Book Excerpt

Explore this exclusive excerpt from Anne Bérubé's latest book, "The Burnout Antidote."

Redefining Burnout, Service & Empathy

I want to help you build a foundation for key concepts that will guide you through the program. To do so, I need to reframe and clarify important words that are widely used but, for our purposes, unhelpful and ambiguous in common parlance. At first glance, some of these distinctions may seem subtle, but it is in that subtlety that fundamental problems persist.

Intelligent Burnout

Growth and transformation are the only things we can count on to be consistent in our life. Very little of our body stays the same; everything cycles and renews, continually. We are creative processes at our core. Yet we like stability and predictability, so we resist change when we sense it coming. We try to keep things just the way they are, and hold on to who we have known ourselves to be.

Burnout is a necessary step to awakening to our potential, like a wakeup call alerting us to what is needed to grow into our potential. In fact, burnout is often the result of us missing early signs that change is needed. Because it appears to not be productive enough, we tend to resist and skip the part of the creative cycle that requires us to rest, incubate, even hibernate to transform and grow. Burnout forces us to stop and pay attention when perhaps we’ve been ignoring more subtle signs from our body. Burnout tells you that when what used to work doesn’t anymore, when what used to be easy has become difficult, it is now the time to surrender, let go, and find a new, deeper, and wiser source of energy within. By design, you have this mechanism, like an alarm, that helps you know there is an issue. You wouldn’t blame yourself for not noticing a carbon monoxide leak before the detector did in your home. Similarly, don’t be hard on yourself for missing early signs.

Through this lens, we can see that burnout is very intelligent, even a life saver. Burnout is the way our body stops us from doing more damage to ourselves. It is time to shift perspective and change our relationship to it. Instead of wishing it away, of being annoyed and angry at it, we can love our body’s response and thank it for communicating with us so clearly, letting us know that our attention is needed elsewhere. We can even have gratitude for burnout for having our best interest at heart, for helping us bring our focus back on our growth, transformation, potential, and true fulfillment.

You might not be able to thank your burnout just yet, but I’ll bet you that after you go through this program, you will know the value in loving your body’s intelligent responses. When you love your burnout, ironically, your suffering begins to dissipate. Burnout doesn’t happen by happenstance, nor does it happen because you failed, are not strong enough, or are being punished by the universe. It is an ally, here to help you, and it happens for a reason. Identifying this reason will empower you to move through this period in your life (because it is just a period, it won’t always be like this) and find the immense wisdom you forgot you carried.

Reframing Service

The impetus of your desire to serve matters greatly. When you’re doing something because it’s who you really are, that’s internally referenced, or divine service. When you’re doing something because you’re driven by someone else’s needs, that’s externally referenced, or disembodied service. This is dictated by your relationship to self-love, which will ultimately provide a strong indicator of your propensity for burnout.

Your burnout is directly linked to your relationship to love, meaning how love was modeled to you growing up and how you integrated it in your body. Ideally, we have an embodied divine love relationship with ourselves. This means that we love our life fully and completely and that we hold the realization of our soul as a top priority, knowing that when we love ourselves that deeply, not only do we get to experience fulfillment but our impact on others is incredibly powerful. An individual in their full power, overflowing with self love that comes from deep within, doesn’t burn out anymore. In fact, they have energy to spare, and when they show up in service, the needs of others are met and surpassed.

Your relationship to self-love and your sense of worth inform why and how you serve others. People who are burning out often serve out of habit, on automatic pilot, rarely or never stopping to ask: why am I driven to help others in the way that I do? Is this really who I am? Why do I serve? It is important to ask ourselves these questions, because there is a big difference between serving because you are responding to an external need and serving because you are inspired by the light within you. Both are service, but the first doesn’t come from an authentic and grounded place and sooner or later, it will drain and deplete you.

Ask yourself, am I in service because people need me? Because it’s the right thing to do? Because I don’t want to lose a relationship? Because I don’t want to lose love? Because I am able, and therefore I should? Because I am good? Because I’m great? These reasons are all externally referenced. If you examine them closely, none come from a fire burning inside you, from a desire led by life itself. On their own, and without a strong driver coming from within, these are not enough if you want to move through burnout and into vitality and your full potential.

If you are reading this book, chances are that helping others is your life’s calling. You came to earth to help, to care, to teach, to lead, to create, and to inspire. You may have naturally taken on that role from a very young age and would have been able to use your gifts in service to others. But along the way, and for reasons we will explore in this book, you lost your connection to your true self, to your internal source of energy and wisdom, and service became externally referenced.

Internally referenced service is a gift you offer the world, the gift of your unique light, not something you do in response to something else or because others need you. Service is meant to emerge from within. Your light goes through and up, and you shine your wisdom out in the world. If others are inspired and helped, and their needs are met as a result, fantastic! But you don’t do it for them. You do it for you because it is who you are, at your core. I know this might sound selfish, and we will look at the guilt that comes up when we do make our fulfillment a priority, but when you serve in this way, your impact is more powerful, and your light travels farther. You are energized and excited because you are, in this precise moment, being who you truly are, at your core. When you do it for others, service drains you.

