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"How Can I Know When I'm Caring And When I'm Caretaking?"

By Dr. Margaret Paul
November 25, 2014

Knowing the difference between caring and caretaking can sometimes be confusing. Discover how to tell the difference.

Have you sometimes wondered how to know the difference between caring and caretaking? This is the question that Arielle is asking:

"I'm mindful of my over-giving tendency. But often I don't realize I'm caretaking until after the fact when I feel drained. How can I know (before I take the action) when my giving is really caretaking?"

To know the difference, you need to become aware of a number of issues. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Am I giving because I think I 'should' in order to be a good person?
  • Am I giving to be seen by others as a good person?
  • Am I giving because I judge myself as selfish if I don't?
  • Am I giving to get something back – appreciation, approval, attention, love, validation, sex?
  • Am I giving to avoid something – disapproval, rejection, being seen as selfish?
  • Do I have some agenda attached to my giving?
  • Am I giving, or giving myself up, to avoid a conflict?
  • Do I feel empty inside and I'm giving to get the other person to fill me up?
  • Am I giving to feel safe in being indispensible to the other person?
  • Am I giving out of fear?

If you answer 'yes' to any of these questions, then you are caretaking.

If the answer to the following questions is 'yes' then you are caring.

  • Am I giving for the joy of giving, without any expectations or agenda attached?
  • Do I already feel full inside and I'm giving from this full place?
  • Does the act of giving fulfill me?
  • Am I giving because the person I'm giving to is my responsibility – my child, my elderly parent, or a sick person I've agreed to take care of?
  • Am I giving because it feels right in my gut to give?
  • Am I giving because it makes me feel good about myself to give?
  • Am I giving out of love?

The Bottom Line – Your Intent

It comes down to your intent: to control or to love.

When you are caretaking, your intent is to control. There is always an expectation or agenda attached. You are giving to get something back from the other person, or you are giving to be seen by God as a good person. If you believe that God is judgmental, expecting you to meet a certain standard, then you may be giving to ensure yourself a place in heaven.

This giving is manipulative and is not coming from your heart.

When your intent is to love yourself and share your love with others, then your giving is a true expression of your love. You are giving, not because you feel empty and needy of approval, but because you feel full of love that is overflowing.

When you are loving yourself and filling yourself with love through your connection with Spirit, then the love overflows and you receive great joy in giving. You don't need anything back because the very act of giving is so fulfilling to you.

While the action of caring and caretaking often looks the same, the energy of it feels totally different to others - depending on your intent. You can know before you take the action by being aware of whether your intent is to control or to love, and by how you feel inside. You are caretaking when you feel fearful, empty or needy inside, and you are caring when you feel full and loving inside.


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