Life rules for the overly empathic, care-takers, over-helpers, and the overly-objective
Recently I read for a woman who sat down for a 3 card reading. I was at a public event and had met her briefly when I read for her daughter a few hours earlier. I knew then that I really wanted to read for her as well, so I was glad when she sat down and said “My turn”. She had very kind eyes, and a sweet face. She was overly nice, and a bit too soft-spoken. Her energy gave off a sense of not wanting to burden anyone, but also carrying the burden of others. I was happy to see that she was getting a reading for herself and which I desperately wanted to give her, and not at all surprised that she asked for only a 3 card reading as I knew inherently that much of her energy, time, and money, was already reserved for others.
Now, I have no problem giving people a larger reading if the situation calls for it without charging them for it, because I think everyone should be entitled to receiving their own healing messages, no matter if they have the money for it or not. I also think the cost is not the same for everyone, which is very Lisle Von Rhuman from “Death Becomes Her” of me, but I do believe that’s true. What one person can afford versus what they have earned and paid forward in life should be taken into account when it comes to matters like Tarot, in my opinion, and a flat rate doesn’t always apply in certain circumstances. I’ve given a 10 card reading for a stack of 4 quarters before (and would have done it for free).
And so, I gave the cards to this woman with kind eyes to shuffle, and she handed them back to me when she was done shuffling. I pulled the three cards she had asked for and knew immediately that I would need to pull more cards. Her first three cards were 9 of Cups (reversed), The Hermit (which is also a 9 and was also reversed), and 9 of Swords (reversed). I explained to her that I was going to pull more cards to give her a larger reading as we needed to see where this was going. I pulled the next card and it was (yet another) reversed 9, this time, of Pentacles. So, the first 4 cards of this woman’s reading were all reversed 9’s.
For those of you who may not be familiar with all the in’s and out’s of Tarot, 9 is the number of integrity and independence….when its upright. When 9 is reversed, the integrity becomes perverted, and it’s less “I got this”, and more “it’s all on me”. Instead of 9 being this strong, independent number that rises up to the occasion, it becomes a lonely island where everyone else’s messes, neglected responsibilities, and unfinished duties wash ashore to be heaped upon you and you only. This is why The Hermit card is a 9 – he is going on a solo healing mission when the card is upright, but he may never get the chance to when reversed.
Things did improve later in this woman’s reading, and she also got some lovely homework from the universe, as I like to call it, or things to keep working on. Much of her reading, though, was about her needing to set boundaries with others, and to stop helping so many people so often. I could feel the decades and decades of her putting other people first. I felt that she probably had to parent her parents, or helped raise her siblings, that she had raised her kids as a single-parent, and the “it’s all on me” list just went on and on. She was completely drained of time, energy, and resources from the many years of constantly taking care of others. She was a 9 to her core and had always taken care of everyone else since childhood. She had an incredible amount of integrity, but also felt a strong sense of obligation, and anxiety-inducing guilt if she didn’t oblige with whatever “obligations” were being presented to her.
She vowed to save time, energy, and resources for herself in the future and took her homework from the universe to heart. But she got me to thinking about the many ways that I have been very similar to her throughout my life. Creatures like her and myself, and probably you if you’re reading this, feel beholden to being a “good person”, which can mean varying degrees of taking care of others but not ourselves, feeling guilty for even thinking about doing something for ourselves, and putting ourselves last in a never ending parade of others who we deem “must come first” and require our help somehow.
Sometimes these people really do need our help, and sometimes, we ARE a good person for helping them. But the phrase “no good deed goes unpunished” exists for a reason. Sometimes people are just “down on their luck”, and sometimes people seemingly constantly need help with various things because they don’t tend to help themselves enough (or reject personal responsibility, or who tend to create their own problems but can’t seem to connect the dots to how the problems were created in the first place).
Sometimes we give our energy to energy vampires, and sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between someone who genuinely needs help from people who are just energy vampires. Sometimes we find ourselves not wanting to give up on people, and sometimes we don’t give up on them to the point of enabling them. There’s a wide range of reasons behind why we choose to put these others in our lives first, ahead of ourselves. In fact, we may have some very good reasons to help people at times, and everyone has a unique situation requiring whatever help they need.
