Below the Surface: Why Women Helpers Struggle

Why Women Helpers StruggleWomen who work in the helping field face unique challenges.  You were probably drawn to this field because empathy comes naturally to you.  Helping professionals want a job that is meaningful and helping people in need is very fulfilling.  Unfortunately, women tend to give too much for a variety of reasons, putting their mental health at risk.  Let’s explore some of the reasons this happens.  

What are some common problems women helpers face? 

  • Anxiety
  • Unchecked personal stress
  • Lack of self-care
  • Putting everyone else first
  • “Lone wolf” 


The demands of a helping career can create a lot of anxiety.  Helping work is often unpredictable because we’re dealing with human beings who are often in high-stress situations.  Employers and co-workers can also be a source of stress, especially if we aren’t meeting their expectations or don’t fit in.  This can lead to dreading the work day, trouble sleeping, trouble relaxing in your free time, and feeling very drained when the work day is over.   

Unchecked Personal Stress 

It’s likely that if you are good at helping people in your job, you’re also good at helping people in your personal life.  Friends, family members, spouses, children – they all come to you with their personal problems and demands.  If you identify strongly with the helper identity, you may feel obligated to put your needs aside and be there for them. It’s admirable, but not sustainable. 

Lack of Self-Care 

I’m not talking about luxuries like vacations, spa days, or a shopping spree here.  I’m talking about basic self-care like eating, drinking enough water, and making time for rest throughout the workday. It sounds simple, but when you’re stressed it’s easy to put these things off until after work.  Unfortunately, this keeps your body in a state of panic and you will crash when you get home.  If you find yourself binge eating after a long day of work, taking naps, or needing caffeine to get through the evening, you might be lacking basic self-care during the work day. 

Putting Everyone Else First 

Are you working on someone else’s time clock?  Many helping professionals work in fast-paced environments where they are expected to see clients from morning to night, be available for crises, keep up with overwhelming paperwork demands, or be in meetings all day long and somehow make time for projects.  It’s not fair, but you want to be perceived as strong and capable so you strive to meet those demands.  This might be okay for a while, but you are going to get burned out and resentful at some point.  

“Lone Wolf” 

Lone Wolf employees want others to see them as strong and capable.  They don’t ask for help, they don’t share their emotions, they don’t complain, and they don’t interact much with their co-workers. There is a wall up – likely as a survival mechanism however, it could hold you back from future career success. Making social connections is an important part of advancing your career.  If you want to make a change, you will need connections like references, letters of recommendation, or maybe just peer support.   

Do you see yourself in any of these areas?  Maybe all of them?  If you find yourself being judgmental or critical of yourself, pause for a moment, and let’s try to get curious about why you struggle in these areas by examining some underlying themes.  

Underlying factors: 

  • Worthlessness
  • Trauma
  • Cultural Influences
  • ADHD  


If you are struggling with feeling worthy in your personal life, but excel in your work life, you might start to use your job as a way to cope with feelings of worthlessness. This can set you up for perfectionistic thinking.  You can’t make a mistake without being very ashamed of yourself.  You struggle with unrealistic expectations and boundaries, which can make you vulnerable to exploitation by employers and even clients.  You focus on being liked over being respected.  


Many people with trauma histories are drawn to the helping field.  It can be very healing for survivors to help others, but it can also set you up for over-empathizing with your clients.  This could lead to overworking and poor boundaries.  You start to rescue people instead of empowering them to discover their own path. You don’t trust that other people can do this work. 

Experiencing trauma directly or even indirectly also changes your beliefs about the world. Working with people who are suffering can create or reinforce beliefs about the world being a terrible place. You might start to feel powerless, helpless, and hopeless. 

Cultural Influences 

In today’s culture, women are barraged with rigid expectations and there is a very small window for error.  Expectations like – being assertive, not aggressive; being friendly but not overly emotional; being knowledgeable but not arrogant; being flexible but not weak. All of this pressure can lead to perfectionism, which is when you strive to achieve impossible expectations and feel shame when you don’t achieve them. Being a woman of color increases the pressure because you have to work even harder against prejudice and discrimination.  Many women of color have to hide aspects of themselves to be perceived positively in the workplace.   

Could you have ADHD? 

It’s pretty well known that women with ADHD are underdiagnosed.  I’m not an expert in this area, but here are some observations I’ve made among clients and co-workers.  If you think you have ADHD, I would encourage you to seek out neuro-psych testing or an evaluation by a provider that specializes in ADHD.   

Symptoms of ADHD in the Workplace 

  • Being late to work very often 
  • Procrastinating on tasks you find tedious and then rushing to catch up at the last minute 
  • Easily distracted with socializing 
  • Impatience and conflict with co-workers or supervisors 
  • Work missing details or getting hyperfocused on unnecessary details 

So check in and see, how are you feeling now?  My hope is that you understand yourself a little bit better and are feeling less judgmental.  You might think you’re the only one who has these problems but I assure you that you’re not alone.  These issues are very common among professional helping women and we don’t talk about them enough.   


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