The other day I was having a conversation with a friend about how you deal with having a lot of empathy. It can be really hard because you really connect with what others are feeling, and watching others struggle can be unbearable at times. You tend become a compulsive helper and experience a lot of one-sided relationships that can really burn you out. It seemed like a good topic to delve into, so here are some tips for my fellow caretakers to have a healthier life.
Treat yourself as an investment
As a caretaker it’s incredibly easy to take care of everybody, but yourself. This is why it’s important to focus on caring for yourself. Your own well-being is an asset. Taking care of yourself means you have more resources to help other people. Usually the people who make the biggest impacts on the world take care of themselves first. Bill Gates is a great example of this concept in action. Not only does he have lots of money to care for himself, but he funds tons of charities and good causes, all while living a happy life.
Recognize people do fine without you
Much of the reason caretakers feel compelled to help people is because they think that people can’t really manage without them. This is actually our ego talking. We love feeling like others need us and we’re important.
In reality, people get by on their own just fine. Think about it, unless somebody has known you their entire life, they probably lived more of their life without you than with you. Somehow, they were able to do fine without your help, and in fact, they may even do better when you are not helping.
Get in the habit of asking “Is this my responsibility?”
Caretakers tend to assume responsibility for everybody else even when they shouldn’t, and this can cause major burnout. This also means you probably aren’t caring for yourself enough and focusing on others too much. Try to get in the habit of asking if what you are doing should actually be your responsibility. Nine out of ten times you’ll find that you are actually doing something that somebody else should be handling and you are preventing them from being independent.
Caretakers love to live a double-standard of helping everybody else and not getting any help back. This ties back into the point of investing in yourself. It’s very easy to give help, because giving doesn’t feel vulnerable, but accepting help can feel very compromising. Despite this, you will want to accept help, because it creates healthy relationships. One-sided relationships tend to be bad for both people involved.
Try to walk your talk. If you expect others to accept your help, you should be accepting help as well. Find somebody you trust and share a little of your own little struggles, or if that’s too much, learn to start asking for small things like for a glass of water when you are thirsty. It sounds dumb, but that small step of asking for something stupid can really change your life. When you feel okay asking for small things you begin to trust people and learn it’s okay to need things and ask for help when you want it.
When you start developing these good habits. Your life gets a lot more functional. I now only actively help people under three circumstances: It helps my coaching business, I personally enjoy doing it, or I am taking care of somebody who will return the favor when I want my own emotional support.
Images provided by Leticia Bertin and Memphis CVB.