In the UK in 2020, 750,000 people signed up to join the ‘volunteer army’ to support the NHS, and many more stepped up to support their neighbours and communities during the pandemic. Maybe you were one of them?

As a psychologist and coach I’m fascinated by people who love to help and be useful to others. But I’ve begun to notice a trend… these same people often help others to the detriment of their own wellbeing; they over-look their own needs.

I call this phenomenon the “Super-Helper Syndrome”. Perhaps you are susceptible to this, or maybe you know someone who is?


Identifying the “Super-Helper Syndrome”



You spend lots of time supporting others in myriad ways.


Other people turn to you to fix their problems


You tend to put other's needs before your own.


You sometimes give too much of yourself, or your time, and feel stretched.


You feel guilty taking time out for yourself.


You find it hard to say 'no'


You rarely voice your own needs.


You feel others sometimes take you or your kindness for granted


You are self-critical and feel you ‘ought to be doing more for others' or 'should be coping much better’.


If you ticked four or more from this list you have probably experienced the Super-Helper Syndrome.

To verify this, it’s likely that someone in your life has told you to stop offering to do so much for others. Your response was something like: “But I like helping others”, “It’s nothing really”, or “Anyone else would do the same”.

Over the last twenty years I have come across a lot of people (mostly women) like this in my work. The sad irony is, that they need support too, yet they are the least likely to seek it, and even less likely to ask for it.


How can you support someone with Super-Helper Syndrome?


Don’t wait for them to ask you for help. Instead, offer your support frequently and gladly.

While they might say  “Oh I’m fine” when you ask them how they are, gently probe if you think there’s something going on.

You could offer them support. If you ask how they are, they are likely to divert the attention back to you, so try to ask specific questions about them and their life. This is best done in a one-one conversation.

Take time to really listen to their answer and to probe, because they’ll be busy painting a rose-tinted picture. Not because they like to lie, but because they don’t want to burden or depress you with the reality of their stress or anxiety,

Try demonstrating your acknowledgement and, or appreciation for what they do, by doing something lovely for them, spending quality time with them, or sending them a thoughtful gift.



If you are prone to Super-Helper Syndrome…


Allow yourself to take a break. In the immediate term, take time to rest (there is no reason to feel guilty here – you would not deny an exhausted friend the rest they need).

Remind yourself that having needs (e.g. the need to rest, the need to sleep, the need to say, ‘Sorry not this time’, the need to ask for help) is not a weakness. To acknowledge them will make you feel stronger.

You could try journaling on what is important to you and list the activities that support your own wellbeing. However, at this point you may realise that you do not know what you ‘need’ because you are not used to being asked about them, or asserting your desires. This is normal for people who are susceptible to Super-Helper Syndrome.

You could contact someone you love and trust and ask them to listen to you while you off-load your stresses. But, remember that they are used to you asking how they are, and they might not have your expert listening skills. A really good friend will be patient and put your needs first.

In the medium term, your challenge is to identify the underlying beliefs that are driving your compulsion to help. There’s more to be said on that subject… The Super-Helper Syndrome: A Survival Guide for Compassionate People book can help you.


Helping yourself makes you stronger 

It’d be wonderful if you could recognise the importance of giving yourself the same level of care and attention that you generously give to others. You deserve it. You really do.

And remember this: Giving yourself even more compassion and replenishing your own energy will actually enable you to give even more to others.

Depending on what you need right now, you can book yourself in for a free 15 minute one-one session to discuss how you feel and what you can do about it.

Or checkout my reels, videos and mini-blogs on Instagram here.

P.S. It’s not selfish to meet your own needs, it’s essential.


There’s so much more that I want to say on this subject, which is why I’ve written a book, with fellow psychologist Rod Vincent. The Super-Helper Syndrome: A Survival Guide for Compassionate People. Out now in hardback with Flint Books

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