For those who go above and beyond to care for others’ needs, it’s just as important for them to do the same for themselves. Here are 2 things to help them put their own needs as a priority.
Care-taking often flies under the radar because it’s often assumed to be something good people will do without hesitation. It may even be taken for granted, because a brilliant helper is someone who allows others to keep a healthy distance from their own emotional experiences.
You can easily recognize caretakers, as they often land in volunteer service or choose a profession where they provide emotional support (such as a psychotherapist) in some capacity. On top of that, they may also be a highly attentive parent or best friend.
By remaining focused on the wants and needs of others, a caretaker assumes an emotional toll without even letting on that they are bearing it. As long as someone needs something from them, they’ll likely continue to keep an eye on the other’s needs, and off of their own.
As a result, they are often well-liked and well-respected. After all, they are doing something good for someone else (and nobody’s the wiser about the vat of emotional turmoil churning just below the surface).
And it’s just a matter of time before they burn themselves out, leading to the development of potential mental and physical health issues down the road.
Is this familiar to you?
If this sounds like you or someone you know, here are the two things to be aware of when it comes to supporting someone who is used to taking care of others.
1. Know that it may go way back.
Often times, care-taking behaviors originate further back in life, and possibly even in childhood. When a home, family, parent, or 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, stay emotionally and physically safe, and to be liked and valued within their home.
After all, being quiet, helpful, and compliant tends to earn a lot of praise, regardless of the reasons behind the behaviors. These behaviors are reinforced, establish roots, and over time, these children grow into adults who assume that they are just very caring people (and they are). However, they grow into this role with little context as to how they got there, and what parts of their own may have gotten lost in the process.
2. Challenge them to explore their own needs.
It’s a tricky business to ‘un-care’ a caretaker. Often times, they have difficulty accepting that they are worth the same attention and love as everybody else. Challenging this belief can produce fear, because so much of their identity and self-worth has become tied up in their ability to care for others.
In this instance, it can be helpful to ask that they visualize themselves when they were younger, have them think about the needs and wants of that little person, and explore whether or not it’s true that their little self has needs and wants that are important and valuable. This can be an emotional but invaluable process that helps unearth and reintroduce some of those lost parts.
Self-assertiveness can be practiced by the adult on behalf of their little self, to encourage the recognition that their needs must be cared for too. There is no need to insist that the care-taking stop – it’s about gentle integration of practices in which they care for themselves in addition to caring for others.
Care-takers are among the most empathetic, emotionally intelligent, and sensitive souls among us. Encourage them to shift the focus inward, and help them remember why they’re valued beyond their ability to serve others.
Their little self will thank you.
Adapted from the original article.
Dana Belletiere, LICSW, MSEd, is a licensed therapist serving clients in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, in person and virtually. In her practice, she focuses on helping clients to shape their own narratives, accept and love all parts of themselves, and cultivate an authentic and meaningful life. When she’s not with clients, you can find her writing or reading in a local coffee shop. Learn more about Dana’s work and visit her at www.DanaLICSW.com.