A Passion for Helping Others? Why We Wait.

 
 

Today’s inquiry explores the stuck places that keep generous people from touching the world with compassion. Beginning with an open hearted gaze. And ending with the surprisingly simple guidance of a famed astrophysicist. Life can be complicated. Why not try a more lighthearted approach to deep reflection?

Who Doesn’t Want a Better World?

The struggle between feelings of empathy, and actual boots-on-the-ground service to a better world is real for many of us. We long to make a difference. But hesitate to take actionable steps. Especially when the voice coming through our journals sounds something like this.

I remember when it was easy to be a good-deed-doer. Decades spent in tights and cape. Hero of family, God, and country.

I still have burn marks.

And I’m wary of going back into the flames.

Empathic burnout. A common response arising from super sensitive fix-the-world kind of people. Kindhearted and generous, no doubt. But often unaware of the self-destructive behaviors tagged by Tone and Tully as risky strength. And noted by Academy of Science researchers as pathological altruism. Ouch.

Risk Factors for the Feelers and Fixers of the World

  1. Personal distress or guilt in response to others’ pain or unhappiness.

  2. Anxiety and depression

  3. Diminished ability to make decisions in their own best interest

  4. Emotional avoidance, which leads to physical exhaustion.

  5. Breakdown of personal identity and social skills.

The risk of constant do-gooding is cunning. Destructive behaviors may falsely advertise themselves as amiability, prosocial activism, or family heroics. An extreme other-facing outlook on the world. Without ever looking in.

Until the crash.

That moment when benign benefactors are forced out of service. Dry docked…and tethered. By a very small rope. Leaning into the wind with strained uncertainty.

What cockeyed master of providence would allow so much pain into the life of someone so earnest?

Many enter into personal caves at this point. No worries. Hibernation is a natural season. With a beginning. And an end.

Searching for Roots

Do-gooders flinch mightily at placing blame on others. But taking a moment to search out the roots of misguided empathy can be a critical turning point.

The easiest target? Parents, of course. Why…even science tells us that! What happens in childhood sticks with us for life.

Parental Roots of Avoidance and Hypersensitivity

  1. Parental habits of failing to facilitate emotional regulation.

  2. Insensitivity to children’s emotional cues.

  3. Excessive control.

  4. Lack of warmth.

And if you somehow manage to escape childhood unscathed, you can always pick up emotional disfunction as an adult. The hard way…PTSD.

Blame is Just a Stage

%&^?^(*@#! I KNEW MY PARENTS SCREWED ME UP!

Every generation, whether spawning children, relationships, or thoughts….makes choices that become fodder for personal evolution at some later date. Visible or invisible wounds that flare when painful life transitions, or deep existential wonder, spark a closer look. At life.

In out of the way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
— John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us

You Will Know When It’s Time to Emerge From the Cave

Hibernation. Darkness and slumber. Season of avoidance.

But ALWAYS a gateway to spring. And new beginnings.

My own personal spring came when I acknowledged a new desire to explore creativity. A follow up to a season of deep dark dives into the cave of written introspection. Shifting from words that lifted and gifted me with a new outlook on life… to an entirely new way of connecting with the world.

More colorful. More true. Without empathic self sacrifice.

 
 
 

Change Is a Pretty Big Deal

I didn’t know it at the time, but the choice to smear acrylic paint into childlike abstractions would lead to the creation of a colorful emotional balancing process. AND the repair of my stuck-volunteer gear.

Now, instead of avoiding compassionate causes…or guilting myself into doing too much…I rely on spontaneous creative reflection to modulate my hypersensitivity.

Leaving me free to come out of my cave without fear.

I think immediately of the starfish story. Start small. It matters.

My small steps always begin with Creative Disruption, a personal daily practice of visual and written reflection.

To see the workings of this colorfully reformed Feeler and Fixer, scroll down.

 

 

CREATIVE DISRUPTION IN ACTION

LAYER 1-BACKGROUND

WHAT COLOR(S) AND MOVEMENT REPRESENT THE RAW EMOTION OF TODAY’S INQUIRY?

I step out of the way. Paint always knows how to easefully express the abstractions of my overthinking mind. What can I, a simple creative, do for a world in chaos?


LAYER 2-TEXT/TEXTURE

WRITE, PAINT, OR COLLAGE RELATED BACKSTORIES. NO FILTERS…NO FIXING.

I begin with an urge to cover chaos. To calm my inner empathizer from diving head first into global and local stories of suffering. Hand painted collage papers and magazine images seeking to clarify wisdom not yet ready to be revealed.This is the MESSY MIDDLE I have come to know. And accept. For without the discomfort of mismatched marks and unruly artistic passion, I could not reach the depths of my own personal sea.

LAYER 3- FORM

EXPLORE IMAGES, SHAPES, OR MARKS THAT BEGIN TO MOVE STUCK ENERGY.

I suddenly know. If I can only pick up one starfish, I have to find the one shaped like my heart.

Our oceans.

My friend, the otter appears. A reminder of my soul’s communion with the whiskered, winged, and finned and creatures of Monterey Bay. Friends. Who ask nothing more than gentle care for this fading spot called Earth.


Layer 4-FOCUS

DISRUPT OLD WAYS OF THINKING. VISUALIZE NEW.

Wisdom arrives from advocate of earth and skies, Carl Sagan. Bringing the vastness of my views of a suffering humanity into just one syllable. One simple word. One action. LOVE. Ah…now I can move forward with the finishing touches. Scripted wishes, playful bubbles, and an overcoat of yellowish white to further soften the background. Finally, a border to tuck my otter in snugly.


As long as I have my written and visual journals, I have no fear of over-extending my passion for helping others. And no guilt if I wait.

Because life is full of ordinary daily opportunities to make a difference. And even the simple process of seeing the world with the wonder of a paint smeared child can add a little extra glow to those around you.

 
 
 

FINAL FOCUS

At the close of every CREATIVE DISRUPTION session, I take time to reflect upon three final thoughts. I invite you to join me. Knowing that we are always free to further evolve, release, or let rest…today’s thoughts.

  1. How do I prefer to feel?

    Instead of worrying about my ability to serve others….

  2. What wisdom can I now see?

    A balanced emotional life helps me serve the world more joyfully and authentically. The one field that most touches my heart is…

  3. Choose one small action forward.

    One small step forward toward serving the world in LOVE, is to…

 
 

BONUS POINTS

Volunteering in a manner than maintains emotional balance…

 
 
 

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.