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How to Stop Being a Rescuer

Break the rescuer pattern to keep your empathy in balance.

Key points

  • Sensitive people, including strangers, may want to help those struggling or in pain.
  • Thriving as an empath means learning to love yourself as much as you care about the world.
  • Set your intention. It is not your job to rescue anyone or fix their problems.

As a psychiatrist and empath, I know the challenges sensitive people have to be compassionate and empowered without shouldering the suffering of others or trying to “fix” them. All people deserve the dignity of pursuing their paths.

Empaths are known for having open, loving hearts. We care deeply about others and the world. Many of us also have a special love for animals and all sentient creatures. Our emotions run deep, as does our intuition.

Highly sensitive, empathetic people are generally helpers, lovers, and caretakers who often give too much at the expense of their well-being. Research suggests that our mirror neuron system (a part of the brain responsible for compassion) is hyperactive, which can burn us out. This is not how I choose to live. I want to be caring, but overhelping or absorbing someone’s distress just puts me on sensory overload, which is painful to my sensitive body and soul. It also doesn’t serve the other person in any lasting way.

Here’s an excerpt from my book Thriving as an Empath to help you keep your empathy in balance.

Breaking the Rescuer Pattern

Sensitive people may want to help those who are struggling or in pain, including strangers. It may be hard to step back and refrain from rescuing them. This is where it is useful to understand the difference between empathy and being an empath. Empathy exists when your heart feels for someone–but being an empath is when you reach out to take away another’s pain. Healthy empathy is what is necessary to keep your center.

Naturally, you do what you can to assist loved ones. But there comes the point when they must do the work themselves. It is frustrating and painful to see someone you care about struggling. But getting caught in their frustration or offering unasked suggestions is counterproductive for them and draining for you. To tolerate being in intimate relationships, you have to sometimes step back. Will the other person ever resolve the problem? You must live with that uncertainly. But always hold good thoughts and prayers for them while giving them space. In addition, a mantra I find helpful is: “I am not responsible.” As you repeat this, you will feel your need to rescue others lift.

Set your intention. It is not my job to rescue anyone or fix their problems. I will learn the balance between healthy empathy and stepping back.

Thriving as an empath means learning to love yourself as much as you care about the world. This includes realizing how profoundly important your empathy is in our over-intellectualized society. Your caring provides the crack of light in the darkness that will get us all through. Though loving so much can hurt, your heart makes you strong, bright, and pure.


Rizzolatti G, Craighero L. The mirror-neuron system. Annu Rev Neurosci. 2004;27:169-92. doi: 10.1146/annurev.neuro.27.070203.144230. PMID: 15217330.

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