Women are rescuers. Often at their own expense. They rescue people at work, in their companies, even distant relatives. It happens consciously and subconsciously. We don’t even recognize our codependent behavior until it's too late.

Women assume, sometimes against their better judgment, responsibility for making sure everyone is happy or at least satisfied. For some reason, we believe it's our job to make sure all is right with the world.

Confused? Not sure if this is you?

Here are a few regular statements from a bona fide rescuer:

  • "Oh, I'm so sorry." (followed by cleaning up a mess)
  • "Let me help!"
  • "Oh, you don't need to bother. I'll take care of it."
  • "Honest, it's not a problem."
  • "I can do it later."
  • "Tell me about you."

The messages we send may be subtle, but they are strong. They tell others we don't matter as much as they do. These messages are the first steps in encouraging others to take us for granted.

Women get into a cycle of over-helping. Some women go as far as creating a reason to help. For instance, we watch the pot boil over only so we can run to it and save the day. Sounds ridiculous, but it's true. We let the team move ahead based on faulty information, then we become the knight in shining armor.

Now, that may be the extreme. The "helping" idea is built into our nature. To deny that would be to deny our true selves. Really?

When does helping become controlling?

How far is too far?

The psychological reasoning behind our incessant need to help can be attributed to the fear that if we don't rescue or help constantly, we are not seen as contributing or having value or, worse yet, aren't needed. We end up feeling lost and useless.

But in the process we lose ourselves. We succumb to feeling only worthwhile based on someone else's definition of worthy. Our identity gets lost. We see our reflection in connection with another person – the one we helped.

How do you recognize when it's time to stop, when you've gone too far, or when you are in need of a 12-step program for rescuers? When is it time to join "Overhelpers Anonymous?"

It starts to sound (or feel) like this:

  • "I'm exhausted caring for everyone."
  • "I jump in without being asked, and then feel upset when they don't appreciate it."
  • "I complain about the stress of attending to others."
  • "I get jealous when I help people achieve their dreams" (because it wasn't me on that stage).
  • "It's okay that I've given up on my own dreams, so long as my family succeeds."
  • "I'm exhausted trying to repair several problems at once, none of them my own."

Now, there's nothing wrong with having good intentions. And yes, we all want our loved ones to succeed. But here's the difference. Healthy help is based on a desire to improve other people lives; unhealthy help is about the helper's emotional needs.

Unhealthy helping is about the helper's emotional needs being satisfied.

Recognizing and dealing with the overwhelming desire to help is essential to breaking this dysfunctional pattern.

There are a number of variables to consider when you have decided that you are becoming or already are the "overhelper."

Variable #1: "Feel Good" Chemicals
When women are in the helping stage, they get a rush of "endogenous opioids," which are internally produced chemicals that affects the brain creating a "high" sensation. Oh, it's all very natural because we need these chemicals to function as mothers. But in some cases, the need to "overhelp" lasts beyond childbearing years and to people beyond our children.

The Fix: use this "feel good" hormone on yourself. Any nurturing you direct to yourself releases the same chemicals. Pay special attention to yourself during stressful times. Tell yourself, "You’ll be okay," or "You don't need to rush in."

Variable #2: Evasive Assistance
We complain that we never have time to do things for ourselves because we are so busy in everyone else's lives. That is a smoke screen for, "I'm afraid to get involved in my own life." So to avoid our own fears, we get caught up with what's going on around us. It's an acceptable deception for not addressing what we need to do to fulfill our own dreams.

The Fix: Connect to what is really going on. This requires honesty and vulnerability. You may discover anger and frustration, which are normal responses to being an "overhelper." You should be angry. Give your frustration a voice: "I'm so happy not to being helping ___________. Now I can focus on me." Take at least 30 minutes a day to work on what YOU want. No more excuses. Just do it!

Variable #3: Messiah Complex
This is when you view yourself as the ONLY answer. You are ALWAYS the responsible one. Nothing or no one can carry on without you. So, to assure that you'll always be needed, you tend to criticize other's efforts. This is a frame of mind that is learned early in childhood. Probably from parents who didn't parent.

The Fix: Understand the difference between helping and giving support. Constant helping tells the recipient, "You are needy and weak – I am strong and capable." Continuously doing things for others leads to resentment. You become the martyr of the "overhelpers." Rather, switch to being a supporter – cheer them on.

If you find you are an "overhelper," then you can stop right now. Nurture yourself, lend support and watch your energy move from "Eck" to "Wow!" You will become less resentful, more in tune to your needs and a role model to others who need to overcome their "helpfulness."

[This is only one of the many powerful articles in this week's Influence It! Real Power for Women free ezine. To enjoy the full issue, jam packed with insightful information on strategies to enhance your personal and professional life to achieve ultimate success, you must be a subscriber. Sign up for your own free subscription NOW by clicking here!]

From regional manager to international executive with quadruple the pay, Karen Keller’s unique blueprint carefully outlined the step-by-step process for creating high-impact influence and let me know when I was being influenced in a way that didn’t serve me.
Lloyd Moore
Global Director Supplier Quality & Development - Lear Corporation – South Carolina