Who Am I When I’m Not Helping People?


Many years ago, I used to have plenty of co-dependent relationships. I always wore the hat of ‘helper’, ‘rescuer’ or ‘guide’ and because of this I attracted people who saw themselves as victims, because without victim personalities we helpers have no-one to help. I understood this – that I only valued myself through the feedback I got from helping others. I also noticed that after a while I grew tired of being the helper; I grew resentful because I felt that I was always helping and supporting, and nobody was doing that for me.

At the time, I also was drawn to ‘helpers’ in the form of spiritual teachers. I had zero self esteem back then and often placed these ordinary humans on pedestals, until eventually I followed the advice of these teachers and began to grow and change. Like me with my earlier friendships, some of these teachers were upset when I finally started to trust my intuition and follow my own path. I was okay when I needed helping, but when I no longer needed it, I was criticised and by some attacked for wanting to walk away from their teachings or groups.

Eventually I grew out of that toxic relating; I no longer attracted friends who wanted ‘saving’ or ‘helping’ and I stopped going to teachers to help save me. I had ironically been in a cycle of being the helper and also being the victim in other relationships with teachers, so as a result I became much more pessimistic, less gullible and less likely to take what a teacher says at face value. I no longer put anyone on pedestals, and I did not invite in any friendships with people who wanted me to give them all the answers.

Fast forward to today and I have had a challenging revelation in the form of a question coming to the surface.

My Near Mental Breakdown

mental health breakdown

Last week I had a deep depressive episode, moving towards a mental and emotional breakdown. I was triggered by something in life and my old story of failure popped up again, but it probably came up more powerfully than it has in my life so far. I cried for a very long time; I was rocking backwards and forwards and couldn’t stop; I was considering suicide; I was considering ways to escape this life, but what came out from all of this was the question:

‘Who am I when I am not serving others?’

Sometimes no answer is necessary, because the question is more important than the answer and so I asked myself this question repeatedly and I came up blank. While I may not be in toxic codependent relationships anymore, my entire life since childhood has been about helping or supporting other people. My entire value system and reason for belonging has been about serving others.

A rescuer’s greatest fear is that they will end up alone. They believe that their total value comes from how much they do for others. It’s difficult for them to see their worth beyond what they have to offer in the way of “stuff” or “service.” They believe, “If you need me, you won’t leave me.” They scramble to make themselves indispensable in order to avoid abandonment. – Lynne Forrest

To help myself, to serve myself, has been a big no-no, but I didn’t realise this. I thought I was pretty good at self-care and looking after my wellbeing, but when I started to think about what I do in life, I realised that my early childhood creativity was swiftly moved away to creativity born of: ‘What can I do to be of service?’, ‘What can I do to be of value and of meaning?’

I didn’t realise that this was the undercurrent of my life experience. I knew intellectually that my value and worth are a given, that I am of worthy for simply being, but obviously something else was happening beneath the surface.

I remember when I was a child I used to love to paint and draw. My first ever piece of art in primary school was of a bird in a tree and my favourite teacher loved it so much she held it up to the class and she then placed it on the wall. I didn’t know at the time what I was feeling, not knowing that I was an empath, but the moment she did that I felt pride and then I felt crushed by the overwhelming feeling of envy and annoyance from my school friends. This was my first taste of: ‘If you put your head above the parapet, you are at risk’ so I guess while I tried to keep going with my art, it turned into more of a ‘proving myself’ creativity than the joy of creating for the sake of being a playful child exploring.

And as I write this in my early forties, I look at my life and I see how much I have created, done, put out into the world, most of the time intuitively guided to do so, but I also recognise this undercurrent beneath all I have done so far: ‘If I just serve others, I am enough’, but alas, as this was the undercurrent for doing what I do, I lost who I was. I lost my childlike creativity and wonder. I lost my passion for living. I lost the joy of the ‘new’.

Even when I crowdfunded for Peace Within Radio, and got the funds together to start and run the station, it was to help people with mental health issues, but I noticed how easy I found it to showcase other people’s work. It was as if this project was of more value and worth because it was not about me, it was about other people. And what did I forget? Me.

I did not realise that I can do it for me and if this helps others it’s a bonus, icing on the cake. I had made serving others the main goal, instead of doing what feels good for me my priority.

Many people and teachers say, ‘Serve others and you will find true happiness and joy’, but I think that sometimes, some of us, especially empaths or those who have had toxic childhoods and have learned to develop people-pleasing patterns, need to do the exact opposite to find our true North Star.

I don’t know my true North Star right now. In fact, I don’t know what I enjoy. I wouldn’t know where to start if someone said, ‘Go, be creative, just for you, not for anyone else’.

So I ask you today, if you feel as if you are a helper, a guide, a healer, a spiritual advisor, a life coach, a teacher….who are you when you are not doing any of these things? Do you still know who you are and is your creativity that is born from childlike wonder still there, and if not… why not?

My steps to discovery

  1. Don’t try to force your creativity
  2. Maybe pick up the paintbrush, the pen, the gardening gloves , the knitting needle, sit at your computer…look at what you’d like to be able to enjoy and see if you enjoy it when the world is not waiting for your insights, your wisdom or your support.
  3. Take your time, take it easy. The creative inner child may be incredibly shy. She or he may be hiding in the back of your unconscious in a cave. She or he may have been hiding there for years wondering when she gets to play again, and he may need gently coaxing out. Try different things, for a little while, don’t place a time limit on them.
  4. Visit other creative artists, galleries…places that inspire you. Soak it in and let your inner creative naturally emerge.
  5. Eliminate the word ‘should’ from your vocabulary. Stop thinking you should or ought to be helping someone. If there is a ‘should’ it may be that you feel responsible or that your value, when in relationship to that person, only comes from your giving, when perhaps you need to give to yourself now.
  6. Read books like ‘The Artists Way’ by Julia Cameron or ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert
  7. Most importantly, be okay with the empty space within you where you are yet to be. That space is where the insights come about who you truly are. Let life fill that space. Don’t try to fill it with another identity such as, ‘I am a writer’ or ‘I am a carpenter’. Let that naturally emerge without force.

This is quite a journey we are on.

I am scared because this is the question I don’t know the answer to.

I know philosophically speaking that I am not this body or ego. I am so much more, but for the basis of this question I am asking, ‘Who am I’ as a human being? What is my true authentic face? The face that does not need to be something special or important to be of value or worthy… who am I?

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Unlocking Authenticity: Breaking the Cycle of Seeking Validation Through Helping Others

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Kelly Martin
Kelly Martin

Kelly Martin, author of ‘When Everyone Shines But You’ is a dedicated writer and blogger who fearlessly explores life’s deepest questions. Faced with a decade of profound anxiety and grief following the loss of her father and her best friend Michael, Kelly embarked on a transformative journey guided by mindfulness, and she hasn’t looked back since. Through her insightful writing, engaging podcasts, and inspiring You Tube channel Kelly empowers others to unearth the hidden treasures within their pain, embracing the profound truth that they are ‘enough’ exactly as they are.

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