Care-taking: The Hidden AddictionBy Rythea Lee Kaufman
December 31, 2006
Many of us do not know the difference between caring and care-taking, between loving ourselves and giving ourselves up. Learn about the addiction to care-taking in this insightful article.
Care-taking can be an insidious pattern. It can look like we are being loving, giving, selfless, productive, or spiritual when really care-taking is based on fear. Many of us have learned to give to others as a way to feel safe. We focus on someone's pain or problem and if we can be useful or helpful, we feel good about ourselves. Underneath the compulsion to give advice or give a hand, we feel a profound sense of helplessness, emptiness, or other feelings we will do anything to avoid. Ultimately, the definition of care-taking is putting someone else's needs before our own and mistaking that for love.
When I was growing up, my mother had chronic headaches and lower back pain. In order to get any attention from her, I had to first try and make her feel better so she could then focus on me. I learned to counsel her and even give her bodywork in order to connect with her. As you might imagine, I became addicted to helping her as a way to feel close. As I grew up, I thought that taking care of people would keep me bonded to them. Beneath the constant helping was an overwhelming terror and loneliness. In truth, I felt my mother's pain as life threatening to me. My experience of emotional and physical neglect became high-pitched whenever my mother was hurting. As I matured into adulthood, I continued to feel that level of fear when I saw people in pain. This was just one aspect of my care-taking training. I also learned to focus on my abusive father day in and day out rather than take care of myself. I got messages from movies, television, and the culture at large, that women and girls were meant for service.
As a therapist, I witness care-taking as a common, sometimes deadly addiction among my clients. People become so programmed to "give", they find themselves profoundly drained and in some cases, physically ill. Breaking this addiction cannot be underestimated. It is an addiction that keeps people alive as children and seems life-threatening to quit.
The care-taking pattern is fraught with false beliefs: "If I don't put my kids first, I'm a terrible parent", "If I was truly loving to my wife, I would be there when she needs me", "I have to help sick people because no one helped me when I was sick", etc. I've noticed kicking the care-taking addiction takes some serious Inner Bonding diligence. The Inner Child needs huge amounts of love and re-parenting. It takes daily connection to Guidance and getting the truth about self-care and loving action. The power of this pattern often seems baffling. It can feel like getting off a hard-core drug. People hit bottom with care-taking the way they do with substances; sickness, imploded emotions, resentment, and depression sets in. The body cannot function happily without true spiritual and emotional care.
Even if you think you feel fine, notice your interactions with people. Do you constantly give advice? Do you get very involved in other people's problems? Do you spend your days doing, doing, doing, without really slowing down and making loving choices? Do you feel deprived of getting love back but keep giving, hoping it will fill you? Do you attract people into your life who aren't taking care of themselves? Do you make promises to yourself that you never keep? Are you sitting on old hopes and dreams but never get to them? All these patterns are part of the care-taking addiction and are worth taking a good look at.
In the past couple of years, I've put my focus on this issue and have learned so much about what love truly is. Now, when I care-take, which means trying to control someone else in order to not have to feel my own feelings, I instantly get drained. It takes about 1 second and I'm completely pooped. My body won't allow this pattern any more and as soon as I feel this drained feeling, I think "Ok, what feelings am I avoiding?" Usually, I feel helpless or lonely. If I notice this then I hold my Inner Child in my mind and tell her we are safe. If I really feel uncomfortable, I disconnect from whomever I am with and go take care of my little girl.
The reward of changing this pattern is a huge boost of energy and peace. I've noticed with my clients, as they stop focusing on everyone else's needs, they begin to discover their passions and dreams. They make choices to exercise, take time off, and do creative activities. Their physical health becomes priority and their resentment towards others begins to dissipate. When I or my clients commit to the path of self-love and self-care, only then can true giving and sharing begin. We cannot give love when we are empty, drained or trying to control. We can only give love from a full, joyful, safe place within ourselves.
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Focus on anyone you are angry at. Let yourself voice your anger out loud but not at the person. Now turn it around and let your inner child say the same thing to you, listening with openness and compassion. Whoever you are angry at can become your teacher for becoming aware of how you may be abandoning yourself.
By Dr. Margaret Paul