The Catch-22 of Being a Caretaker

I think most of you would agree that nothing is life is all black or all white, though for many people, it feels like there is only one side to a situation. Rather, most things in life fall into a gray area.

Of course, when people only see one aspect of a situation, I believe it can cause them to get stuck in potential difficulties. As an old parable goes, it’s important to be able to see all parts of the elephant to understand with what it is you’re dealing.

Being a caretaker, I believe, takes a special person. It’s not easy to put yourself out for others. It often means putting aside your needs to care for another.

Today, this term is often associated with someone who’s taking care of another person who’s chronically ill. A lot’s written about what a stressful situation this is. Indeed, it is. Basically, such a person is now responsible for the welfare of two people — the person who’s ill and for him or herself.

As such, the demands become overwhelming and often lead to a condition called burnout. It’s not atypical for this person to predecease the sick individual. It’s often suggested that the caretaker make sure that he or she is taking measures for self-care as well.

But caretakers are not limited to this type of scenario only. In general, there are individuals who make sure they are available to others in times of need. They go out of their way to ensure that the comfort and well-being of others are provided for. This can be done through acts of kindness or providing emotional support. They are the ones who are there whenever needed.

I started to think more carefully about these “heroic” individuals recently as a result of both a personal experience with a friend and hearing a story from a client. I would classify both as caretakers.

When it comes to their needs, they have trouble asking for assistance. Not only that … they have difficulty taking the assistance when it’s offered. Not atypical of other patterns in our adult lives, it seems that the caretaking role is really a result of a pattern learned in childhood that’s been carried over.

For these individuals, and I’d guess for others like them, it’s far easier to give of themselves than to take. In fact, it’s downright uncomfortable for them to be on the receiving end. My best guess is that, as children, they weren’t accustomed to getting from their parents and so, it’s hard to do so as adults.

But … this really does make for a Catch-22, I believe. It’s hard to always be giving and not getting back. Eventually, it has to feel like you’re getting used or ripped off. It has to lead to a sense of “not fair.”

I’ll go even one step further … as the friend of a person like this, it feels really uneasy to me to never sense that I can do for her. My experience of our friendship is that it is unbalanced.

So, caretakers, as a gift for yourself … allow yourself to be take care of – at least once in a while!