It’s not about them though. It’s about us and our energy, the energy we put out, and the energy we attract. Really, we have very good intentions with this loving and kind energy we try to put out. We want to be compassionate to our fellow humans, and we have a selfless giving nature. We want to help, share, connect, heal, and care-take. We may have also been conditioned to care-take from an early age, and putting others first becomes second nature to us, like breathing.
But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, as they say. These heartfelt good intentions can become warped by others who take advantage of us, or we love someone unconditionally to the point of enabling them. We give second, fourth, eighth, and millionth chances to people who don’t deserve it, and our energy output becomes akin to walking around with a big sign on our forehead that says “USE ME”. We make sure everyone else is taken care of but never put gas in our own energetic tank, and often, nobody else seems to either. Instead of our energy having this give and take, ebb and flow, it becomes siphoned, vacuumed, and sucked away by others’ needs and our own inability to put parameters on how much of our energy we are willing to give.
Worse still, we can then internalize our experiences and think that this is all because we shouldn’t expect back all the things that we give. We weigh the imbalance between our output of love and care-taking against the lack of energy being given to us, or that we even allow ourselves to give to ourselves, and think that this must be all that we deserve. It’s not that we don’t deserve back all that we give- it’s that we have coded our energetic output to scream this in all caps to our external world, “I AM WILLING TO GIVE MORE THAN I RECEIVE”. Why? Because we’re trying to “be a good person”.
Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t all try to be good people, not by any means. But we should be smart about who we are being a good person for. I had a counselor once tell me “you’re not an unconditional-love-machine”, and that stuck with me. We are not unconditional-love-machines, expected to give endless amounts of energy, love, support, and chances. We cannot operate forever without putting some gas in our own tanks, or receiving energy, love, and support from others.
So how do we change this? We have to change our coding to say “I DESERVE WHAT I GIVE”.
I strongly believe that change begets more change. It’s like the earthquake and the tsunami; the earthquake brings about immense change and release of energy, but the earthquake also can trigger a tsunami which will also bring about immense change and release of energy. So if we can start to change our thinking, or set some “new rules” for ourselves (to quote Dua Lipa), we can change the way the world treats us, and the way that we allow ourselves to be treated.
While this is not a complete list, these are my rules that I have adopted over many years (or shall I say tried to, failed at, and tried again to adopt) for myself so that I learn to expect more for myself and set some boundaries for my own good.
Life Rules for the Overly Empathic
1. If I can manifest things for others, I can also manifest them for myself.
Sure, this may sound more like a rule for manifestation, but this is super important because in the end, we ARE trying to manifest more for ourselves and not just for others. When we are overly giving, we tend to accidentally give all of our manifestation energy and power to others. It’s like we are donating all of our money to help others in need, but instead of money, it’s our power and energy. As soon as we have that “money” in our hot little hand, we are looking for a way to spend it….on others (sometimes this is not even a metaphor and is actual money). We need to realize that it’s okay to want to spend our energy on ourselves, which is directly connected to manifestation and how we communicate our energy to the universe. If every time the universe gives us energy, power, an opportunity, or a “leg up” somehow, we immediately turn around and give that power/energy/chance/opportunity to someone else, we are telling the universe “I will always give away anything I get from you”. While this is very selfless of us, this isn’t the right thing to do 100% of the time. If we are constantly giving away everything the universe gives us, eventually the universe might not give us what we want because it knows that we don’t care about having what we want- we care too much about making sure others have what they want.
I remember years ago when I was just a baby metaphysical hippy, and first realized that I could manifest things, I was shocked that it actually worked and I felt so proud of myself. I manifested getting a write up in two local newspapers for my band and getting played on the best radio station in town for our album release. I manifested getting free tickets to see “The Nutcracker” for myself and my step-kids when I was flat broke and would have never been able to afford that at the time. I manifested getting a place to live and a job for my best friend so she could move back to Portland from another state. I felt accomplished and like I had cracked some code of the universe, but at some point in time I began to realize that I had manifested all of those things for others, and hadn’t really manifested any of those things for myself. Sure, the band write ups and whatnot were something that I benefited from also, but my motivation in getting those things wasn’t for myself- it was for the other people in my life who would benefit more so.
