Care-taking often flies under the radar because it’s a thing that Good people do. It’s also a brilliant helper in that it allows us to keep a healthy distance from our own emotional experiences by remaining focused on the wants and needs of others. As long as someone needs something from us, we can keep our eyes on their inner stuff and off of ours. And BONUS! of bonuses – we are well-liked and well-respected because we are doing something Good for someone else, and no one is the wiser about the vat of volcanic emotional turmoil churning just below our surface.
A troubled childhood (sometimes) nurtures a Master care-taker. When a home/family/parent/sibling is unstable, children learn very quickly to put their own needs and wants behind those of others. They learn to meet the needs of those around them in order to survive, to stay emotionally and physically safe, and to be liked and valued within their home (Quiet and Helpful and Compliant tend to earn a lot of praise, regardless of the reasons behind them). These behaviors, reinforced, establish roots, and over time the children grow into adults who assume that they are just very Caring people (and they are), with little context as to how they got there and what Parts of them may have gotten lost in the process.
It’s a tricky business to un-care a care-taker. Often they do not accept that they are worth the same attention and love as everybody else, and challenging this belief can produce Fear, as so much identity and self-worth has become tied up in the care-taking. In this instance, it can be helpful for a therapist to ask that they visualize themselves when they were little, and to have them think about the needs and wants of that little person, and explore whether or not it might be true that their little self’s needs and wants are Important and Valuable. This can be an emotional process, but is also invaluable, as it helps unearth and reintroduce some of those lost Parts.
In this way, self-assertiveness can be practiced by the adult on behalf of their little self (ie, “Yes, my little self’s wants and needs are Important and Valuable, and deserve to be heard and met”). When this process begins, there is no need to insist upon a stop to the care-taking – eventually, there is just a gentle integration of caring for Self in addition to caring for others. Care-taking finds it’s own channel as Self-care takes priority, landing in volunteer service. Or being a great parent. Or becoming a therapist. Lots of avenues here.
Care-takers are among the most empathetic, emotionally intelligent, and sensitive souls among us. For those of us that are Masters, I posit that there is much more to us than our ability to care-take. I encourage a shift of focus inward… your little self will thank you.