The Caretaker

This is the person who takes care of the addict, the guy in prison, the wounded soul (who won’t do therapy), the ill one, the one who was jilted by his ex, the list can go on and on. You know who you are, male or female. I often see the caretaker in therapy and they will mention their role by name. This photo found here on the Internet portrays this role best.

What I often say to this person is: “Who is taking care of you?” The reply so often is a shy “No one.”

It is difficult because the caretaker’s other name is often martyr. Some of the people I have met could truly be called a saint as well. It is amazing what these people have done for others. Yet being a caretaker means we are letting go of ourself. It means that we are sacrificing our needs for the needs of someone else.

Is if fair to you to give up your life for another? What does this mean when you give up on yourself and give to another instead? I see it as a person who has low self-esteem. Often the caretaker is giving to another, what they really wish someone would give to them. It is often so obvious that I will say to the person “You really wish [name of the receiver] would do [this act of service] for you don’t you?” and they will say “Yes.” I will also say “No one was ever able to be there for you as a child and give you [this love, devotion] did they?” and they will say “No.” very sadly.

Caretakers were abused or neglected as children in one way or another. They may have received much love and attention by a grannie or auntie caretaker but because they were abandoned by their mother/father or both need to take care of another – still wishing to have the love they never received from their parent.

Unfortunately the people whom caretakers give to are unable to give back equally what is being received or gladly bestowed upon them. Caretakers generally are dealing with users or takers or if the person is sick, it is impossible for them to return the amount of support being granted to them.

What is important for caretakers, is that they do something to take care of themself. What happens when we give and give is that our body will step in and say “Hold on a minute!” The body begins to collapse from all this weight that the mind has usurped or decided was their burden. This is an example of the mind-body connection. Therefore caretakers will become depressed, eat too much (or choose another vice), and/or develop a dis-ease within. The body will do something to react to all the emotional battering that is being imposed. Think of the suffering couple where both are ill but one is more ill than the other (illness can be anything). This is when the martyr surfaces. “I have [insert illness], but who is going to take care of [insert name], if I am not here, so I have to take care of them anyway, no matter what.” What they are saying is, I am sick but my needs are secondary to that of my loved one.

Is this you? The caretaker is an exhausting role. I have known the caretaker to die before the ill one (or the most neediest). Sometimes this can just be too much for the body. I have known caretakers to go through physical and emotional abuse, just for an addict.

We can’t all be Sister Theresa. It is sweet and altruistic but no one cares. Often the taker or user is so caught up in what you are offering they expect it but they don’t sit in humble gratitude. The more ill person can’t be grateful if they are too sick to think of anything else.

Psychotherapy helps as a first step in healing or at least being conscious of this role we are taking on. Often my caretaker clients have already been to the doctor or psychiatrist if they are ill or in need of psychotropic medications. Caretakers don’t usually neglect their medical needs; they just see them as secondary to the one they are caring for most. It also helps to set aside time for yourself (the caretaker). You need your space, a place to re-organize, strengthen, heal. Victims of abuse rarely get this right and it is more about working toward letting go (separating from the batterer) rather than finding space. No matter what, it is important to acknowledge the role you are taking on and ask for assistance. Even if no one – out there will help you – professionals will. It is our job to support you and help you to know that you are NOT alone.

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