Accept this gift, so I can see myself as giving. ~ Mark Nepo
Caregiving is, by nature, emotional. I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about the pain and wonder of .
If there is one emotion that nearly all dedicated caregivers have in common, its guilt.
We feel guilty for not giving enough when we’ve given all we can; we feel guilty for not being able to make someone “well”, when no one can do that; we feel guilty if the adolescents we are assisting are not happy all the time; we feel guilty when we do something fun for ourselves.
However, if we are there – right there all the time – we have a better chance of feeling that we are doing “”okay.”” When we take a vacation, we suffer more guilt, because we know our being gone will affect the teens we have left behind, and also bring on a type of separation anxiety in ourselves, and perhaps them.
Planning a vacation, and actually enjoying it, will mean coping with your own guilty feelings and coming to peace with the fact that there are others who can fill in while you are gone. If this is not the case – there is something terribly out of balance with the program or school.
The most refreshing piece of advice I have heard lately on raising children comes, curiously enough, from D.H. Lawrence, who wrote in 1918: ”How to begin to educate a child.
First rule: leave him alone. Second rule: leave him alone. Third rule: leave him alone. That is the whole beginning.” Could we be any more different today? Today’s moms and dads are twice as stressed as they were in the 1950s.
Part of this is our own fault: the intense parenting style chosen by the middle class has added to the burden, and misery – since 1965 the amount of time mothers spend on all child-care activities has risen even as more women have entered the workforce.
Caregivers make tremendous personal sacrifice. They have to fight for time alone, down time, peace, and sense of self.
In some way it seems as if the caregiver and the caregivee become one. And the emotional and psychological roller coaster that comes along with that is quite difficult. When you give care you give the person the ability to care for him or herself as much as possible. Caregivers are persons who “care for” themselves and others. Because they take care of themselves, they can choose to give care to another. Caregivers do not get caught up in results.
They do not need to “fix” another.
They can just “be” with another. They take their own actions and refrain from taking away the power of choice from others “for their own good.”
Caregivers empower others to make choices and take actions.
And they celebrate their successes. Caregivers, since they tend to be nonjudgmental, are unconditional in their acceptance of others. One of the things that wear down caregivers is when they become caretakers.
Do you feel inadequate, helpless, and selfish when you are concerned about your own needs?
Do you feel the need to prove yourself as a loving person? Do you feel “it’s me or no one?”
A caretaker places care for another above one’s own welfare.
A caretaker needs to “fix” people — in order to fill the void within. Caretakers burn out quickly.
Caretakers are codependent persons who need to care for another to feel alive.
Caretakers are the people whom others can rely on to be the stable rock, foundation, or support in the system when they get into trouble.
Caretakers bail others out from major problems. When you continue to be a caretaker in your relationships, then you most likely become frustrated over the amount of effort, energy, resources, support, time, and sacrifices you need to put out to help those people who look to you for help. You may take on the role of martyr expressing how awful it is to have so many people’s lives you are responsible for and yet do nothing to change the situation.
You might also encourage a number of people to become overly dependent on you, thus increasing your stress and anxiety with such responsibility solely on you.
You might enjoy the power and control. Are you working harder and harder to make things right and yet don’t seem to be succeeding since there are always new problems needing your attention and support? Do you perhaps see yourself as a generous, benevolent and philanthropic individual?
Do you become angry, outraged, and resent the “freeloading” of others on you and yet enjoy the sense of helping others?
Are you not able to let go of the “freeloaders” in your life?
It may become a never-ending cycle, where you sense that no matter how much you do for others it is never good enough to correct the situation and feel compelled to give more and more. Caretaking may cause you to become socially isolated when people are drawn to you not for who you are, but rather for what you can do for them. You may experience a grave depression when you realize that no matter how much you give others you are constantly in a struggle to gain their unconditional love.
Even worse, you question if they would love you if you had nothing to give them but you – the person.
You may also experience a worsening of your low self-esteem when you recognize that your worth is based conditionally on what you do for others rather than on what you are as a person. People, whom you take care of can become overly dependent on your nurturance, care and support so much so that they lose the inherent capability to control their own lives. You open yourself up to be manipulated to care for others who hide behind the mask of helplessness to hook you to do what they want you to do for them. It can often be a mask behind which you hide to avoid having to deal with the problems or issues that are out of control in your life. On the surface it looks so generous, giving and noble to be a caretaker when in reality you are a dependent person who needs needy people to give you identity and a reason for being.