It took a while for me to try and turn my manifestation power onto myself, but eventually I was able to after much trial and error. Just trying to focus on manifesting things for yourself instead of for others all the damn time can seriously reset your energetic output to the universe. You are honoring yourself and putting yourself first by prioritizing your hard earned energy for yourself. That alone is a game-changer, and if you only read this first rule, that’s fine, because this is honestly the most important one.
2. One for you, one for me….one for you, two for me…
This is a very good, easy to use rule as we learn to retrain ourselves to actually factor ourselves into equations involving our own time, energy, and resources. Sure, maybe we aren’t in a position to completely stop helping everyone around us. We can’t just up and quit certain things cold turkey (if we’re a parent to a small child, we can’t just casually tell them “you’re on your own kid”). Sometimes the process of setting boundaries is just that- a process. But we can start small by at least employing these small tactics that we probably learned in kindergarten: sharing and taking turns. But this time, we are trying to share and take turns….with ourselves. Sure, we might look like an asshole if we were to just stop helping everyone everywhere in our lives, but we can make sure that we follow up doing something for someone else by doing something for ourselves. Sometimes this comes with learning how to say “no” to others, but by doing so we are creating (gasp!) space for ourselves. Wow, what a concept. This is basically the “treat yo’self” principal, the scale of which can be as simple or elaborate as you want. Some of my ideas of treating myself are doing self care things like giving myself a facial or taking a bath, doing yoga, or having an entire self-care day of staying in pajamas and reading books all day. Sometimes treating myself is as simple as getting delicious take out Thai food. Other times treating myself involves getting a pedicure, or taking myself and my husband out for a date night or a trip to the beach. The point is, make time for yourself and give energy to things that replenish you, or help you to recharge your batteries.
3. Just because I care enough to help doesn’t mean I should (or “Just because I’m the only one available to help doesn’t mean I should”)
Now, this is a hard one, I’m not gonna lie. This falls under the old adage of “If you’re good at washing the dishes, you’ll keep getting asked to do the dishes”. Sometimes we’re the only ones who can help in a certain situation, and we proudly rise up to the occasion. Sometimes we don’t have a choice, like in the case of taking care of aging parents and maybe not having enough support and help from the other family members (who should also be helping). But other times, we are just naturally good at something and others can rely on our kindness too much. It becomes a habit to them and by proxy, us, that we will always be there to take care of something for them. Sometimes we have to draw some lines on how much we’ll help someone, and if they can’t respect that boundary, we may have to just stop helping them altogether. If we give an inch and they take a mile every time, we have to stop giving them anything at some point rather than allow ourselves to be overly used or relied upon. Aside from that, we have to remember also that our inherently helpful nature can often bite off more for us than we can really chew, which leads to having too many commitments and not enough time and energy for ourselves. So just because we can help with something, doesn’t mean we should or have to.
4. I must treat myself the way I treat other people.
This is another very kindergarten-esque principle which we learn early in life as “treat others the way you want to be treated”. Usually, children need to be reminded that they need to “put others first” and to treat others nicely. For those of us that are already too prone to being overly empathic, we sometimes take this too much to heart. We treat others like gold, and focus so much of our energy on others that we treat ourselves like garbage in the process. We need to correct this by flipping the script to say that we will treat ourselves the way we treat others. The way that we support others, make time for others, help others out when they need it, do nice things to make others feel better, stand up for others, have other people’s backs – all of that, we need to do for ourselves. This kindness that we show others is not a one-way street. We need to make sure that we loop back around and give this same kindness to ourselves.
