She’s sucking the life out of me!

Dear Lisa,

I have been reading up on the concept of Caretaking vs Caregiving and I am cartaking for an individual in my family. It has become extremely exhausting for me and it has made me dread talking to this family member. I realize that I am responsible for the caretaking and that I need to stop. Since this family member and I are very close, how can I change the caretaking into caregiving so that we can have a healthier and more meaningful relationship?

–Takes Two ( ♀ Saskatoon)


Dear Takes Two,

For those to whom the distinction is yet unknown, the difference between Caretaking and Caregiving is pretty simple. When we Care-Take for someone, we have an expectation of something in return – that the person receiving the caretaking changes, appreciates us, needs us. The act of Care-Giving is without expectation, it is truly giving what we have to give; no strings attached, no agenda.

I recommend a couple of things to help you deepen your relationship in a healthy way. The first is to observe your tendency to caretake (and be taken care of! It goes both ways.) in all of your relationships and identify where this behavior occurs. For example, do you caretake to make yourself feel more comfortable about another person’s situation? Or when you are tired of talking about the same problem over and over? Or maybe when you have tried to listen patiently and the other person seems to expect or want you to do something about their situation? They key here is observation; just notice when it happens. As you get better at observing, you will start to notice yourself doing it right in the moment that it is happening.

When you get to the point of noticing your caretaking in the moment, then start to close your mouth and open your ears as often as possible. Here is a little script I got from a midwife I studied with that works really well when I feel the need to unleash my inner caretaker.

You: ‘What’s up?’ then listen.
You: ‘Oh ya… tell me more?/What else is going on?’ then listen.
You: ‘Are you sure?’ then listen.
You: ‘So, what do you think?’ then listen.
You: ‘Ya!’

The script works, and it’s proof that when someone confides in us, it isn’t for us to fix it. It is to them to hear themselves more clearly. Help your family member hear his/herself. If you are interested in exploring this idea of deep listening further, I recommend taking a Compassionate Listening course.

– Lisa



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