Most women I know can remember a time when being helpful and focusing on others left them feeling drained- physically, emotionally and spiritually.
It’s really common for women to have a great deal of our identity tied up in our helping roles and behaviours.
Many of us have been taught that it’s better to put others’ needs before our own and that the road to being a good person is paved with helping.
The problem is that many of us get caught up in the trap that if helping is good, then the more we do it, the more worthy we’ll feel as a human being.
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’re helping.
What are some signs that we may be helping too much?
We begin to notice that helping is leaving us feeling drained as opposed to energized.
Sure there are times when intense helping is needed to get through a crisis and we’ll feel drained. But when it becomes a pattern and we notice that our energy is low and we feel tired all the time, that is a red flag.
We focus on others and their needs at the expense of our own.
Our own emotional, physical and spiritual health may suffer as we put the majority of our energy into helping others.
Another thing to watch for is when we notice that we are overly invested in the outcomes.
We tend to feel good when the other person is receptive to our help and is making some changes. Conversely, we feel disappointed when they are not making the changes that we feel are in their best interest.
The other person is relying on us more than they are relying on themselves. This prevents people from taking ownership and responsibility for their life situations. It prevents people from living their own lives, learning from their mistakes and from a spiritual perspective, the natural flow of the Universe.
We feel like we’ve given up our 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. When this happens, we’re left wondering, Who am I?
The helping experience leaves us feeling “constricted” inside as opposed to “expansive”, open and peaceful.
Here are some mindfulness tips that I’ve found helpful to prevent burnout in my own life:
1. Be mindful of your feelings
We start by becoming mindful of what is going on inside of us and how we’re feeling about the helping experience. If we’re feeling resentment or drained that may be a sign that we’re helping may not be healthy for us or the other person.
Our first priority must always be healing ourselves 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 we have done our own healing work and want to share from that place, as opposed to trying to fill a void that will never be filled by helping.
2. Use the “One breath for me, one breath for you mantra”
I love the “one breath for me, one breath for you” mantra. This practice was 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 we’re in a situation that requires intense helping that goes on for longer periods of time, it’s nourishing to practice the self-compassion exercises that I described in Learn HOW to Practice Self-Compassion And Be Kinder To Yourself.
It gives us the tools to be there for others in their time of need while still being compassionate with ourselves.
4. Look for the lesson to create meaning around the situation
We realize that when all 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 your underlying beliefs
It’s life-changing to become aware of underlying beliefs that were likely developed in childhood and that set 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”. It’s about becoming aware of how the past is impacting our present and working to shift the 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 we find our helping is not nourishing for ourselves or others, it’s time to stop, reflect, learn, grow and make some changes.
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(Original publication- December 2015, Updated- June 2020)