ESFJs love people. They enjoy lots of social interaction, but more importantly, they want to help others. With their Extraverted personalities, genuine warmth and deep desire to be liked, they are usually popular individuals with plenty of friends. Despite their gregarious nature, they don’t always express their feelings openly, but prefer instead to express affection by tending to the practical and emotional needs of the people around them. Too often, however, ESFJs want to help too much, leading to problems in their relationships and for themselves. By placing some restraints on their caring nature, and recognizing their own needs, ESFJs can learn to stop giving till it hurts.

Why ESFJs love to help

The Extraverted and Sensing functions of the ESFJ mean they are interested in learning about people and enjoy supporting and bringing out the best in others. They love to be of service, whether at home, in their job or in their community and become loyal, caring, responsible friends, partners and employees. As the quintessential team players, they want everyone to get along, have fun and be happy.

Providing real support and help to people creates a natural high for caregivers, says Shawn Meghan Burn, Ph.D., professor of psychology at California Polytechnic State University. Over time, they want to help more and more to keep triggering that positive feeling.

In her book, “Unhealthy Helping: A Psychological Guide for Overcoming Codependence, Enabling, and Other Dysfunctional Giving,” Burn also suggests that many people who help too much have low self-esteem. They feel that they have to give for people to like them. Their sense of self is entirely based on what they can do for others and the more they help, the more they feel accepted, appreciated, valued and loved. They need to be needed, which can quickly turn them from helpers to martyrs.

The trouble with helping too much

ESFJs are at their best when they are caring for others and feeling the satisfaction of knowing their efforts are appreciated. However, this need to help can lead to some harmful behavior, including the following:

  • Control. As Judging types, ESFJs seek structure, organization and closure. They like to have a sense of control over their environment and are very practical, down-to-earth people. When it comes to their relationships, this trait, in combination with their giving nature, can lead them to become overly controlling, sometimes offering help where none is needed or desired – a behavior that others can find unappealing.
  • Status. While their desire to be of service to people is genuine, ESFJs also crave appreciation for their efforts. They want to be known as carers in their community, but this drive for social status and influence can limit their own potential.
  • Criticism. ESFJs place a lot of importance on social acceptance, which can make them cautious and even critical of people who don’t conform. Their need to fit in can also make them sensitive to criticism they receive, resulting in further damage to their self-esteem.
  • Approval. Happiness for ESFJs means being accepted, liked, valued and gaining the approval of the people around them. Without this confirmation, however, they tend to feel unappreciated and bad about themselves, so they can become needy as they seek constant reassurance.
  • Neglect. Perhaps the most damaging aspect of their overly helping nature is that ESFJs forget to help themselves. By putting everyone else’s needs first, they can easily neglect their own needs and become exhausted, emotionally drained, resentful and feel unworthy. Some ESFJs may begin to withdraw which can leave them feeling isolated and unhappy.

Signs you’re overgiving

ESFJs can become stuck in repetitive negative behaviors simply because they’re unaware of them. They want to help and feel good when they’re caring for others, but before they know it, they’re feeling drained, their relationships are in conflict and the only thing they know how to do is help others more. ESFJs can begin to create some balance in their lives by recognizing when they are helping too much. Burn offers some signs to watch out for:

  • People in your life are becoming irresponsible. When you help too much, people learn to depend on you instead of helping themselves. Whether you’re caring for your children, your spouse, or your friends, often the most loving thing you can do is let people make their own mistakes so that they can learn from them. When you do this, you also improve your own self-esteem by refusing to tolerate broken promises and people who refuse to stand on their own two feet.
  • You lie to “help” someone. If you have to be dishonest to help someone, that’s a red flag. No one should ask you to sacrifice your integrity or morality. Healthy caring allows everyone involved to feel supported, be true to themselves and grow.
  • You feel guilty if you don’t help. When people know that you’ll always say yes to requests for help, they may manipulate you into doing things you don’t want to do. Even ESFJs don’t want to help all the time, especially when they don’t feel appreciated for it.  If you feel uneasy about a situation, trust your instincts and say no.
  • You’ve lost time, energy and/or money. Helping others shouldn’t deplete you or your resources. It should fill you up. If you’re becoming increasingly worn out, frantic or broke, it’s time to take a look at why you’re giving so much.

