Are You Caring or Caretaking?

Taking care of others may appear to be a noble cause. Caretaking of children, elders, those who are ill and/or unable to take care of themselves falls upon us at different stages in life.

However, we rarely take the time to stop and pay attention to the difference between an act of caring and caretaking. Many of us were trained as children to take care of everyone else. As adults we get caught in the caretaking habit. After a while resentment builds and we get angry when asked to do anything.

How do you tell the difference? Take a moment; close your eyes with your feet flat on the floor. Take three deep slow breaths into your stomach, inhaling deeply and exhaling all the air out. Think back to the last time you did something for someone else just because you wanted to; it made you feel really good just to help out. For example, you made chicken soup for a friend who was ill or you surprised someone you care about with flowers. Visualize that situation and pay attention to the feeling in your body. You might feel very relaxed, have energy racing through your body and/or that your chest and heart are open. You feel present.

Now, take three more deep breaths. Picture a time when you did something for someone out of obligation or because you expected something back from them. For example, you drove a family member to the airport even though you had an important date you had to rearrange. As you recall this situation, notice what is going on in your body. You might feel numb, tightness, pressure or pulling on your chest. You feel not really there or stuck in your head.

We often know in our body, the difference between an act of caring which opens our heart and an act of caretaking which numbs us out. The next time someone asks you to do something, check in with your body. If it doesn’t feel right, say no or find a way to do it that makes you feel good.

— Darlene Basch LCSW

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