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Caretaking: A Covert Form of Narcissism

By Dr. Margaret Paul
October 10, 2011

Caretaking is NOT the opposite of narcissism!

I used to think that caretaking was the opposite of narcissism. I thought that narcissists were people who demanded that others give themselves up to care-take the narcissist. I thought that caretakers were people who were programmed to take care of others instead of themselves. I thought that caretakers needed some healthy narcissism and that takers/narcissists needed more compassion for others.

Now I know that there is a bit more to it. Caretakers do give themselves up to take care of others, but underneath their caretaking, they have the same agenda as the narcissist - to be taken care of by the other person.

The kind of narcissism I'm talking about here is about making another person responsible for your feelings and needs.

We all have this kind of narcissism in our ego wounded selves. The wounded self believes that our good feelings come from getting love, rather than from being loving with ourselves and others.

For many years, caretaking was my primary addiction. I righteously believed that I was being loving when I was sacrificing myself to meet others' needs. I firmly believed that, since I was sacrificing myself for them - for my parents, husband, and children - they 'should' sacrifice themselves for me. When they didn't, I was hurt and angry.

It was easy for me to see them as narcissistic and entitled, since their demanding was fairly overt. But it was extremely difficult for me to see myself as narcissistic, since my demands were so covert.

Now I know that anytime I expect someone else to take responsibility for my feelings and needs, I'm coming from my narcissistic wounded self. Now I know that 'nice' is not the same as loving, and that anytime I'm giving to get something back, I'm coming from my narcissistic wounded self. I have found this awareness to be very helpful.

The way that it will be helpful to you is if you do not judge your narcissism. Unfortunately, this word is often linked with 'wrong' or 'bad.' I don't see it as wrong or bad - just as misguided and wounded. It doesn't help me bring love and joy into my heart or peace into my soul. It doesn't help to create loving relationships.

"I Can't Do It"

Often, when I ask my caretaking clients why they keep on trying to get someone else to love them with their caretaking, rather than love themselves, what they say to me is, "I can't do it. I don't know how."

I know that if they were to decide to treat themselves the way they attempt to treat others, they would know exactly how. Caretaking people need to be as kind to themselves as they appear to be to others!

The wounded self in both takers and caretakers believes we can't take loving care of ourselves. And it's true - the child or adolescent wounded self can't. It's not the responsibility of your wounded self to take care of your feelings and needs. It's the job of your loving Adult.

As a loving Adult, you are connected with your powerful and wise higher self. This aspect of you IS capable of taking care of your feelings and needs, and of reaching out to others when you need help.

Asking for help to take care of your feelings and needs is NOT at all the same thing as making another responsible for you. We all need help at times, and needing help does not make us needy. Neediness occurs when we abdicate responsibility for our feelings and needs and either demand that another do it for us (narcissistic taker), or covertly expect it through our caretaking (narcissistic caretaker).

We are not islands unto ourselves. We all need help, love and caring from others. But it's one thing to ask for help to take care of ourselves, and quite another to try to get someone else to do it for us. When this is the case, this means that the narcissistic wounded self is in charge.


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