By use of favors, gifts, loans, inheritance and other caretaker tactics you manipulate others to give you the affection, approval, honor, respect, admiration, and acceptance you need so badly.
Some examples of irrational care-taking thinking might include the belief that you have value only when people need you, or that the people in your life can’t survive without you.
That you care for them because they love you and you just can’t stand for them to fail or get into trouble. You might believe that when they’re unsuccessful, it’s your fault or that people expect you to care for them and you can’t let them down.
Or, you may believe that you’re the only stable person around.
Other irrational thinking might include believing that it’s easier to caretake than to clean up any mess afterward as well as the belief that people will no longer care for you if you stop. Or you might believe that you have more experience and are wiser than they are, so they need your resources, help and advice to get them through this problem. You may believe that it’s your responsibility to prevent other people from hurting and suffering pain.
Identify the people in your life for whom you currently feel the need to be a caretaker. Clarify what you do as a caretaker for these people / or this person or what you feel you need to do. Identify why you feel the need to do these things for this person. Analyze if these reasons are rational, healthy and based on reality.
Then develop healthier, more rational reasons not to be a caretaker for this person.
Identify what your feelings are concerning this person and how you would feel if you no longer felt a need to do caretaker actions for this person.
Acknowledge how rational, healthy and realistic these feelings are. Identify new, more healthy, realistic and rational feelings you can have after ceasing the need to be a caretaker for this person. Help yourself by using such statements as:
- “By letting people take care of themselves, I am allowing them to grow self-confident, competent and self-sufficient.”
- “I am a good person and do not need to do things for people for me to have worth or value.”
- “I am not responsible for others’ failures, mistakes, losses, or lack of success. I am responsible only for me.”
- “I am now living my life more fully for myself and feel more freedom from anxiety, stress, panic, and fear.”
- “It is OK to let people be responsible for their own lives even when they fail, make a mistake, or do not succeed in the process.”
Answer the following questions to determine if you are a caretaker.
These questions focus primarily on your feelings regarding other people’s behavior.
- How do you deal with a situation in which someone in your life is experiencing a problem, disaster, failure or loss?
- How do you feel when you realize that other people need you for what you do for them?
- How would you feel if people no longer turned to you to fix problems for them?
- How do you feel when you are told that you are dependent on the people who are dependent on you to need and to be cared for by you?
- How do you feel when you realize that others have become dependent on you?
- How do you feel about altering your thinking, feelings and behaviors to cease your need to be a caretaker?
If you are a caretaker of a person, it is important that you switch to being a caregiver; one who gives the person as much responsibility as he/she can manage. The more responsibility they assume, the faster their attitude changes, and the faster they let themselves to be in a state of well-being. Here are some key differences between caretaking and caregiving:
- Caretakers start fixing when a problem arises. Caregivers respectfully wait to be asked to help.
- Caretakers start fixing when a problem arises for someone else. Caregivers empathize fully, letting the other person know they are not alone and lovingly asks, “What are you going to do about that?”
- Caretakers tend to be dramatic in their caretaking and focus on the problem. Caregivers can create dramatic results by focusing on the solutions.
- Caretakers worry. Caregivers take action and solve problems.
- Caretaking creates anxiety and/or depression in the caretaker. Caregiving decreases anxiety and/or depression in the caregiver.
- Caretaking feels stressful, exhausting and frustrating. Caregiving feels right and feels like love. It re-energizes and inspires you.
- Caretaking crosses boundaries. Caregiving honors them.
- Caretaking takes from the person or gives with strings attached. Caregiving gives freely.
- Caretakers tend to be judgmental. Caregivers don’t see the logic in judging others and practice a “live and let live attitude.”
- Caretakers don’t practice self-care because they mistakenly believe it is a selfish act. Caregivers practice self-care unabashedly because they know that keeping themselves happy enables them to be of service to others.
- Caretakers don’t trust others’ abilities to care for themselves. Caregivers trust others enough to allow them to activate their own inner guidance and problem solving capabilities.
- Caretakers think they know what’s best for others. Caregivers only know what’s best for themselves.
- Caretakers tend to attract needy people. Caregivers tend to attract healthy people. Caregivers tend to attract people who are slightly above their own level of education, knowledge and mental health.
- Caretakers us the word “You” a lot. Caregivers say “I” more.