As an empath and psychiatrist, one of the techniques I teach my clients is how to break the rescuer pattern.
Empaths and highly sensitive people have such big, loving hearts that they often try to “fix” their loved ones, friends, and even strangers. Their empathy often has no bounds as they care deeply about others and the world, including animals and all sentient creatures.
But this depth of compassion often leads to giving too much at the expense of their own well-being.
In their passion to help, they forget that all people deserve the dignity of following their own paths.
Research has shown that one of the reasons empaths are challenged with finding an empathic balance is that their mirror neuron system (a part of the brain responsible for compassion) is hyper-active, which can burn them out. Studies suggest that this hyperactivity places them high on the empathy scale. When someone they love is in pain, they can feel it as if it is actually happening to them. They may even feel the pain of strangers and the world at large.
But this is not how I choose to live. I want to be caring, but over-helping or absorbing someone’s distress just puts me on sensory overload, which can be painful to my sensitive body and soul. It also doesn’t serve the other person in any lasting way.
Here’s an excerpt from my book, Thriving as an Empath, to help you keep your empathy in balance:
Breaking the Rescuer Pattern
Sensitive people may want to help those who are struggling or in pain, including strangers. It may be hard to step back and refrain from rescuing them. This is where it is useful to understand the difference between empathy and being an empath.
Empathy exists when your heart feels for someone—but being an empath is when you reach out to take away another’s pain. Healthy empathy is what is necessary to keep your center.
Naturally, you do what you can to assist loved ones. But there comes a point when they must do the work themselves.
I know it is frustrating and painful to see someone you care about struggling. But getting caught in their frustration or offering unasked for suggestions is counterproductive for them and draining for you.
To tolerate being in intimate relationships, you have to sometimes step back. Will the other person ever resolve the problem? You must live with that uncertainty. But always hold good thoughts and prayers for them while giving them space.
In addition, a mantra I find helpful is: “I am not responsible.” As you repeat this, you will feel your need to rescue others lift.
Set your intention: It is not my job to rescue anyone or fix their problems. I will learn the balance between healthy empathy and stepping back.
Thriving as an empath means learning to love yourself as much as you care about the world. This includes realizing how profoundly important your empathy is in our over-intellectualized society. Your caring provides the crack of light in the darkness that will get us all through. Though loving so much can hurt too, your heart makes you strong and bright and pure.