Oct 31

There is a weakness that is particularly frequent among people in service professions, causing burnout and depression rates in the service industry to be some of the highest.

The ‘Helper Syndrome‘ describes a strong drive to make other people feel better. In some cases it is done to ease or divert the helpers from their own pain. But by no means you have to be a ‘professional’ helper to behave this way, it can be a friend, neighbor, associate or yourself who is vulnerable to getting pulled into responsibilities and tasks that others wouldn’t even think about taking at the first place.

The Helper Syndrome can contribute to outright abusive forms of relationships: the ‘helper’ might increasingly experience signs of burnout or feel exploited, and their highest efforts might increasingly be taken as a matter of course with little gratitude for their support – no matter how much energy the helper invests, he might never get to a point where everyone is satisfied.

Another unhealthy aspect of the helper syndrome can be a lack of self-awareness and abuse of the responsibility a helper has towards the helped. This is because a helping relationship is typically unbalanced; people are not on equal footing. A good helper will be sensitive to the imbalance, while an abusive helper will ignore or even seek it. Instead of supporting the other in becoming stronger or looking for additional (often: professional) means of support, the helper tries to keep them dependent, and focuses on reaching their very own goals. To achieve their goals they might even abuse their power, or the trust of the recipient.

So whether the motives for such behavior are altruistic (‘I want to give something back‘, ‘I don’t want them to do the same mistakes I did‘, ‘I want to share‘, ‘I can do it!’) or driven by dubbing their own psychological issues, it is always a sign of emotional imbalance and exploitation, of oneself or others, if someone ignores their own limits and tries to ‘fix’ everything only by themselves.

Typical forms of ‘helper’ relationships are: long-term relationships of non-addicts with addicted, aggressive, selfish or controlling personalities or relationships defined by a strong imbalance (with one partner being the ‘teacher’, ‘the sugar-daddy’ or ‘the boss’). They are functional for both, but quite resistant (and vulnerable) to change, which prevents at least one of the partners from achieving greater self-esteem and realizing his or her full potentials. While professional helpers can use supervision to reflect their work, in our private lives we can just try to take care for ourselves to avoid getting entangled in dysfunctional helping ambitions.

(Picture credit: http://westallen.typepad.com; This short article is part of a weekly series dealing with psychological expat problems and general mental health issues and was published in various newspapers and magazines in Thailand, 2011)

Aug 05

Mark Twain said, “Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.” Well, we all know: quitting smoking reduces the risk of terrible illnesses like cancer and cardiovascular disease. It increases fertility levels, breathing and overall fitness. Another benefit of quitting is enjoying the taste of food again. You will look and smell better and on top of it all, save a lot of money.  Why then is it so hard for many to stop the habit – or addiction – of smoking?

The reasons for smoking addiction can be cut down to 2 important factors: nicotine and habits.

Nicotine, for one, is a highly addictive substance that occurs naturally in tobacco, and hooks your brain by stimulating it with a shot of dopamine, the hormone that tells us that food and sex are pleasurable. It also increases activity in areas of the brain that are believed to be involved in cognitive functions, so a cigarette can make you feel sharper and more focused. As if that weren’t enough, nicotine also increases the endorphin levels, the proteins that give you feelings of euphoria. Needless to say that having a ‘tool’ that can make you feel better in these ways, is something you don’t give it up easily. Quitting may leave you feeling deprived, and you may exhibit serious withdrawal symptoms if you have to go without nicotine.

Another important factor for this specific kind of addiction is habits – the patterns that are involved in smoking. Smoking behavior usually becomes closely linked with daily activities and ‘cues’ such as: after a meal, when socializing with friends, to ‘take a break’, when under stress (to relax), when relaxing (to relax further), etc. These aspects of smoking can be just as challenging to overcome as the physical dependence.

Consequently, most people who want to quit smoking once and for all, require an approach that deals with both vulnerabilities: the addiction itself and the behavioral aspects of it. The current ‘traps’ have to be identified and after that, new patterns and routines to be developed that make it easier to ‘skip’ the impulse to look for a cigarette. Hypnotherapy can support in this aspect by allowing our mind to adapt to the new behavior, but it can’t do wonders without the patient’s strong dedication  to getting rid of their smoking addiction. The first few weeks without cigarettes are usually the hardest. After 8-12 weeks, most individuals who make it that far start to feel more comfortable without smoking. Still, only 3 in 10 people can successfully stop smoking once and for all.

(This short article is part of a weekly series dealing with psychological expat problems and general mental health issues and was published in various newspapers and magazines in Thailand, 2011)

22.03.20