5. Second chances are ok (sometimes) but not third, fourth, fifth….
Look, we gotta draw the line somewhere. For those of us that feel we are put on this earth to love and help people, giving too many chances is something that we aren’t even aware that we do at times. We can’t even tell if we shouldn’t have given another chance to someone partly because with us it’s hard for us to even have a “deal breaker” at times. We are too keen to come up with excuses for other people’s behavior, and can give too much understanding to someone else and not ourselves. Although you can view the many different people that may constantly require your help with something as separate people with separate issues, the one commonality they all have is you. Use your discernment with others and weigh your options and potential outcomes carefully before deciding to give someone another chance. Ask yourself some tough questions and be real with yourself about the answers. Will you gain anything by giving this person another chance? Are you potentially enabling someone? Are you allowing yourself to be taken advantage of? Sometimes we can drink some rose-colored kool-aid about certain people in our lives. Be objective, not overly empathic when you consider helping someone out again or giving them another chance. There is power in giving up on people who no longer deserve our energy.
6. There will always be another reason to put myself last, and I must learn to ignore it.
There will always be more laundry to do, right? A huge part of not falling victim to our own over-caring is making time for ourselves and prioritizing ourselves. Some of us over-helpers are so focused on helping others that we almost feel as though we cease to exist if we’re not doing something for someone else at all times. We look around our lives and houses to survey what else needs to be done, fixed, helped, cleaned, rescued, etc. The truth is, you will usually find whatever it is you are looking for, so if you’re looking for another reason to put yourself last and say “I’ll make some time for myself tomorrow” for the 8 millionth time, you will probably find one (or ten). We have to learn to stop doing this, and set some new rules for ourselves. One of my personal rules is that I can work on things (whether it’s business, house work, working out, whatever) until 8:00 or 8:30 pm on weeknights and then I make myself stop and start winding down and chilling out. This allows me to have time and energy to do whatever pampery stuff I may need to do for myself that evening (which may include things like stretching, a bath, meditating, reading, a facial, etc.). I find that I am less stressed out, able to get better sleep, and feel more energized and happy the following day for having made some time for myself the night before.
7. Just because I can feel someone’s pain, doesn’t mean I can absolve it.
This is definitely a rule for empaths. Yes, those of us that are more sensitive can feel other people’s pain, at the very least, on an emotional level. This is part of what makes us want to help others, because we can feel how truly awful someone else feels and we want to help absolve it. That’s very kind and generous of us to want to do. Sometimes we have the ability to make someone feel better, or help them in a time of need. This is a truly beautiful thing when it goes right, and this feeling can contribute to us becoming “hooked” on helping others. But how many times does it go wrong?
While we may have the best of intentions to help someone or try to help them heal somehow, we can’t predict how our help is going to turn out. Sometimes it works out great, and other times, there are too many unpredictable variables that can throw our good intentions off course in the end. Sometimes, although someone may be in pain, that doesn’t mean that we can fix it for them or somehow make it better. The “good person” part of us thinks “We’ll, I’d be a bad person if I didn’t at least try to help them”. But sometimes the help a person needs is far greater than we can muster. Sometimes they need medical help, mental health help, drug treatment, anger management, trauma therapy, or things that we don’t have the resources for.
Sometimes the pains a person has experienced are so great that they may actually reject the help. Sometimes people have had bad experiences before even in just being “helped” or trying to seek healing previously, which can make them gun-shy about seeking more help or healing now.
When this happens, our desire to be a good person and continue to “rise to the occasion”, combined with our not-wanting-to-give-up on people, can manifest in making us feel guilty if we can’t help fix their pain somehow. But that’s illogical and quite presumptuous of us. We don’t know what they’ve been through, and we may not have anywhere near the credentials to help them ourselves.
Sometimes we can feel other people’s pain, and sometimes we can’t help it or cure it. Those are just the simple facts. The fact that you can feel someone else’s pain at all is sometimes the best thing anyone can do. You can care and empathize, and honestly, some other people can’t do even that. You are already doing something by bearing witness to someone’s pain.
You can be sensitive to someone’s pain, but accept the fact that you will not necessarily be able to “fix” it. Some pain is just too big to “fix”.
8. I can get off my over-commitment-train at any time.
By learning to put ourselves first, we are attempting to give energy, time, and space to ourselves for our own good. One major blockage or excuse we can easily find to enable ourselves to put ourselves last once again, is the old “Well, I told so-and-so I’d help her with her garage sale on Saturday, and then I’m covering a shift at work so my co-worker could have the night off, and then Sunday my sister asked if I could babysit….” and we give up on the idea of ever actually having time for ourselves. We think “Well next month things should be calmer, and I can make some time for myself then.” But we all know what happens “next month”, and a month turns into another year sometimes of back-burnering ourselves. Sometimes we have to have tough love with ourselves and understand simple physics: we can’t be in two places at once.
