I asked Katie to close her eyes and imagine that everyone in her life was perfectly fine and there was just her and her projects to take care of. Katie visibly relaxed. For about a second. The very next words out of her mouth were, “Oh, yeah, and there’s my brother! He’s going to need me to help him.” I stopped Katie immediately. I asked her to observe what just happened there. We laughed hysterically.
This is all too common with the highly sensitive, emotionally intelligent people I work with. They are susceptible to caring burnout. In order to solve this particular issue, it is important to get to the root of why one is taking on the burden of caring for others’ well being to the point of self detriment. The way you get to that root, is honest inquiry. A good coach, therapist, trained facilitator will be able to help you unravel the tangle of thoughts and emotions and their origins to get to why caring so much is working for you. Yes, I said, it’s working for you, because we only repeat behaviour if we are getting some sort of payoff. In Katie’s case, over-caring was keeping her distracted from her own fear. And like most of us, there was more than one fear involved.
What’s even more freeing than releasing fear is the discovery of the deeper truth under that fear. I believe at core of care-giver burnout is fundamental goodness that goes by many names; The Divine Feminine or Goddess Energy are two of them. No matter what it’s called, there is in parents, partners, teachers, nurses, therapists of any kind, this vein of nurturing energy that exists to assist. It is intended only for good, but it, like so much of our inherent goodness, gets muddled and twisted. When we are burnt out from care-giving, or our care-giving is a substitute for self-awareness and self-care, then it is being mishandled.
In order to ‘un-muddle’ it, one starts with a belief in one’s own goodness and connectedness to source. When Katie relaxes enough to sense an underlying core of strength and support from a source greater than herself she can then and only then, grasp that this same support and strength exists for all of her loved ones. Once this has been established she can see her ‘helping’ nature as a place where she can create a safe environment where growth can happen, naturally, spontaneously. For herself and all of her loved ones. Picture a boss or teacher. Imagine this person enumerating your mistakes and flaws, but insisting they are helping you to improve. How do you feel? How do you behave? Now imagine you are in the presence of someone who thinks you are wonderful. They praise your accomplishments and efforts and listen with understanding when you voice your faults or mistakes. How do you feel? How do you behave? In which environment are you most likely to blossom? Attempt to expand? Try new things? Whom are you likely to go to for advice?
I pointed out to Katie that when we rush in to ‘fix’ or ‘rescue’ others, even our own children, we are essentially giving them the message; “you aren’t capable.” Or “you can’t be trusted.” Sure it feels good the first few (hundred) times, but when that person’s happiness becomes your responsibility, then it’s a problem. For both of you.
There are a number of exercises I present at this point all addressing the issue of interdependence bordering on codependence. A relationship becomes codependent when one partner is more emotionally invested, gets little relationship support in return and/or where there is some addiction or abuse present. Katie will experiment with some new thoughts and actions with a curious, open attitude to see what feels the best.
When you’re tempted to don your red hero’s cape, pause to consider these much used examples: 1) it is important to put the oxygen mask on yourself, before attempting to assist others. 2) Is it Your business, Their business or God’s business? 3) Even mother birds push their babies out of the nest.