my house i can’t able to go there. next week i went in a family function, that was near my friend’s house . the distance from her house was of 10mins with vehicle. I call her and said to give my project here only, But,she didn’t came to give project. I didn’t have any vehicle to go there. Than before 4 days of submission i went to her house urgently in night. there also her brother came to give my project, she not even came to give my project. my mom dad get angry on me,how selfish is your friend. they said leave this type of people.

    I can’t understand how to handle this situation . Its hurts a lot that she did this to me . I really don’t want this type of people in my life. But she is my close friend .

    Please help me, what should I have to do. please reply…

    Reply
    • From that description, she does not sound like a close friend, not even a friend. She’s just using you it seems like. You deserve better friends!

      Reply
  6. I’m in a bit of confusion for this current situation my friend and I are experiencing. I understand his concern, that he has a past with the wrong side of a certain substance. Nothing hard, just something I want to do for fun before I decide to put in my whole effort for housing and working. This particular substance has been hung in my face since I met him 9 years ago, he always said if I wanted reliable stuff, go to him. But I’ve gotten nothing from him, he’s admitted to not looking and not being on my page. We kept trying. Finally, he has the stuff. After years of willingly letting him have anything he asks for, he tells me no, that I need to wait for it to be on his terms, his time, his place. Am I crazy for trying to experiment before trying at having a family and a steady career? I went out of my way to get it, he went to the person and had them hold out on me til it was okay by his word. He made a time limit that if he didn’t find what he wanted, I could have what I’ve worked for all these years. That deadline was yesterday and he told me “no,” to wait more, to wait for him to have money for something I don’t want to do. He has a kid and I’ve tried for years to get this to stop, I thought he understood I don’t want him to spend time looking, to spend his only dimes for his kid on my habit, and I honestly have no more years to waste if I were to enjoy this thing. But he always, and still does, get from me whatever he wants to do. What do I do?

    Reply
    • If that doesnt affect ur friendship….stop continuing that. It is just going to break your heart in future that things could hv gone right if u would hv done . But if u r gonna regret later thinking that sticking to it for few more years cud hv actually brought a better outcome, go for it ……Basically what I mean to say is that put yourself in both the situations and imagine the outcomes in both the cases ….in which case if the the things still went wrong after doing either of this which will bring u less guilt .

      Reply
      • You cant know what Will happen after !! I prefer to know about about generouse people than the mesirable ones.

  7. today i realised that when i get people things with my money they dont seem all that thankful or it seems like whenever they say ‘im hungry’ they auto matically seem to drift there gaze to me as if yo say ‘gon get this for me’ but why should i if i get nothing in return or no ones greatful for me getting them stuff?

    Reply
  8. A lot of my friends are big talkers with no follow-through and they don’t care. They talk about how they want things and about how hard working and smart they are compared to everyone else, but they haven’t even tried to set goals.
    For the ones that set goals, they set goals, then ignore them and re-set the same goals, waiting to get motivated to actually do something. I’ve given two chances to more than a dozen people help themselves after i helped them, and every single one has given up on themselves, twice. I don’t know if its a matter of stupidity, mental illness, weakness, or just being lazy, but the majority of people are full of crap when it comes to integrity and the ‘i’ll never give up because i’m a fighter/survivor’ reposts you see all over their social media pages.
    I wish i had a better radar when it comes to who is serious about bettering themselves and who is a typical liar.

    Reply
  9. i love how i’m always helping other people with stuff, but when i NEED the help.. nobody wants to help me ? its hurts me because my own family won’t even help me and they the main ones I help

    Reply
    • i know what you mean because thats me in my family and its like im a ghost and no one notices im there until im needed

      Reply
    • I have almost similar situation only it doesn’t bother me. What I know is that people get mostly used that you are able to help others and never going to need help . You can’t take that idea out of their mind.

      Reply
  10. i have a friend whom i share my things with but when ever he has his own thing. he won’t like to share it with me with the excuse that it get damage.

    Reply
  11. the last point is so true. I have a friend who keeps asking my group(including me) for help and he would hardly help us with anything back. I cant avoid him at risk of losing everyone else. Any advice?

    Reply
    • Hi David, I need some more information first to give you good advice. What type of help is he asking for and when is it that he hasn’t helped you out? What does the rest of the group think of him?

      Do you have any other history with him? Has he helped you out in any way before? Or any conflicts you’ve had?

      Reply
    • Leave that friend behind, you deserve much better friends in your life. You are a generous person, surround yourself with generous people.

      Reply

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