Most women I know can remember situations in their lives when they’ve found that being helpful has left them feeling drained; physically, emotionally and spiritually. And that is why it is a lifesaver for women when they learn mindful practices to prevent burnout.
Helping comes in many forms. It may be how we show up at work, in relationships, in caregiving roles, with our kids, friends or in traditional helping professions.
I often get conflicted about the whole experience of helping and wonder when is helping healthy, and when is it unhealthy, and cross over into something that doesn’t feel right?
I was a nurse for many years and realized this was something that I needed to address if I was going to stay healthy myself. My desire to help others, especially at times of “suffering” became a theme in my life. And still continues to this day but in a much healthier way.
I know what it feels like when it feels good to help, and also when it begins to sap my energy and doesn’t feel so great.
I have found that women have a great deal of our identity tied in with helping. Many of us have been taught that it’s better to put others before ourselves and that the road to being a good person is paved with helping.
Helping others does, in fact, have proven benefits as described in this Huffington Post article, “4 Amazing Health Benefits of Helping Others“.
The problem is that many of us get caught up in the trap that if helping is good, the more we do it, the better we’ll feel.
But there does come a time when helping becomes too much, and we’ve tipped the scale in terms of what is best for us and what is best for those that we are helping.
What are some signs that you may be helping too much?
You begin to notice that helping is leaving your feeling drained as opposed to energized. Sure there are times when intense helping is needed to get through a crisis and you will feel drained, but when it becomes a pattern and you notice your energy is low and you feel tired all the time, that is a red flag.
You focus on others and their needs at the expense of your own. Your own emotional, physical and spiritual health may suffer as you put your energy into helping others.
You find yourself overly invested in the outcomes. You tend to feel good when the other person is receptive to your help and is making some changes. Conversely, you feel disappointed when they are not making the changes that you feel are in their best interest.
The other person is relying more on you than they are themselves, thus, preventing them from taking ownership and responsibility for their life situation.
You feel resentment and then guilty about feeling that way because a “good” woman will always want to help others.
You feel like you’ve given up your own dreams and desires in order to be there for other people. I see this all the time in women who make everyone and everything else a priority leaving no time for them to pursue their own interests and passions.
The helping experience leaves you feeling “constricted” inside as opposed to “expansive”, open and peaceful.
What mindful practices prevent helpers from getting burnt out?
1. Be Mindful of Feelings
You start by becoming mindful of what is going on inside of you and how you’re feeling about the helping experience. If you’re feeling resentment or drained that may be a sign that your helping may not be healthy for you or the other person.
Your first priority must always be healing you first! We tend to get into helping relationships as a way of healing ourselves without being consciously aware of it.
It is a subtle yet important difference between helping others from a place of being of service because you have done your own healing work and want to share from that place, as opposed to trying to fill a void which will never be filled by helping.
2. One Breath For Me, One Breath For You Mantra
You practice the “one breath for me, one breath for you” mantra. I LOVE this practice developed by Dr.Kristen Neff and Dr. Christopher Germer through The Centre of Mindful Self-Compassion. When we are the “helping” type we often give, give, give and then find ourselves gasping for air. When we’re mindful of this, we can practice the concept of one breath for me, one breath for you. This is an infinite process that leaves us feeling nourished, as we are there to help others.
3. Practice Self-Compassion
When you’re in a situation that requires intense helping that goes on for longer periods of time, you practice the self-compassion exercises that I described in What I Learned About Self-Compassion That Surprised Me. It gives you the tools to be there for others in their time of need while still being compassionate with yourself.
4. Look For The Silver Lining
You realize that when the helping doesn’t feel good anymore, this is, in fact, a gift. I personally learned from my own experience of helping that I needed to learn how to detach with love. I was taking on other people’s problems as if they were my own and by examining this in myself, I transformed what I needed to within myself to not feel so responsible for everyone else.
There was a little book of daily readings called, Let Go Now: Embracing Detachment by Karen Casey, that I found really helpful when I was being mindful of loving others while at the same time not feeling responsible for them.
5. Become Aware Of Underlying Beliefs
You become mindful of underlying beliefs that were likely developed in a childhood setting the stage for being overly helpful. This often comes in the form of subconscious beliefs like “I will get approval, love, or self-worth from helping others”. And to be clear, I’m not suggesting we go back and dwell in the past. It’s about becoming aware of how the past is impacting your present and working with those limiting beliefs.
It all boils down to awareness. When we become aware we have the power to choose to heal what needs to be healed and do the inner work so that we are coming from a place of self-love and self-worth.
Everything in our lives is illuminated in our relationships. What’s working and what’s not working is always mirrored in our relationships with others. So if you find your helping is not nourishing you and your soul, it’s time to stop, reflect, learn, grow and make some changes.
Do you ever feel like your helping is unhealthy for you or the other person? What have you learned about yourself through that experience?