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Burned out on helping

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Q: I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2000. As long as I stay sober (I have been in recovery for 4 1/2 years), take medication, and keep up with a therapist, I usually function quite well. Recently, I’ve found myself becoming extremely intolerant of the people in my life who don’t function quite as well, including one of my family members and a woman I sponsor.

On the outside, I’m pleasant and helpful, but inside, I come up with all kinds of negative and judgmental thoughts. If they’re manic and talking a mile a minute, I want to tell them to shut up. If they’re “slow” in any way (slowed down by meds, depression or a learning disability), I get impatient. If they keep coming up with excuses why they can’t do something, I get sick of listening and want to walk away — after all, I live with a mental illness but I work full time, volunteer, do freelance writing, get to at least 4 recovery meetings a week, and still have time for a social life.

I have some idea why I do this; I suspect it may be based in fear that I may share their fate one day. What I want to know is how to get past it and recognize that they are sick, too, and that because they are so sick, they deserve compassion and empathy.

Burned out on helping

Answered by on -


Yes, they do deserve compassion and empathy. But I think you are suffering from compassion fatigue. When people give and give and give without taking sufficient care of themselves, they often start to show the signs of burnout and stress. You’ve worked hard in your own recovery. It may be that you stretched yourself to the limit by trying to work equally hard to help others. Take a little time to pull back, focus again on your own recovery, and rebuild your own emotional and spiritual strength. Compassion fatigue is not a disease. It is simply a way to describe a very normal response when caregivers give out too much without renewing themselves. Once you give yourself a needed break, you’ll be able to be generous again.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

Burned out on helping

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2018). Burned out on helping. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 21, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.