Many lawyers go into law because we are helpers by nature. We care about people and want to provide solutions to those in distress. This is a noble aim. As paid professional problem solvers, we take on the task of trying to solve other people’s problems. What can happen over time, however, is that we begin to overly identify with the “fixer/helper/rescuer” role, and that role begins to cross over into other areas of our life. We unconsciously “need to be needed.” This form of over-functioning can occur in any type of relationship: family, work, friendship, romantic/intimate, peer or community. Sometimes we are overly identified with that role from an early age and going into the law “makes sense” for that part of our personality.
The profession requires us to subvert our own needs and feelings in order to zealously advocate for the needs and desires of our clients (regardless of how we might feel about the client’s desires). When this crosses the line into unhealthy behavior in our personal lives, we place a lower priority on our own needs and become preoccupied with the needs of others. It becomes a pattern of pre-occupation with the actions and feelings of another person or people while ignoring our own feelings and needs. When we do finally acknowledge our feelings, we usually want to blame those who need rescuing, not realizing we have set ourselves up. Or we feel guilty for taking care of ourselves (or wanting to take care of ourselves).
Here are some signs and symptoms that can occur in our personal lives:
- Saying yes when we want to (or ought to) say no
- Saying yes without having considered whether we really want to do something
- Anticipate others’ needs, but others do not do the same for us
- Surrounded by seemingly “needy” people
- More concerned about another person’s problem(s) than he/she is
- Doing more to solve another person’s problem(s) than he/she is
- Getting involved in trying to solve another person’s problem(s) without him/her asking for our help
- Making “helpful suggestions” repeatedly, even after the suggestions are being ignored or being told the suggestions are not welcome
- Putting others’ needs above our own (for example, paying someone else’s bills while our own bills are unpaid)
- Inability to identify our own needs
- Feelings of guilt when stating our own needs
- Feelings of guilt when saying no
- Shielding others from the consequences of his/her actions
- Feelings of victimization or helplessness
- Blaming ourselves when things go wrong
- Ignore and/or rationalize problems in intimate relationships
It is important to know what over-functioning and people pleasing looks like in your daily life; then you can effectively identify if you are operating in these patterns and take steps to change. The Lawyer Assistance Program has helped many lawyers deal with these issues. Call or email us today if you would like some support in changing these patterns in your life and law practice.