Episode 36: Sacrificial Helping Syndrome: Why Do We Give More Than We Have?

In this episode of The Family Couch, we talk with Katie Vernoy, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California, who is a coach and consultant for helping professionals.  Her mission is to have those that are called to help take care of themselves.

We dive right in to discuss what sacrificial helping syndrome means.  Vernoy reveals that she created this term to describe a phenomenon she has seen so many times in helping others.  It means that we sacrifice our own well-being to help others–we give more than we have.  We live in a world that is asking so much of us at all times.  We discuss that it seems there are no solid “roles” anymore–it’s so hard to say that you are just a therapist, just a wife or just a daughter.  All of our roles interact so much that we cannot leave work at the office.  Vernoy feels it is so important to be a whole-person helper, but acknowledges that it is tough.  She explains that it is important to understand who you can help best, how you can help best, and then suggests saying no to the rest of it.  

There are so many things we can do and people we can help, but if we try to help everyone, we won’t be able to help anyone.  It’s about setting limits and really being vigilant and ruthless with self-care– examples include getting sleep, eating properly, having down time, vacations, massages, etc.  This proves to be difficult when you have a lot on your plate with kids, work. charity, or your relationship with a partner.  Vernoy knows it is difficult to take care of yourself, but feels that it is so important.

We discussed where a helper could begin to find the balance Vernoy discusses.  She explains that the first thing that often happens is that many people get physically sick or emotionally sick.  Hopefully before you get there, you feel it coming on–you dread work, you are running around like a chicken with your head cut off, etc.  She shares that you simply have to slow down.  Vernoy suggests taking a digital detox and a mental health day to get your emotional resources back.  You then have to ask yourself what to do next.  If you were on a desert island, who would you bring?  What things would you have to do if you were very ill,  and what would you need to cancel?

Vernoy explains that what we often say is, “I should be doing this,” “I promised to do this,” or “Someone will be disappointed if I don’t do this.”  We have to look at why we are doing these things.  If it’s mostly “shoulds,” we need to stop.  Saying “no” is very difficult, but Vernoy feels it is most helpful to remember why she’s doing what she’s doing.  She shares that if she says “yes” to something she shouldn’t be doing, she’s potentially saying “no” to other things that would be people she can help better or people who are higher priority.  Vernoy suggests looking at yourself as a resource and determining where the resource is best spent?  She urges to think about an ideal client and then imagine saying no to them because you’ve saying yes to another opportunity.  She also mentions that when you say “yes” to EVERYTHING you start to look like a flake.  How will it impact your reputation and relationships if you are spread too thin?  

We further discussed how we can begin to manage our expectations with the things we say yes to.  Vernoy explains that we have to let go of what other people think and look at quality instead of quantity.  She gives the scenario of how checking off 72 things off of your to-do-list is different than spending a high quality day with your grandmother.  Vernoy feels that it’s difficult to asses her own energy and time, and she really has to remind herself about how she’s most effective and how she best manages her time and energy.  If she does too much she gets burned out and gets emotionally and physically exhausted.

Vernoy acknowledges that there is a lot of guilt that comes up when you can’t help someone.  People may start to wonder why you aren’t giving the same level of care.  She lets go of the guilt by still helping the client by giving an alternative.  She tells them that she does not have the bandwidth for it but connects them with someone else.  She also suggests that we need to continue to focus on what we are accomplishing.  Vernoy was on vacation, and there were a couple days she had to get something done for her business, so she went in for an hour and did something each day.  She realized that she accomplished so much in the hour as she did in a half a day working because she was focused.  In actively choosing self-care, you may be more effective.  

Finally we discuss how professionals, parents, or caregivers can start to ween themselves off of being a sacrificial helper?  Vernoy provides that the first step is finding one thing to remove from your calendar.  It can be a club you barely ever go to.  Then check to see if there are any other things that would be easy to cut.  This can be difficult but it feels like such a relief.  You have to make sure you don’t fill those time gaps back in.  You then carve out things like exercise, a full day off, etc.  Vernoy then discussed that to build self-care into your life, you first want to add any health practices that are not in place, such as grocery shopping for fresh, nutritious foods.  When you’re a sacrificial helper, the trick is to make sure you’re also doing it for your partner and/or kids.  Vernoy also suggests identifying things you want to do that are healthy, like walking with a friend, and set appointments for these activities to be sure to stick to them.



Katie Vernoy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California, who founded Evolve to Thrive, a coaching and consulting business for helping professionals.  She has a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and years of experience as a manager, supervisor, recruiter, and clinician.  



WEBSITE: https://katievernoy.com/

PODCAST: http://http://mtsgpodcast.com/

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/KatieVernoyManagementConsultant/

FACEBOOK GROUP: https://www.facebook.com/groups/helpingcollaborative/

EMAIL: katie@evolvetothriveconsulting.com



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