Caretaking doesn’t seem as though it could be a form of addiction. You are, after all, seeing after the well being of another.
If you’re taking care of someone else you no doubt believe you’re being loving, yet experts say you may actually be motivated by taking care of yourself.
Margaret Paul, PhD, a relationship expert, says she was a caretaker to her husband, parents, and children, believing she was being loving.
But she was “stunned” to learn that caretaking is a form of control. “Much of the time I wasn’t giving for the joy if it — I was giving to have control over getting approval,” she writes.
If an expert can fall into the trap, it shows how easily you can fall into it.
Caretaking and addiction control can be difficult to manage, Paul says, because caretaking, rather than caregiving, “is doing something for others with an ulterior motive or outcome in mind — they will love us, approve of us, give us attention, give us money and so on. It is giving in order to get something back, as opposed to giving for the joy of giving.
When we give from this “ego wounded self,” it’s a form a manipulation because there’s always the expectation that someone will give something back, no matter their condition.
Caretaking, Paul says, is a form of covert control compared to anger, which is overt control. That makes caretaking much more subtle. “It is a form of making others responsible for your worth and security, and is one of the ways codependency gets acted out,” she says.
Underneath the compulsion to lend a hand “we feel a profound sense of helplessness, emptiness, or other feelings we will do anything to avoid. Ultimately, the definition of caretaking is putting someone else's needs before our own and mistaking that for love,” Rythea Lee Kaufman writes.
A psychotherapist, Kaufman too fell into addiction in the form of caretaking for her mother, who had chronic headaches and lower back pain. To get any attention from her, Kaufman had to first try and “make her feel better so she could then focus on me.”
“As you might imagine, I became addicted to helping her as a way to feel close,” Kaufman says. “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.”
Kaufman says caretaking is a common, sometimes deadly form of addiction among her clients. Many become seriously drained and, in some cases, physically ill.
To kick the habit the “inner child” needs love and re-parenting. She says it can feel like “getting off a hard core drug.”
“People hit bottom with caretaking 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,” Kaufman says.
It becomes important that if you have issues with control addiction, you examine your motivation for helping people, says, Rochelle Craig, a UK drug and alcohol counselor.
“It is important to remember that we are talking about addictive behavior, we are talking about extremes, and we are talking about situations where the compulsive helper is so absorbed with helping others that they lose their own identity,” Craig tells Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trend University.
Craig adds that recovery is about self-discovery, self-improvement, and “building on self-esteem without relying on constantly helping others.”
Self-care comes first, she says, while genuine acts of kindness have to be distinguished from compulsive helping. It is about self-care first and everyone else second, she says.
“Most importantly, it is learning to say no.”
August 11, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN