Breaking the Shame Cycle: Needing Support While Supporting Others

We really can’t help others if we are not taking care of ourselves first.

This week’s scenario comes from our Demands & Support at Work Psychological Safety training. Estelle, the Chief Wellness Officer for Mako Imports & Exports, was faced with the challenge of supporting her employees’ well-being while neglecting her own needs. She was under an incredible amount of pressure to keep everyone going, and with no one to turn to for guidance, she started feeling the impact of burnout herself. Watch below to see if you can relate ⬇️ 

This is a common issue in workplaces today, where leaders feel the need to put their own well-being on the back burner and prioritize the needs of their employees. I also see this dynamic between teachers and students or mental health professionals and clients. But today, I just want to talk about the shame that we sometimes feel for feeling like we need support when we’re supposed to be the one that supports everyone else.

When you’re in a position of modeling for others, there can be a certain expectation placed upon you to have it all together and to be able to handle anything that comes your way. However, this can be incredibly challenging when you’re experiencing high amounts of stress or even burnout, which can cause a range of physical, emotional, and mental symptoms that can impact your ability to function at your most optimal state. Feeling shame in this situation can stem from a few different sources ⬇️

💔Maybe there is an internal sense of shame that arises from feeling like you’re not living up to your own expectations of yourself as a leader/role model?

💔Maybe you feel like you’re letting yourself and others down by not being able to keep up with the demands of your role?

💔Maybe there’s external pressure from colleagues, superiors, or even the broader culture of your workplace to always be “on” and available, which can make it even harder to admit that you’re struggling?

💔Maybe there’s a fear of being perceived as weak or incompetent? There could be a stigma attached to mental health struggles or burnout, which can lead to leaders feeling like they need to hide their struggles in order to maintain their professional reputation.

But MAN is that heavy, isolating, and ultimately keeping you from getting the support that you truly need.

It’s important to recognize that experiencing burnout as a leader is not a personal failing, but rather a reflection of the larger systems and structures that shape our workplace cultures.

I know it can be tempting to project an image of strength and control at all times. But honestly this can create a culture where being vulnerable and seeking support are seen as signs of weakness. This is the type of behavior that impacts the psychological safety of your team and makes it more difficult for individuals to speak up about their own struggles.

When you can model vulnerability and seek support, it demonstrates that it is okay to ask for help and that everyone, even leaders, struggle at times. This can create a more open and supportive culture where individuals feel comfortable expressing their own vulnerabilities and seeking help when needed. This is what helps to break down the walls that exist between leaders and team members, and foster a more collaborative, authentic, and supportive work environment that helps to create a culture of psychological safety and benefits everyone on the team.

I know this is easier said than done, so here’s 3 tips to support you in releasing shame from getting the support you need:

1️⃣ Normalize Seeking Support

Many people struggle with their mental health at some point in their lives, and it is important to prioritize self-care and seeking help when needed. Talk to others about your struggles and encourage them to do the same. This can help to break down the stigma surrounding mental health and create more supportive relationships.

2️⃣ Practice Self-Compassion

This means treating yourself with kindness, patience, and understanding. Everyone struggles at times. Instead of beating yourself up for needing help, try to be gentle and understanding with yourself. You’re human. Remind yourself that seeking support is a brave and courageous act.

3️⃣ Focus on the Benefits

Getting support can help you to feel better, manage stress, and improve your overall well-being. It can also help you to be more effective as a leader and team member, as you will have more energy and capacity to support others. By focusing on the benefits, you can reframe seeking support as a positive and proactive step towards improving your well-being.

Remember, as a leader, you are responsible for the well-being of your team, but you can’t do it alone. Take care of yourself first so that you can better support those around you.

This week’s scenario comes from our Demands and Support at Work Psychological Safety training. Our training consists of employee-centered Psychological Safety conversations and team building exercises which will help employee’s learn tools for managing stress, explore the consequences of what they say and do, consider the assumptions they make about those they work with, and redefine what it means to contribute to a psychologically safe work environment. Use the link below to inquire about training for your group!