On being of service: are you feeling drained?
Many empaths are naturally rescuers or saviours. In our every day life, this shows up as selflessness and wanting to be of service to others. Do you notice that people say to you “I don’t normally open up to others about my problems but it felt safe to do so with you?”
What a wonderful, magical experience to be allowed into another person’s soul, where there is no wall or wired fence, just soft and tender vulnerability. How does it feel when others open the door to themselves and let us in?
Our compassion is only exceeded by our desire to use it in meaningful ways that help others. This is the positive side of being a saviour: the rewarding feeling that we can touch people’s lives in meaningful ways.
But on the other side of the coin, being a saviour comes with its struggles. What happens when others start to need us more and more, making us feel drained and depleted? When we feel emotions so deeply, and automatically take on their emotions and don’t know how to protect ourselves? When we know that we can help others, and they refuse our help - or agree with us, and then end up doing the opposite? And what happens when we keep offering help, and the other person constantly responds “yes, but that won’t work”?
Frustration can easily start to creep in, making us feel unloved, unheard, and devalued.
These are real struggles that many empaths face and often they don’t know how to cope with them. In this article, I want to bring clarity about supporting others while also protecting and looking after ourselves.
Many people who have a strong ability to tune into other people’s emotions know that they do well in service jobs, which is why you will see many empaths working in HR, health, leadership roles or talking and healing therapies. Many of them will say that it’s their job to help others, and that this doesn’t apply to them. But know that this applies especially if you are in a role where helping others is part of your job description.
Are you familiar with the drama triangle?
The saviour sits on one end of the triangle, opposite the persecutor and the victim.
In psychology, we often talk about unhealthy dynamics between people, and how by assuming one role on the drama triangle, we invite others to take on another role in the triangle. Often people who are stuck in a victim moment, seek a saviour to support them and help them get out of it. But the reason why a victim-saviour dynamic is unhealthy, is because a victim is stuck in that space and often, despite what they say, don’t want to get out of that space. Which means that all the well intended advice we have can backfire and fall on deaf ears, causing frustration on both sides.
This vulnerability makes our boundaries easier to permeate and thus lead to absorbing other people’s negative emotions that we can’t shake off.
In Dave Emerald’s book, TED - The Empowerment Dynamic - the author talks about the antidotes to the Victim, Saviour and Persecutor dynamics.
In order for us empaths to be able to help others and protect ourselves, we need to get clear on our boundaries and what we are responsible for. It’s easy to feel that we can help someone and forget about our own needs - which can end up making us feel depleted and resentful.
The real empath challenge is not helping others, but helping others while keeping our own well-being at the forefront.
A drained Empath can’t help others. That’s why we need to protect ourselves.
Dave Emerald talks about the opposite of saviour and calls this The Coach. The Coach is someone who helps others, without taking responsibility for them. Our responsibility as empaths is not to say “here, let me do it for you”, but to empower them to find the resources within themselves to get to the answers. Instead, a Coach might say “what haven’t you thought about yet?” Or “how can you look at this from a different perspective?”
As long as we take responsibility for others, we invite codependent relationships into our lives, making others feel like they can’t solve their problems without us, and soon starting to feel like a burden on our energy. Our purpose is to support them to uncover the confidence that they can find solutions by themselves.
Empowering and encouraging people to find their own resources to solve problems, will not just build a sense of independence and empowerment in themselves, but also enable us to get the satisfaction of supporting them, without draining our own energy.
As empaths, it’s very important to get clear on our boundaries and know how far we can go with our giving, before we need to say stop. Becoming resentful is a sign that our boundaries were crossed.
How can you get clear on where your boundaries are, and communicate that before becoming resentful?
A saviour who doesn’t look after their own energy will constantly say:
“I have the solution, try this”
“It’s ok, I’ll do it for you”
“You can call me anytime”
“It’s ok, I will skip lunch so I can help you”
“I really need a night off, but this person really needs me”
A healthy Coach will say:
“What do you think I would advise you?”
“What needs to change for you to see the way forward?”
“My phone will be muted after 10, but you can call me before that”
“I’d love to help but need to eat. Why don’t you tell me over lunch?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t tonight. Can I call you first thing tomorrow?”
“What do you need in order to be able to do this yourself?”
Do you notice yourself repeating some of these patterns? Can you see some examples where you can shift from becoming a drained saviour into an empowering coach?
If you’d like to explore how to set healthy and loving boundaries and protect yourself from being drained, I’d love to have a virtual coffee with you. Book a time to speak with me here.
And if you’re interested to read more about the drama triangle and how we can protect ourselves from falling into unhealthy dynamics with other people, read my 3-part blog called “Open Heart Surgery Into The Victim Mentality”
Many empaths also have a very strong inner critic dictating how they should behave in this world, which results in becoming drained. Download my free ebook “7 tools to coach your inner critic” here.