A lifetime’s work not a season…how can we prevent future burnout…and step out of the rescuer role!

We are here to do a life’s work, not a season. Do not burn out now. You are needed for the long haul. It is time that we deeply honor these cycles and stop expecting things and ourselves to be always on‘. Rebecca Campbell, Rise Sister Rise

This quote deeply resonated with me in January this year and yet somehow, during September, I was feeling deeply burnt-out….despite all of my self-care strategies!  And I was feeling a little ashamed as it was this time last year that I was feeling so run down too! (Mindful Healing Blog November 2016)

How many times does it take to learn and to change…?

Have you been in this position too?

Is there a re-occurring pattern in your life of burn-out?

I love how in A Path with Heart, Jack Kornfield says ‘Every spiritual life has a succession of difficulties and each of those is a place to discover wisdom, love, patience, balance, awakening, and compassion…and although we make one mistake after another…each is an opportunity to learn…’

So it seems mine is to learn the same lesson over and over to conserve my energy – to remember I am here for a lifetime’s work – and not just a season!   I guess it is peeling off another layer of the ‘onion’, losing a layer of defensiveness and being in the world that was entrenched so long ago and no longer serves… It’s never easy to undo years of patterning and yet it can still feel so frustrating when caught in a spiral of learning!

So I wanted to share with you – what worked for me on the road to recovering my strength, energy and passion for the work that I do… just to see if any resonates with you?  I’d also love to hear any strategies that have worked for you?

I initially returned to all of my self-care strategies; back into healthy eating, walking in nature, meditating (and allowing for this to become an afternoon nap if needed), journaling, lots of loving kindness (really feeling loving kindness and gentleness towards myself as Christopher Germer suggests in the Mindful Path to Self Compassion), reducing expectations, letting some non-urgent jobs go, sessions with my coach, booking in to see my naturopath and getting back on track with some great supplements and seeing my acupuncturist….

ALL of these strategies helped & I highly recommend them…but there was something else there, something deeper that I had to work with….it was as if it was incubating, waiting until the right moment to reveal itself…and I found it really hard to be patient!

Then one day something clicked….like any insight or revelation it’s hard to describe how it happened – one minute I wasn’t conscious of it – the next minute I was! And also like any insight all the readings & many of the conversations I had been having were leading me to that moment – it’s just that at that point I FELT the insight in my heart and body…it was no longer just an intellectual idea/ concept!

My insight was the extent to which I have been over-functioning, striving to people-please and seeking approval from everyone, the amount to which I had been putting myself in the role of rescuer, and the one who is responsible for everyone else’s well-being…   And then it clicked how strongly this was linked to the Drama Triangle (Thank you to Kareen for introducing me to this concept!).

For a great 5 minute intro on the drama triangle – check out this 5-minute video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_XSeUYa0-8

Or this diagram from https://targetteal.com/en/blog/office-drama-understand-whats-behind-it/

Drama Triangle

It turns out I have been way out there on the RESCUER corner this year…no wonder I was feeling burnt out!  I’d known this was my tendency for awhile now…but this revelation was like discovering it on a whole new heart and body level!!!

This diagram below from David Emerald http://powerofted.com/     suggests how it is possible to flip the drama triangle and instead of being the rescuer, become the coach!!

From Drama Triangle to Empowerment Dynamic 2

And here I am a coach!!!  But I realised that on a subtle level I had been feeling responsible for my clients’ well-being, trying to rescue, feeling very responsible for all aspects of my business – and I had definitely been rescuing and feeling overly responsible for my kids who were now all teenagers – and other family members / friends / colleagues…

Suddenly I didn’t want to be a rescuer / ‘over-function-er’ anymore….I wanted to, as Brene Brown said, ‘stand my sacred ground’- I wanted to be in the centre of the triangle, BEING, not shrinking or puffing up….just BEING…allowing others to live their lives…and being present to it all but not taking on too much responsibility for others’ well-being!

Like with any good insights I then found that all podcasts or books that I read referred to the drama triangle in some way!  Tara Brach from Radical Self-Acceptance & Brene Brown in Rising Strong gave great descriptions of how we can:

  • Push away, be aggressive or judgemental: Persecutor
  • Numb or avoid or go into denial: Victim
  • Conform, please, strive to make it better: Rescuer

And both of them write about how the ‘rescuer role’ is highly praised and appreciated in our society…it’s a hard role to step out of!

Do any of these roles (above) ring true for you? Which one do you go to under stress?  Do any relationships trigger you to go into one of these roles?  Can you relate to over-functioning, rescuing and being overly-responsible?

So what can we do instead?  Here’s a description of the Empowerment Dynamic by David Emerald – and the alternative roles we can take on! From Victim to Creator, From Rescuer to Coach, From Persecutor to Challenger.

The Empowerment Dynamic Triangle

Image: https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2015/10/how-you-can-ditch-the-victim-mentality-and-become-empowered/ (see the above link for an awesome article on shifting from victim to creator role!)

I’m particularly interested in finding ways to stay centered in the middle of the triangle only moving into coach, creator or challenger role as we need to, with awareness, without slipping into our more comfortable roles when under stress of victim, persecutor or rescuer?

I think mindfulness & loving awareness helps us to stay centered…and that is definitely a life-long practice!!!

Somehow realizing this insight on a heart and body level has helped….and made me see how sometimes we need years of mindfulness practice and teachings for life-changing insights to happen?  We just need to be patient!?

After this insight, I was really lucky to have two weeks of school holidays – to allow it to bubble and percolate away into my consciousness!   The time off meant I could step out of my usual roles and spend more time resting and reflecting….This gave me space to very consciously notice when I slipped into rescuer (or victim and persecutor toles) or ‘over-functioning’ and consciously breathe and step back, when I could, into a ‘being centered’ position of BEING.

I have a feeling that this could be a life-long journey/practice but I am very grateful to have got to this insight – more unraveling and unfolding…more finding my true nature and letting go of patterns that no longer serve.

Being on holidays was also a refreshing chance to get out of routine – try NEW things – tyre tubing down a river, camping somewhere new, trying outrigger canoeing, rearranging furniture in the house…all ways to step out of old stale roles and see each family member anew and create space for something new to happen in my life….and refresh and recharge my energy levels.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the drama triangle and any roles you have played or stepped out of!  And also what do you do when you are feeling burnt out?  How do you sustain your energy so you are here for a lifetime’s work and not just a season?

Big Hugs, Sara x 🙂

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