“Caring for” Someone or “Care taking” Someone Makes a Big Difference

“…teach us to care, and not to care and to be still…” ~ T.S. Eliot

Last week I was honored to be invited to speak to about a hundred folks at a Co-dependents Anonymous (CoAD) meeting in California. I told them, among other things, that one way I continue to work with my own and my clients’ tendencies to put other people’s needs and feelings before my own to my detriment and exhaustion is to keep making the distinction between “caring for” someone and “care taking” someone.

While I explain the differences more fully in my new book, The Flying Boy Letters: Getting Back to Y’all 30 Years Later, I want to give a shorter version here —” Care taking” is usually done out of a sense of obligation or duty. We feel like we don’t have a choice, and anytime there is the feeling of choice-less-ness, there is likely going to be some regression involved where we are hurled back to childhood when we didn’t have a lot of choices.

“Caring for” is most often going to leave us feeling grateful that we can be of help and support while “care-taking” is tiring, exhausting and, more often than not, creates some resentment and even anger because we would rather be doing something else with our limited time and energy. “Caring for” leaves us energized, fulfilled, and even joyful. We feel like compassionate adults who consciously make a decision to comfort, nurture, help or be there for someone in some kind of way.

Most of us were raised with the terrible notion that because someone is biologically related to us that we must or are supposed to “take care” of them even if it is draining us and keeping us from living our lives. Also, interestingly, the one receiving the “care-taking” can feel “one down,” infantilized, patronized, and less than the one providing “care taking” and often are guilty of feeling little or no gratitude.

“Caring for” comes out of compassion and love, and “care taking” comes out of guilt – trying to be a “people pleaser.”

 Novelist Eleanor Brown wrote, “Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”


From Rescuing to Resentment

“He was so angry at me you would have thought I had tried to help him.” Harry Stack Sullivan, M.D.

Look, I’ve certainly done my share of rescuing men, women, and a variety of small and large animals. The animals were all very grateful. But rescuing people is not a good idea. I have one friend recently who I gave a home, career, and money and she won’t speak to me after six years of what I thought was deep friendship.

When I was much younger, I tried to rescue my family from the emotional and physical abuse we all received. That didn’t go so well either. It took me well into my late thirties before I finally got it that no one in my family wanted to be preached to and be in my congregation and likewise none of them signed up to be my students.

“Okay,” you say, “but why are people that we try to rescue so angry at us?”

When we rescue and ride in on our milky-white stallions and our not-so-shiny armor we are explicitly and implicitly implying they are not competent to handle situations or people. It appears to the “rescuee” that we are more intelligent, wise, and that they need us because they lack the internal resources to handle their own lives.

Rescuing adults emotionally, financially, spiritually, physically, and intellectually is very close to “care-taking.”

There are huge differences between “care-taking” and “care-giving.”

“Care-taking” – “I don’t really want to go home for Christmas, but it is my duty or obligation.” “What would people think if I didn’t quit my job and take care of my ailing father?” “What if I refused to bake cookies for the first-grade class?”

“Care-taking,” unless you’re being paid or otherwise reimbursed for your efforts, more often than not leaves us drained, exhausted, and takes most of our energy, and guess what? Resentment is felt by both the one who receives “care-taking” and the one giving it.

Now, “care-giving” is a whole different ballgame. “Care-giving” comes out of compassion, generosity, and love. “Care-giving” leaves us energized; we feel good about ourselves. The one we care for ends up feeling respected, with their dignity intact and usually very grateful. There is no resentment on anyone’s part. When we care for the people we love, we do so with our boundaries and limits and health.

“Care-taking” says, “Listen to me; I know best.” “Care-giving” says, “Take my hand, we can get through this together.”

So, who do you “care-take” or try to rescue and who do you “care-for?”