Every waking moment isn’t spoken for by someone or something else.
9. Guilt is not my compass.
For those of us that are overly loving or empathic, we feel so strongly about helping others or putting other people first that we can feel terrible (self-inflicted) guilt if we don’t help to the Nth degree. Something I have learned along the way is that for the overly-empathic, guilt is practically a useless feeling. We already feel guilty, for even the tiniest of reasons. (Now, employing guilt on a narcissist? That would be a beautiful thing, but they are incapable.) We cannot allow ourselves to get sucked into the guilt trap because that can open the floodgates of never ending self-sacrifice and over-helping.
The guilt trap doesn’t end there, though. I think we honestly try to make up for the guilt that other people don’t feel in certain instances. We also cannot do this. If someone else isn’t doing what they should or pulling their weight, that’s their ball that they dropped- not yours. There are even times when people who may be manipulative or who are using us to some extent where they will prey on our guilt-addled tendencies to try and make us help them once again.
We can’t trust our guilt. It’s not a compass. It doesn’t know “true north” and it has led us astray many times. We must learn to get a clear handle on our motivation for over-helping others. If unnecessary guilt is a factor, take note and steer clear.
10. I am good enough as I am, and don’t need to do anything “extra” to prove my worth. I do not “owe” anything to anyone.
For those of us that are hyper-guilt-sensitve and over-helpers to our cores, we tend to miscalculate what our duty or obligation is in all kinds of scenarios. Even if someone else is not putting demands of help on us, we will get ourselves into some ridiculous commitments sometimes that come from absolutely nobody but ourselves. An analogy I like to use with clients sometimes goes like this: Joe Schmo can go to your friend’s party, show up empty handed, and drink other people’s beer, eat the cake, have a good time, and go home. For those of us addicted to being overly-helpful, we show up to our friends’ party and bring a charcuterie board, 3 bottles of wine, a cake, help serve the cake, and don’t leave until we’ve done the dishes and a garbage run first.
Here’s a homework assignment: I dare either of us to show up to the next party we’re invited to empty handed. Ok, that might be a little extreme, even for me, but how about we show up with only one thing?
Regardless of if either of us can accomplish that dare or not, I am sure we can look at tons of examples where we did too much or went too hard on helping somehow. Let’s be honest with ourselves and scale waaaaaaay back. We don’t need to constantly do something “extra” just to be accepted. We are accepted as is, even if we didn’t bring a fucking cake. Let’s get that through our heads.
The Learning Curve
I encourage you to try and adopt some or even all of these rules if you feel that they (should) apply to you. Heck, I even encourage you to create your own rules! Maybe my list will help get you going in identifying what specific boundary-setting rules would be good for you to have yourself. And if you do identify some personal rules for your overly-empathic self, share them with me! I might need them too!
And above all else, be patient with yourself, but give yourself tough love when you need it. Being overly empathic, helpful, and desperate to be a “good person” is a slippery slope, so take note when you realize you may have had a back-slide. But don’t give up on yourself! There is a huge learning curve to all of this because chances are you’ve been doing this stuff your entire life! Just like the woman I read for, and just like me at varying degrees for my entire life.
I can say whole-heartedly that as I’ve learned to set better boundaries for myself and try to use discernment with my empathy, my life has improved tenfold. I have the dream relationship I’ve always wanted, amazing friends, I love my day job, love my side-hustle, and love my LIFE, TIME, and ENERGY! All of which I increasingly seem to spend on myself, and things just keep getting better and better. So walk this new em-PATH with me, and just know that there is much to look forward to up ahead. Feel no guilt for taking the more that you deserve and have earned. Just like I told this woman at the end of her reading “You’ve probably done enough good deeds in your entire life before this, that you could never do another good deed again for the rest of your life and you would still go to heaven.” The same, I’m sure, is true for you also.