Caring vs Care-taking

Are you a caring person or a care-taker?

Is there a difference?   Yes!  There is a big difference!  When we care about another person, we experience feelings of empathy and love toward that person.  It’s effortless and natural.  Care-taking on the other hand is something we do to avoid conflict with another person or to gain their approval.  One way we act this out is when we hear ourselves saying “YES” to a request while our entire being is silently screaming “NO”.   Afterwards, we begrudgingly follow through and do what we promised to do which generally results in feelings of resentment and anger toward ourselves and the other person.

If being a care-taker is what you find yourself doing, you probably learned this behavior as a child.  By observing the adults around us in our family, church or school we have picked up some very good ways to behave in the world, but we have also picked up some not so effective. habits.    The message many of us received growing up, is that we should always put  the needs of others first and sacrifice our own needs.  Sometimes it’s okay to make a sacrifice… for example, it’s perfectly okay to give the last scoop of chocolate ice cream to your best friend when you were saving it for yourself, as long as you don’t get angry at your friend for accepting it.

The sacrifices I am talking about, are more serious, the ones that involve giving up your dreams, your authentic self or changing your plans to get approval or to keep someone from getting upset with you.

Often, we jump in and rescue or take care of people who are completely capable of taking care of themselves and sometimes they haven’t even asked for our help.  Care-takers don’t just “help”, they “take over” and do whatever they think needs to be done.   For example, let’s imagine you have an adult child who is careless with money or or sabotages themselves at work.    Your child loses his job or runs out of money and asks you for financial help or a place to live until they can get back on their feet.   No one wants to see their close family members struggle, but there are ways to help that empower the unemployed son or daughter to find employment.  There are also ways that keep them dependent upon us.   When we jump in and rescue someone who doesn’t truly need to be rescued, we take away their power.  In fact, we are sending a clear message to that person that we don’t believe they are capable of taking care of themselves.  Care-takers empower themselves, they don’t empower others.

Most of us honestly want to “help”.  Our hearts and desires are in the right place, but we don’t realize we may be causing more harm than good.  If you have a tendency to be a care-taker or people-pleaser and you find yourself feeling bitter and used, there are some steps you can take to become more of a caring person and less of a care-taker.

  • When a non-urgent request is made of you, ask the person if you can get back to them with your answer.  When the pressure is off to answer immediately, you have more time to “check in” with yourself to find out whether you want to say “yes” or “no”.
  • If you think someone may need help with a situation or issue, ask them if they would like your help.  If they say “no”, respect their response and give them space to handle it on their own.
  • If your assistance is requested, before you jump in and start helping, objectively evaluate the situation and find a way to help that empowers the other person.  One that does not impose your idea of how things should be handled.  If you’re not sure, ask them how you can be most helpful to them.


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