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What is Sacrificial Helping Syndrome and how does it relate to codependency?

Why do codependents sacrifice themselves for others over and over?

How can that show up at work and how can we make it stop?

In this podcast episode, Marissa speaks with Katie Vernoy, LMFT about the interconnection between codependency and Sacrificial Helping Syndrome (SHS). We discuss where the need to sacrifice and help others comes from, how it shows up in your life (especially at work), and the long-term consequences of repeatedly sacrificing yourself for others (it ain’t pretty!). Katie opens up about her own codependency and how that related to her SHS early on in her career as a therapist. Through her sharing about her own experiences and working with others, Katie helps us better understand our knee-jerk self-sacrifice and provides ways we can reign it in to avoid burnout, loneliness, and despair. This is a must listen for all you codependummies!

Thanks for listening!

Meet Katie Vernoy, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist whose career spans many leadership and management roles in the mental health field: program coordinator, director, clinical supervisor, hiring manager, recruiter, and currently as Past President of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Katie provides therapy, consultation, and business strategy and also is the co-founder and co-host for the Therapy Reimagined Conference and the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide podcast.

Katie’s information:

Special offer:

More deets on this week’s episode:

First question: How does Katie define codependency? For Katie, she describes codependency as “you depend on someone for yourself worth, you depend on someone to make you feel better, you rely on someone to do that…there’s a gap you try and have others fill.” She makes a contrast between independence and codependence to help us understand interdependence, which she describes as “I know I can do things for myself but I also rely on others.”

Second question: What is Sacrificial Helping Syndrome (SHS)? “My identity is based on helping other people.” She contrasts codependency as a lack of identify and SHS as having an identify as “helper.” When your identity gets completely taken up with helping others, then you only get value and worth from helping. She describes where this comes from, commonly with parentified children, trauma, or roles given in our family. “We get the most value and joy from helping people.” That sounds great but Katie emphasizes how those with SHS become obsessive and excessive in helping.

Third question: When has Katie experienced SHS? She shares about working in community mental health and how she was “grinding it out, tons of cases, and…doing way more than would fit in a 40 hour workweek.” She describes how different systems that have become more feminized and have less value. Who carries the load of that loss of value? THE HELPERS! As a manager, Katie then experienced a sense of “You wake up like you’re behind.” She was burnt out!

Fourth question: How did Katie fill her internal gaps with work and sacrifice? Katie admits how “I had build such an identity as being a helper and I became codependent on my identity.” She shares how she was not setting limits, standards, boundaries, and the like since she was such. a. helper. Marissa has her expand on how she was codependent on the feedback from others for being able to do so much, be so productive, and needed by others.

Fifth question: How did Katie come to work on SHS? Looking at the system that depended on individuals to sacrifice themselves and then also penalize those who did not sacrifice led Katie to treat and focus on SHS as a professional. She knew that, once she was ejected, she could not go back and decided to help others who over-sacrifice.

Sixth question: Why do we keep sacrificing ourselves? Katie describes how we are rewarded for helping…we just take it too far. In order to stop the self-sacrifice, Katie emphasizes a need to answer the question: Who are you? Katie discusses how society and our families raise us to be a certain way and eventually identify as the “helper.” If we don’t reflect internally and ask ourselves who we are without helping, then we will just keep doing it.

Seventh question: If we used to get “intoxicated” on others needing us, then what do we replace that with? Katie simply states: it’s not just one thing. But she encourages us to ask what brings me joy, what fills me up, and who would I be without helping.

Helpful links:

Katie’s special offer:

Thanks for listening!

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