As sensitive people, we hear the world’s cry for help very acutely. Growing up, untrained and unaware of my sensitive nature, I felt others’ and my own anxiety and fear so acutely the only option for survival was to let my heart shut down, and to develop controlling and fear-based ways of living. I channelled that sense of helplessness into ‘helping’ others carry their energy (of course, I had no idea I was doing this at the time), because it gave me some sense of being of service, even though it was very much to my own detriment. I was super frazzled, burnt out and joyless. It really sucked.
I’ve learnt since then that what was really happening was a kind of over-functioning. Here’s a definition:
“Classic characteristics of over-functioning include being overly focused on another person’s problems or life situation, offering frequent advice or help to the other person, actually doing things that are part of the other person’s life responsibilities (and believing that “if I don’t do it, then it won’t happen”), feeling anger when help is not “appreciated” or the Underfunctioner (UF) doesn’t change (or even want to), the OF believing he/she knows a better way for an UF to be living, and frequently feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and neglecting self-care. Over-functioning can be seen as a type of “enabling”, even though the intent is the opposite.
Some causes of over-functioning are being placed in that role as a young person or assuming the role as part of a family system, having anxiety related to watching someone else make mistakes or do things that seem unwise, feeling a sense of guilt or obligation to help someone, getting into a relationship when the other person’s under-functioning wasn’t visible or didn’t seem like a big deal, or using the other person’s life and problems as a distraction from one’s own.” – Will Meek
(Also, don’t get too caught up with the labels. Concepts are useful to help you get to the root of certain behavior, but it’s best to discard them once they’re no longer useful and you’re ready to move on. Be wary of anything that makes you feel small or constricted!)
And now, living in New York, every time I see a homeless person (or worse, pregnant homeless woman), my heart drops. I still have a sense of ‘What can I do to help?!’ ‘What can be done?!’ It feels overwhelming sometimes, and gets me down more often than I would like. Especially once you are conscious of everything that goes on in the world!
This is especially true for empaths – our feelings can be so intense and powerful that it’s easy to get mired in it, to get stuck. But though it’s important to feel our feelings fully, it is also important to move beyond them. It doesn’t mean that we have to fling ourselves out there right away and to save the world with grandiose schemes. To do so without being fully prepared or strong and grounded from within really takes a huge toll and might not be of any real ‘help’ at all! Though by all means, if you are already in the position to make an impact on a large scale, then that’s amazing – go out there and do it!
Meanwhile, until we find ourselves in that position, I’ve learnt that the best we can do in this moment is to focus inwards, heal, be nurturing and loving towards ourselves, before going out there in the world to express all that is inside of us in the best possible, most joyful way. If we want to be of service, we have to first serve ourselves.
Because nothing is more helpful to this world than being the best, highest vibing version of yourself. Nothing.