Your job is not to help everyone. Your job is to create the greatest impact by honoring, protecting, and expressing your unique gifts. That’s your only job. You are not responsible for the lives, wellbeing, happiness, or success of others—no one, including your family. You might be wondering if there is an exception if you have children. We will talk more about this in the section about boundaries in chapter 6, but for now, let me just say that yes, children need your love and protection, but they don’t need you to take responsibility for their life. There is difference. They are also led within by light, by wisdom, by love, and if you take responsibility for their life, you take away their ability to claim and own all their power within. Take full responsibility for your life, and the life of others will be honored.

The Burnout Antidote


People who are experiencing burnout can become discouraged, disillusioned, and even ill.

"I want you to know that you can change your beliefs and tap into a feeling of vibrancy and excitement about your life. You can experience divine self-love."   



Toxic Empathy

Research shows that altruism enhances our health, our wellbeing, and our general feeling of happiness. And if we are designed to care for each other, then why are we burning out? I have found that empathy, the revered and problematic cousin to altruism, is at the root of the problem. It is important to deconstruct our understanding of empathy if we are to care in a way that doesn’t deplete us.

Empathy is a popular and celebrated topic. As of this writing, there are fifteen hundred books on with empathy in their titles or subtitles. Empathy is held up as a sacred virtue, one that is a central component in building a resilient, compassionate, and creative society. Progressive schools include it in their curriculum because it is foundational to a healthy and meaningful life. Barack Obama famously said “The biggest deficit that we have in our society and in the world right now is an empathy deficit.”

In most cases, empathy is a good thing. Being empathic allows us to understand others’ feelings and intuit what is needed to be helpful and a good citizen. Empathy is an essential human quality, and we can agree that the need for it has never been more evident. We need empathy to understand other points of view and negotiate compromises.

However, empathy is so broadly defined that we are liable to misunderstand each other when we use the word in conversation. At the most basic level, it is a mere tool used to keep social systems intact and is not limited to humans. Empathy can be used to describe everything from yawning contagion in dogs, distress signaling in chickens, and patient-centered attitude in human medicine.

To help you tap into the vitality of your core, I want to focus on a specific definition of empathy that is problematic: the act of coming to experience the world as you think someone else does. If you suffer, I suffer because I feel what you feel.

The philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment called emotional empathy “sympathy.” Adam Smith wrote that “we have the ability to think about another person and place ourselves in his situation and become in some measure the same person with him, and thence form some idea of his or her sensations, and even feel something which, though weaker in degree, is not altogether unlike them.” When this happens, there is a contagion of feelings. Their energy slips into ours, or we slip into their body, and their emotions drain us. For empaths or highly sensitive people, this can happen involuntarily. Being around a person with pain and suffering can bring about pain and suffering in yourself.

What happens in a toxic environment where there is addiction, violence, substance abuse, neglect, mental illness, or abuse? Highly sensitive children will overuse emotional empathy toward others as a strategy to stay safe and to belong, if safety and belonging are at risk. From their perspective, their membership in the group and their very lives are at stake. Eventually self-betrayal becomes their default setting. They take in more than they can sustain, often to the detriment of an inner world that no one else can see. Survival requires that they lose empathy for themselves in favor of others.

Psychologists make the distinction between “emotional empathy” and “cognitive empathy” or “social intelligence,” which is to appreciate what’s going on emotionally with another person without any contagion of feelings. Cognitive empathy allows us to understand that someone is suffering and still want to help, but without feeling what they are feeling. This distinction makes all the difference when it comes to serving and still conserving our energy. Let me explain how.

Emotional empathy is a disembodied emotion, meaning that your attention is outside of yourself. You project yourself in the other person’s body, you feel what you perceive they feel. The perceived part is important because when you perceive something, you think about it. When you think about it, you are in your intellect. When you are in your intellect, you are not in the now. You are associating past experiences with what you think this person is experiencing. You are putting your perception through your conditioned filters, which brings on an emotion that your psyche fabricates. These feelings are neither yours nor theirs. You can feel it, but it did not originate from you nor does it accurately represent what they are feeling.

It is also self-centered, in the wrong kind of way. We see someone suffering, and we create our own emotions to attach to this person’s journey, which is theirs, not ours. We lose our strength and power and have very little left for the person we are trying to help. Emotional empathy takes you out of yourself and places you in the other person’s shoes where you are disconnected from your inner world. You are out of your body and in an emotion that doesn’t belong to you. In the process, you contaminate your present moment awareness. In this state, it is easier to betray yourself because you have lost touch with what you genuinely need inside.

Research shows that in practice emotional empathy amplifies and hides bias. Most people have more empathy for people they can relate to, people who look and sound like them, or people they already care about. There is a narrowing of focus and attention toward this same group of people, like a spotlight, ignoring the global need. Without a broader and inclusive perspective, people lose sight of the whole or the greater good. Ironically, emotional empathy is detrimental to the very people you serve. You don’t have access to your innate wisdom because your focus is narrow and centered on the painful emotion. You can’t see their innate wisdom. You lose the perspective that they are, in fact, so much more than their emotions and their suffering. Your capacity as a healer and a leader is greatly reduced, and you are losing energy by the second. If you feel what they feel, you can’t hold a neutral and safe space for the other person because you are now in their personal experience; you are now distressed.

