Today’s Topic: Finding freedom from playing the role of The Helper
Read Time: 7 Minutes
I think it’s hard for us as therapists to acknowledge the personal toll of this work, to let our weariness and disappointment and waning hope get some airtime. It can be hard of us to value our selves – our needs, our longings, our hurts – because so much of our day is spent sharply focused on the other.
And not just so much of our day, but so much of our life has been spent focusing on the other. Whether it was playing the role of the peacemaker in your family growing up or making sure everyone in your friend group felt included in high school or constantly worrying that you might rock the boat in your romantic relationships as an adult.
Much of our life, and much of our emotional safety, has been wrapped up in minimizing our own needs to make sure others are okay.
Longing for an emotional home
Sometimes this is out of genuine love and care. Often, though, I would say it is out of self-preservation and fear. We need to feel we belong, like we have an emotional home with those we love, and we’re so afraid that if we rock the boat, we’ll be forced to walk the plank.
And often for good reason. Whether directly spoken to us or more implicitly, we learned at some point that our worth and value comes from our helpfulness, our easy-going-ness, our catering to other’s needs. We were good at it too. We saw results – less anger directed toward us, more compliments about what a good kid we were.
We have a role now, a way of going about relationships that has been proven before to work. Or at least work on the surface.
Under the surface, though, we’re emotionally neglected and captive to continual fear and anxiousness – what if I mess up? What if I rock the boat?
Because we’ve played this one particular role for so long, we fear that if our whole selves, our true selves, our messy selves come to the surface then we won’t be accepted. There are parts of ourselves that haven’t seen much daylight, and haven’t been valued by those around us, so we find it difficult to value them ourselves.
Being a therapist presses on the wound
The trouble is, living this kind of way, especially as a therapist, starts to backfire. We quickly find that this internal fear only gets exacerbated 3X, 5X, 20X over for every new client we take on. Each client is an opportunity to shine in our role or be outed as a fraud.
The stakes are high.
And that’s exhausting.
What I have found is that I’m often unaware of this internal drama playing out. It’s only after the fact, when I give myself time to sit with what is really going on, that I realize how much this work is pressing on these internal fears and wounds.
Sometimes we need to feel the pain of our wounds to finally find freedom from them.
For me, the acute anxiety and internal chaos I’ve experienced being a therapist while trying to continue to play this role has been the motivation I’ve needed to finally address this.
I’m acknowledging that something needs to change. I’m admitting that for some time now I’ve secretly longed for it to change.
And this pain has been the permission I’ve been waiting for.
That’s sad, though, isn’t it? That I’ve been so scared to let go of this role that it’s come to this, healing or quitting.
So, I’m tuning into that sadness. I’m letting it wash over me, letting it sink deep into my bones. We value what we give our attention to, and I’m finally paying attention to myself.
And maybe I’ll start to see, start to feel, start to know that I am valuable and accepted and loved.
Not as Ben the Helper.
I think that’s all I’ve ever wanted.
- We discussed the importance of valuing one’s own needs and feelings.
- We explained how many of us have learned to minimize our own needs to make sure others are okay.
- We considered how we might find freedom through this internal conflict.
- How much of my life and energy has been spent focusing on the other?
- How much of my emotional safety has been wrapped up in minimizing my own needs?
- Does my felt sense of worth and value come from my helpfulness, easy-going-ness, and catering to other’s needs?
- Could this inner conflict be a path to my freedom?
- What’s one step I can take down that path?
🎧 What I’m listening to today
This mellowed out cover of The 1975’s Somebody Else. Love me some mellow tunes 🎵
If you reached the end here, I just wanted to say a special thanks to you for reading. It means a lot!
Always feel free to reply with your thoughts on the current issue of the newsletter, what you’re listening to today, or just to say hi 👋