“…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.”