Embodied Empathy

I’d like to introduce you to the concept of embodied empathy, a combination of cognitive empathy and compassion that keeps you anchored in your body. With this, you understand the pain or the joy that another person is experiencing, and you can relate to it, but you stay with your own knowing, connected deep inside your core, without personalizing what the other person is feeling. In fact, sometimes, your mere presence will be enough to support the person, and all you need to do is be present and say nothing. Being here and now, in your body, in their presence, creates a neutral and safe space for the other to feel what they feel. It is simple and powerful.

In The Impersonal Life, Joseph Benner refers to the impersonal self as the self that is connected to everything and animating all living things in the universe. When we take our awareness away from the impersonal and go into the personal, we narrow our focus and lose our wiser perspective, the one that can see beyond the personal distress, beyond the suffering, and see into the immense intelligence of the present moment. With these impersonal eyes, you can see the other person for more than their experience; you see their core essence.

Embodied empathy doesn’t allow you to betray yourself and give more than you have. You can tell right away, in your body, when you are crossing the line, and your energy starts to drain. It’s more like compassion— understanding an emotion without the contagion. Embodied empathy allows you to be there for others from a place deep inside that is loyal to your light first. Then you can truly see the light in the person in front of you, instead of seeing them as a victim of the suffering they are going through. Mother Teresa did not take on the pain of the people she served. She recognized their beauty, the beauty of their light, and treated everyone with the same reverence. Our high sensitivity allows us to tap into people’s feelings and needs in a way that others can’t. We are told that fully feeling is a gift, but most of the time it’s overwhelming and our encounters are life-sucking. When you feel someone else’s pain, you don’t truly love them. You think you do, but you are only connecting to their suffering. But when you are present to your own beauty in the now, in the presence of another human being, you truly love them because you can’t help but see the same beauty in them. You can love someone, like a family member, and feel emotional empathy, but this is not the highest form of loving them.

You don’t have to engage in emotional contagion. Through embodied empathy, you can be sensitive, be an empath, and keep your boundaries in place. Be here in your body, not in theirs.

With these new ways of seeing burnout, service, and empathy, let’s begin the process of loving your burnout, finding its intelligence, and reclaiming the power and the wisdom inside you, the reason you were born. I am excited to take this journey with you!

Daily Check-In Practice

This exercise is a daily check-in meant to help you connect with the most essential parts of yourself and track your progress daily. It pauses the mind of chatter and brings your focus on what truly matters. With each question, you can close your eyes and go deep inside to feel the question at a body level. Don’t need feel the need to solve problems that come up. This can be done twice a day, preferably in the morning before you get out of bed and at night before you go to sleep. It will support you during the seven-step process to transcending your burnout, coming up in the next chapters.

The first check-in question is, how is your heart doing today? Bring your attention to your heart. How does your heart feel right now? Does it hurt? Is it tight? Is it soft? Is it vulnerable? Does it feel open, expanded? Whatever you feel, however it presents itself to you at this moment, is perfect. Just notice and observe. How is my heart doing today? Give it your attention and your love.

The second check-in question is, is your breath happy? A happy breath is a deep breath, an exaggerated breath, and an expanded breath. Ask yourself a question, in this moment, is my breath happy? Is it deep, is it calm, is it conscious? Or is it shallow, nervous, habitual? Is my breath happy?

The third check-in question is, what is your level of freedom within yourself right now? As you sink into yourself, do you feel free? Or do you feel stuck, trapped, anxious? Your inner freedom will make you feel grounded and peaceful with whatever chaos is unfolding around you. It will help others around you feel free as well. You will emanate contentment, and that is contagious. Are you free in this moment?

The fourth question is, what is my relationship to my impersonal self? My impersonal self is the part of my being that is grounded and connected to the non-dual reality. It is the ground of existence, my fundamental consciousness and the field of endless possibilities. My impersonal self is the essence of my core. It doesn’t have an agenda; it doesn’t have a purpose or an intention. It simply is. What is my relationship to my impersonal self today? Breathe deeply and notice. Don’t try to change anything; just notice. Ask yourself, have I connected with my impersonal self today?

The last question of the check-in is, what is my relationship to my personal self? What are the feelings, emotions, or concerns I sense at the level of my body and in my mind? Is there a story, a narrative, a thought that is painful that keeps coming up today? Honor and love the personal stuff that is in your body today.

Tell your body, show me; I want to see what I need to see, I want to witness it so that it can be loved, and I can help it move, heal, and go home. What is my relationship to my personal self? Am I being kind, understanding, considerate, compassionate to my personal self today?

The Burnout Antidote


People who are experiencing burnout can become discouraged, disillusioned, and even ill.

"I want you to know that you can change your beliefs and tap into a feeling of vibrancy and excitement about your life. You can experience divine self-love."