How to avoid helping too much

While helping and caring for people feels natural to ESFJs, it’s important that you set boundaries on how much you give. Remember, everyone needs help sometimes, including you. Here’s how to help in a healthy way:

  1. Write a list of your own needs and desires. Perhaps you’re spending a lot of time helping the sports teams at the local school but you’ve neglected your own exercise regime. Maybe you’re the go-to person for everyone’s personal problems but you miss the book club you used to belong to. Taking time for yourself is not a luxury, but a necessity.

  2. Share the responsibility. You don’t have to do everything. You’ll burn out if you do too much. And other people enjoy helping too, so share the tasks that need to be done and let others be caregivers too.

  3. Express yourself. It’s okay to explain your concerns when someone asks for your help. If you’re open about how much you can help, others are more likely to work with you to help you both reach your goals. Similarly, recognize that your own feelings and needs are as important as anyone else’s, so express those emotions and ask for help when you need it.

  4. Realize you have a choice. According to Susan Newman, Ph.D, a New Jersey-based social psychologist and author of “The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say It—And Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever,” when someone asks you for help, you have a choice. It’s a request, not a demand. If someone gets upset or angry when you say no, that is their fear talking and they need to resolve it. It has nothing to do with you.

  5. Know your priorities. If people have a tendency to take advantage of you and make you feel you’re going against your own values, it’s time to draw a line. Think about what you’re comfortable doing and giving, and what makes you feel uncomfortable. Ask yourself what your priorities are, suggests Newman, so you’ll know when it’s time to say no.

  6. Take your time. You don’t have to say yes. And you don’t even have to say no right away. You have the right to say you need time to think about it, says Newman. Be sure to consider whether you have the time, energy or desire to help. Anyone who respects you will be happy to give you some time to consider your options. If they need an answer right away, it’s best to say no because you can always change your mind later and say yes.

  7. Set limits. If you agree to help, set some limits on how much or how long you’re willing to give your time. It’s okay to say yes to a volunteer job, but only for two hours a week, for example, or you’ll babysit your neighbors’ children, but only until the summer recess.

  8. Recognize manipulators. If you’ve become a habitual helper, some people will take advantage of that to suit their own needs. It’s up to you to protect yourself from people who simply want you to do everything for them. According to Newman, a manipulator will often try to flatter you into doing something. For example, they may tell you what a great baker you are so you make cupcakes for the bake sale or praise your DIY skills so you help them renovate.

  9. Don’t give excuses. You don’t have to give a million reasons when you decide not to offer your help. If you don’t want to do it, just say no. The more you try to explain your reasoning, the more someone will try to talk you out of it.

  10. Help yourself first. At the core of helping too much is the feeling that you’re not worthy of acceptance unless you’re helping. It’s essential to recognize that this belief is simply not true. People will like you, accept you and love you even when you’re not helping. The first step is to accept yourself as you are, with strengths and weaknesses, just like everyone else. The next step is to recognize that your needs matter too. When you can do that, you’ll help other people because you want to, not because you need to.

As an ESFJ, caring for other people is a fundamental part of who you are. It’s not something that you should try to stop doing. It’s a wonderful quality that people really appreciate. The key is to avoid helping too much because that can stop others from growing and keep you trapped in codependent relationships. When you create a balance between helping others and looking after your own needs, you’ll begin to thrive as the warm, loving caregiver that you are meant to be.

Deborah Ward
Deborah Ward is a writer and an INFJ. She has a passion for writing articles, blog posts and books that inspire, motivate and encourage people to build self-confidence and live up to their potential. She has written two books on mindfulness, Overcoming Low Self-Esteem with Mindfulness and Overcoming Fear with Mindfulness. Her latest book, Sense and Sensitivity, is based on her Psychology Today blog of the same name. It's about highly sensitive people and is out now. Deborah lives in Hampshire, England, where she enjoys watching documentaries, running and taking long walks in the country, especially ones that finish at a cosy pub.