Here are some tips to help you identify when your help is NOT warranted.
1. Every suggestion you make is met with a list of objections about why that won't work.
This happens when someone wants to talk about the difficulty they are experiencing, but they are not really desperate enough to consider ideas that are uncomfortable or unknown to them. When this begins to happen, it is best if you can view your role as simply being a supportive listener rather than offering any advice. Doing so will save both of you some frustration.
2. You don't really WANT to offer help.
Sometimes our offers for help have been abused, when this happens part of you will not want to help. If you feel that way, and try to help anyway it will create problems. If you offer help that you don't really want to offer and the other person doesn't appreciate your help, then you will both end up feeling resentful and this just creates another problem instead of helping anyone.
3. You feel overwhelmed by the depth of need.
There are times when a friend is just not qualified enough to be helpful in a certain situation. If you find yourself in this position, it is 100% okay to admit that you don't feel qualified to deal with the situation effectively and redirect your friend to more professional aid. Sometimes it helps if you offer to make the appointment or sit with them, but you don't need to take on the responsibility for addressing another persons problem that overwhelms you.
4. Listening causes a deep emotional reaction within yourself.
This is known as secondary trauma and it is a real problem for people who love to help. It is impossible to listen to details of difficult experiences and not feel moved by the information. If you have personal reasons to connect to the information more deeply than normal, it becomes very easy to experience the trauma as if it was your own experience just by listening to someone else talk about it. Therapists know about this phenomenon and can help if you find yourself wondering if you might be over reacting to listening to your friend talk about the problem.
5. Your offer for help comes with a string of demands.
At times people do betray those who help them. People in the middle of crisis are not at their best and this means they are unlikely to make the best choices during times of crisis. If you are willing to help, but have a list of expectations that the other person must meet before you will offer that help this could create a major problem for both of you. The desperate person might agree to your demands, and you are probably going to experience betrayal when they are unable to meet your expectations. While it isn't easy, it is best to let people know up front that you are not able to do what they are asking of you and let them figure out another solution that they are comfortable with.
Obviously these are not the only times when you shouldn't be offering help, but as a general rule try to prevent yourself from working harder to resolve someones problem than they are willing to work themselves. Your friend might not be able to resolve the issue on their own, but when they are honestly ready for help they will make changes to prevent the problem from occurring again. Often the first sign of a person who genuinely wants help is that they ask for exactly what they want. When they ask for specifics, it is much easier to talk about what you are willing to do to help and they are in a position to accept that assistance.