The past few weeks I have seen several clients who work in some government institution: The System. The challenges in these institutions are very obvious to outsiders, just as they are to my clients. And yet, at some level each of these clients feels responsible for the problems in The System.
A poem by the Australian Michael Leunig comes to mind when I reflect on the inner journey of these clients:
God bless this tiny little boat
And me who travels in it.
It stays afloat for years and years
And sinks within a minute.
And so the soul in which we sail,
Unknown by years of thinking,
Is deeply felt and understood
The minute that it’s sinking.
Over time these clients became depressed due to their inability to influence The System in any way. Due to their dedication and commitment they feel responsible for improving the lives of others affected by The System. But soon they find the challenges are too great. Feelings of helpless and hopelessness abound.
Many of their colleagues see work as a job, not a calling. So where their colleagues step away from taking responsibility, each of my clients sees it as their mission to make a tangible difference. Furthermore, my clients put in 200% effort. They give so much that it is no wonder they end up seeking help. Consequently, they are depleted and have little energy for themselves. Then when they see their peers putting in little effort they feel even more obligated to take on more activities or duties.
Most of these clients are sensitive individuals. So they absorb the emotions of those with whom they interact. They absorb the negativity that often comes with the dynamics within The System. Despite the challenges they give a great deal of themselves. Furthermore, they place the needs of others before their own, whereas their colleagues have clear boundaries. Often their colleagues differentiate between situations over which they have control and those they do not.
Empathic and sensitive individuals often have colleagues who drain their energy. So a colleague who loves drama or attention easily sees an empath as the ideal person to listen to all their problems. It is the empath though who carries the emotional burden where their colleague walks away feeling better.
Taking care of your well-being
It is important to take stock of your actions and mind set. Has work in The System become a burden to you because the responsibility feels too onerous? What activities are you involved in that fall outside of your main responsibilities? Do you keep volunteering to take on extra work? Are you always offering to bail out other colleagues who may be under performing? Is your generosity coming at the expense of your mental and emotional well-being? Do you find it hard to be assertive? Are you always first to volunteer your support?
It is important to become a little more detached in the decisions you make. So think about pacing yourself and take on less additional work. In addition, minimise time with people who drain your energy. With every decision you make weigh it up against whether it will contribute positively to your well-being or not.
Taking care of your well-being is not a selfish act. In fact it is about recognising that you are the only person who can look out for yourself.
Are you taking on the problems of The System? Do you feel guilty prioritising your needs? Do you need help to set boundaries?
Seeing a coach or psychologist will help you take preventative action and find ways to manage the typical stresses of any work environment.
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