The terms used for people like: People pleasers, the overly anxious, helping professions, type A people, and workaholics could sound negative but think about the strengths these different types of people have. My opinion is that a personality strength can also be a weakness depending on if we let it rule us or if we are in control of it; and depending if our values blind us to living a balanced life style. I have two personal examples
1) I am able to focus (a strength) on one project or train of thought to the exclusion of everything else or everyone else which could be good for getting a job done or helping others in the team to stay on track because I am like a sniffer hound doggedly following the scent but it could also be a bad thing if I become rigid, inflexible and insensitive to situations and people around me.
2) I value connection (strength) and that is what makes me good at what I do but I have to remember that while my gift is connection I need to realise that not everyone values it the same way because they have other strengths. I need to be aware that my expectations can lead me to disappointment and resentment. This is what I mean that one’s strength can also be your tender spot.
The people pleasers and helping professions have been around for centuries and are the helpers that keep society going by underpinning it with support like doctors, nurses, counsellors, teachers, audiologists, architects, nature reservists, mothers, cleaners, priests, nuns, etc., and people who are naturally empathic. These people have, amongst their many strengths, a calling to help others and they therefor make a valuable contribution to society. It’s important to ask ourselves what drives our motivation because this could be the key to why we might try to fulfill too many needs which leads to our own detriment (tender spot), such as exhaustion and resentment. Some of us may have been brought up to feel it is ‘good’, ‘polite’, ‘kind’, ‘nice’ to help other people. So the question is do we feel we are called to help, do we feel satisfied by helping or do we feel guilt-ed or shamed into helping. There might be many facets to our answers and it is helpful to identify our strengths and our tender spots.
So I am not saying that helping others is wrong or bad for us and I am not advocating selfish behaviour. Even if we are not called to a helping profession we all have situations where it is important to help our friends and family because we care. Yet we need to evaluate whether we are automatically taking on more than we should or being volunteered into helping out of guilt or not knowing how to ‘no’. Anxious people often fear displeasing others, fear what will happen if they say ‘no’. An anxious person’s strength is that they are often good at organising things and pre-empting difficult situations either at work or socially. They often are the ones others rely on to organise events and get the job done. They are also most often punctual and do things meticulously. But they can also be prone to be taken advantage of and land up feeling overworked and resentful if they don’t learn to set boundaries.
Workaholics or Type A people have personalities that are driven and are often busy all the time. It could be work that keeps them busy but sometimes it’s other extramural activities as well. They are normally competitive and therefore successful, often perfectionistic not only demanding perfectionism from themselves but also from others around them. They can be hard task masters and difficult to please themselves and others. On the other hand they are often reliable, responsible and gets the job done well. These people, who often drive themselves into the ground, need to learn to be less critical and kinder to themselves and to set internal boundaries for themselves so that they can find ways of to relax and have fun.
Whether you consider yourself to be a people pleaser, just plain helpful, anxious or a workaholic it is often the underlying need for self-worth that gives meaning. It is not wrong to have ‘drives’ that build into your self-worth but it is important to be aware of your strengths, your tender spots and the things that drive you internally so that when things get out of control you can objectively sit back and take a look at your own behaviour and rectify the situation otherwise you can be at risk for burn out.
The benefits of getting help.
Think of a fire and how it starts out as a small spark. One small spark can set a whole mountain alight. You could think that ‘it is just a small spark why worry?’ but we all know that a fire needs to be put out before it burns everything around it. The same is true for inflammation in one’s body; if you don’t deal with it it usually gets more and more painful or inflamed. And so it is also true for our issues in life; we might think that if we pretend it doesn’t exist we won’t have to deal with it but usually our problems don’t go away. If you think your strength has become your tender spot, if you can’t say no when you need to, or you can’t identify your own needs, if you feel like people take advantage of you and walk all over you or if you feel exhausted and resentful I suggest you ask for help from someone you can trust or a counsellor so that you can enjoy your strengths to the fullest and become the person you are created to be.