Why Being Good Can Be Exhausting

by Jo Lawrence-Mills


As sensitive, empathic ones, we find it easy to see the best in people.


We effortlessly look beyond the mask, the facade, the personality, the ego, to the sacred place inside.

We easily see others’ pain, their disappointments, their deepest longings, even when they lash out, shame us or ignore us completely.

We find it hard to judge, for we see ourselves too.


They may mock, judge, or criticise us. They may shame us, not listen to us, call us names, diagnose us, or block us from their hearts.

They may reject us and our path completely. They may neglect us, or smother us.


Still, we hold them in empathy. We understand their needs, their feelings, their sorrows.

We feel the pain they cannot feel.

We see their underlying goodness, even if their behaviour is less than conscious.

We are quick to forgive! 


Our tendency, as empathic ones, is to ignore ourselves in favour of the ‘other’.

The 'other' is where we tend to send our loving attention.


We call this 'selflessness'.

And it can be exhausting!


Perhaps we learned as children that our own first-hand, real-time experience wasn't valid, or wasn't trustable, or wasn't even real. We learned to direct attention away from ourselves and become caretakers, supporters, therapists, healers, saviours, at a very early age.

It was a matter of survival. To be selfish was to die, psychologically. To make the other happy was truly a matter of life or death.

Take care of the other, and I'll be okay. Support the other, no matter how badly they treat me, no matter how badly they misunderstand.


We learned that:

Love meant needing and being needed.

Love was conditional.

Love was unpredictable.

Love was something we had to fight for, beg for, abandon ourselves for, deny ourselves for.

Love was something we had to give to receive; it didn’t flow to us naturally; we had to earn it by being ‘good’ little boys and girls.


Later in life, we allowed others to walk all over us, ignored our own pain, suppressed our true voice, and tried to be perfect, and tried to be good, and tried to be spiritual, and tried to be compassionate, and tried to be ‘okay’.

We thought we were 'selfless', but really, deep down, we were still fighting for our lives.


Perhaps we attracted friends, lovers and partners who couldn't see us, couldn’t understand or didn’t want our sensitivity, weren't really interested in our deepest feelings and needs. Partners who we had to take care of, even save. Partners who were not true partners, in the deepest sense of the word. Partners who were simply on a different path.

Deep down, we didn’t feel truly loved, but we didn’t know any better.

We had our model of love, and it felt 'safe'.


Here is an invitation to begin to break the cycle of addiction to the happiness of others, the addiction to feeling needed, the addiction to seeking love where it cannot be found.

Today, let everyone take care of their own happiness! Discover happiness within yourself. Discover your feet on the ground, the breath as it rises and falls. Discover this deep internal embrace of thoughts and feelings; this inner love that embraces joy as much as sorrow, bliss as much as boredom. Discover the thrill of walking your own path, walking out into the Unknown, tasting your own taste.


You can't make others happy, but you can inspire others by living your own happiness more fully. You can be a flame that ignites others rather than waiting desperately for others to ignite. In most cases, you'll be waiting forever.


Stop the waiting. Start the living.


Sometimes you have to be more selfish to be truly selfless.


So selfish that you devote your entire life to burning as brightly as possible, inspiring others rather than trying to fix them, waiting in vain for love to flow in your direction.

Be empathic yes, listen deeply, yes; understand the pain of others, yes; but remember, they are not yours to fix. And your pain matters too. And you are not wrong for expecting your feelings and needs to be acknowledged. You deserve empathy too. You deserve love. You deserve to be heard. You always did.


You are not unworthy. You do not have to prove your worth any longer.


So today, send kind and empathic attention deep within yourself. Flood the tender places inside you with care; commit to no longer abandoning yourself in the name of ‘love’, in the name of 'selflessness', in the name of 'being good'.


For love is not something you beg for or earn; it is something you radiate from deep within.


- Jeff Foster