The 4 most important things you need to do to recover from “super-helper syndrome”

Written by Amy Beecham

Psychologists Jess Baker and Rod Vincent explain the four stages of unlearning super-helper syndrome, and how to get started.

Have you ever wondered if you might be doing too much for other people? 

“Super-helper syndrome” is a term coined by psychologists Jess Baker and Rod Vincent to describe people who have a compulsion to help others while failing to meet their own needs. And it’s more harmful than you might realise.

It makes sense. If all your attention has been on caring for others, it’s easy to fall behind with everything from medical and dental check-ups to eating and looking after yourself. It’s not easy to admit, but this compulsion can cause serious damage over time, and it can be hard to recognise the super-helper tendency until it’s too far gone.

But once you’ve made the frank and honest assessment that yes, you probably do do too much for others and sure, you maybe are a bit burned out from constantly shouldering other people’s burdens, what do you do?

    How to unlearn super-helper syndrome   

    1. Ask why?

    According to Baker and Vincent, the first and most important thing to do is explore your motivations for helping. They identify four core beliefs that typically underlie the super-helper syndrome:

    The Good Person Belief: Are you helping in order to prove that you are a good person?

    The Help Everyone Belief: Do you have a compulsion to help everyone you meet?

    The They-Couldn’t-Survive-Without-Me Belief: Do you believe that the people you are caring for couldn’t cope without you?

    The No Needs Belief: Do you act as though you believe ‘I shouldn’t have any needs’?

    Many of these conceptions are formed in childhood, where we may have had adults depend on us or been praised for exhibiting helpful behaviour. But deconstructing these beliefs – why you hold them, where they came from and how they’re damaging you – will allow you to make conscious choices to balance caring for others with caring for yourself. 

    What is super-helper syndrome and what are the signs you have it?

    2. Set healthy helping boundaries

    Compulsive helpers tend to help in all aspects of life: at work, volunteering, caring for relatives, acting as the fixer in the family. You are often the one that everyone turns to – the first port of call when they are in distress or in need. But your relationships lack balance: you help people but they seldom help you. You are the one making all the effort: remembering birthdays, keeping in touch, sending well-wishes for that job interview.

    But it’s OK to consciously decide who, how and when you are going to help. You don’t have to be there all the time, for every person. Setting some well-needed boundaries is key to helping you reclaim your time, space and energy.

    3. Ask for help

    Remember that you are not alone. Those who habitually provide help seldom ask for it for themselves. Go to someone you trust and think about what you need from them. You might just ask them to listen while you offload what’s on your mind. 

    4. Don’t put up with helper’s guilt

    Remind yourself that it’s OK to say no sometimes. You don’t have to feel guilty when you don’t help. You don’t have to feel guilty when you care for yourself. If you don’t do this, who is going to?

    Baker and Vincent insist that they’re not “against helping”, but instead wish to promote ‘healthy helping’ – which comes out of compassion rather than out of compulsion. And super-helper syndrome is something that must be overcome because it cannot be managed sustainably or healthily.

    “Healthy helping is where you look after your own needs as well as looking after others,” they add.

    Jess Baker and Rod Vincent are Chartered Psychologists and the authors of The Super-Helper Syndrome: A Survival Guide For Compassionate People (£18.99, Flint Books), out now

    Images: Getty

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