Do you know of or work with someone who seems to always be helping people? We all learn that it is important to act unselfishly, but can you take it too far? In 1984, psychologist Nancy McWilliams coined the term “pathological altruism.” It refers to someone who has a compulsive need to offset guilt, shame, or other negative feelings at the sight of another’s suffering by devoting their life to humanitarianism.
This altruism turns destructive when people end up hurting the very things they want to help. Think animal hoarders. However, there are various shades of grey which can appear in your professional or social life.
It may be you turning into a pathos altruist or perhaps an employee or co-worker. Similar to hoarders or cults, the behavior does require some intervention as it can lead to tension and bad feelings in the workplace. It can also affect work deadlines and family priorities when you are tied up helping everyone else.
According to Lynn E. O’Connor, director of the Wright Institute’s Emotions, Personality, & Altruism Research Group, there’s a practical solution.
If you feel the urge to swoop in as someone’s savior, take a moment to consider whether the target of your altruism actually wants or needs your assistance.
It’s a lesson in learning to say “no” and setting personal boundaries of involvement. Establishing a champion mindset means asking yourself how this type of commitment helps you achieve your goals. It’s not all about selfless service.