Are you a super-helper? Here are five things you need to do

Do you find yourself helping everyone out, even when you’re burnt out?

Ever resent your pals for not making the same amount of effort you do?

And do you feel guilty for not helping people?

If you’re nodding along, it sounds like you might have super-helper syndrome; a term coined by psychologists Jess Baker and Rod Vincent to describe people who have a compulsion to help others while failing to meet their own needs.

By the syndrome’s very nature, being a super-helper means you’re great at looking after other people, but not so brilliant at the self-care thing.

‘Self-care is everywhere,’ Jess and Rod tell ‘There’s an avalanche of articles and books promoting it today.

‘And that’s important, but if you are vulnerable to super-helper syndrome you won’t be doing much of it.

‘There’s little point reminding you about the benefits of self-compassion, mindfulness, relaxation techniques, exercise, a healthy diet, and so on. These are all delightful acts of self-care. But if you spend all your time helping others and denying your own needs, it all falls on full ears.’

So what can super-helpers do to look after themselves a little better? Jess and Rod have some top tips.

Explore your motivations for helping

‘If you have a tendency to help others without looking after yourself, the first thing to do is to understand why this is,’ say the duo. ‘In the book we explore four beliefs that typically underlie the Super-Helper Syndrome and drive compulsive helping.:

  • The Good Person Belief: Are you helping others in order to prove that you are a good person?
  • The Help Everyone Belief: Do you have a compulsion to help everyone you meet?
  • The They-Couldn’t-Survive-Without-Me Belief: Do you believe you have no choice, that you are indispensable, and that the people you are caring for couldn’t cope without you?
  • The No Needs Belief: If you are being truly honest, would you have to admit you hold the belief, ‘I shouldn’t have any needs’?

‘Deconstructing these beliefs is essential to letting go of compulsive helping.

‘Deconstructing them allows you to make more conscious choices to balance caring for others with caring for yourself.’

Don’t put up with helper’s guilt

‘In our interviews with helpers, the G word came up again and again,’ say Jess and Rod. ‘When you are helping others, remind yourself that it’s okay to say no sometimes.

‘You don’t have to feel guilty when you don’t help. You don’t have to feel guilty when you care for yourself.’

Recognise the adverse impacts of the Super-Helper Syndrome

Because we’re told that helping people is a good quality (and it is!), it can be hard to recognise the detriment of overdoing it.

Take a moment to look at the impact of helping everyone else and not yourself, and remind yourself of this the next time you feel like you have to say ‘yes’.

Rod and Jess explain: ‘It’s important to spot the signs early so you can take action before you reach a state of collapse. The four most common adverse impacts are:

  • Exhaustion: Many helpers run on empty and take this for granted. Are you tired all the time? Do you have no time for yourself? Is your sleep disturbed? Do you suffer muscle tension or headaches? Do you feel irritable, tetchy or just weighed down?
  • Resentment: Are you stretched out like an elastic band that’s eventually going to snap? It’s easy to say you don’t want anything in return for helping but the reality is it’s hard to keep going indefinitely if you get little reward. Do you find yourself ruminating on how much you do for others?
  • Exploitation: If you never express any needs, then it’s easy (and convenient too) for other people to act as if you don’t have any, to take advantage of your helping. Take a good look at whether some of the people you are helping are exploiting you. Do they really need help at all? Do they need your help?
  • Self-Criticism: It’s ironic that those who are good at looking after others are often less kind to themselves. Do you criticise yourself for not helping enough? Do you criticise yourself for experiencing the other three adverse impacts (feeling exhausted, feeling resentful, or for being taken advantage of).

Choose when, who and how to help

Try to be more conscious when making the decision of when to help.

Rather than automatically lending a hand to colleagues, relatives, friends, strangers, remind yourself that your time and energy is not a limitless resource, and that you are allowed to decide how much you are able to help and when.

Use the Zorb of Zen

‘If you don’t know, zorbing is when you roll down a hill in a transparent plastic bubble,’ say Jess and Rod. ‘We’ve both tried it and it’s a strange but fun experience.

‘The Zorb of Zen is a way to visualise your boundaries. Here’s how we describe it in the book:

‘Imagine yourself safe and comfortable inside your zorb. You can still interact with the world as normal, but it slows your reactions down. It gives you the opportunity to observe others from within your zorb when they are throwing their emotions at you like wet paper tissues. It prevents you from immediately taking on other people’s drama or instinctively giving in to your urge to help.

‘You can use the Zorb of Zen to shield you from toxic situations that others want to draw you into. It gives you the time to choose how to respond. You don’t have to absorb their emotions. You watch them slide down the outside of your zorb like wet paper tissues.’

The pair add: ‘All of the five suggestions above are ways to build awareness of your helping tendencies.

‘By taking a good look at yourself as a helper you can stop yourself from becoming overstretched.

‘You can give yourself permission to take the self-care you know you need.

‘By being a healthier helper you will ultimately have more to give to others because you’ll be coming from a stronger place.’

Jess Baker and Rod Vincent are chartered psychologists and authors of The Super-Helper Syndrome – A Survival Guide for Compassionate People on sale now in hardback (£18.99) and ebook, published by Flint Books.

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