There are times in every relationship when we do activities or chores for another as part of our loving behavior. We may occasionally take out the garbage late at night after our partner has gone to sleep, although it is not our chore. We may stop at the hardware store and pick up that new window glass to save our partner the trip, if we are in the area and have extra time. These type of acts are typical behaviors of people in healthy relationships.
Then there are the other times. Times when we do for others what they can and should be doing for themselves. We are ready for bed. Our partner calls to us from the laundry room that there are no clean uniforms available for the next morning. While our partner goes off to sleep we get up and put in a wash of uniforms. We too have to get up for work in the morning. We feel angry and resentful that we have to compensate for their forgetfulness in not taking care of their laundry. We complain to our partner that they are inconsiderate and irresponsible in leaving the wash for the last minute. An argument ensues. We are caretaking.
The hallmark emotion that alerts us to the difference between caretaking and taking care is anger and resentment. When we are busy doing for others what they can and should be doing for themselves, we have an unspoken agenda. We may call it help, but it really is a form of control. Instead of letting outcomes unfold naturally, we are actively manipulating outcomes to serve our own needs. If our partner had not opted to get up and put in a wash, they might have worn a dirty pair to work the following day. Had we allowed our partner to take responsibility for their own uniforms, we would not have felt angry and resentful, and an argument may have been averted.
When we caretake we create an atmosphere where others feel treated as if they are incompetent. This underlying feeling of incompetence may accurately reflect some of our thoughts. Caretaking and controlling sets up a peculiar energy that others may feel. Our resentment may create tension and anxiety. Our partners irritation with our caretaking and ensuing attitude may also be palpable. We send out mixed messages. Our actions may indicate willingness, but our emotions say otherwise. This dichotomy creates confusion causing effective communication to break down.
When we practice self care we avoid the trap that caretaking creates. We decide whether we wish to comply with requests. If we agree, we do so free of expectations. We are not seeking control, but rather doing what we have been asked out of love. This changes how we experience our choices. We can relax and feel good about ourselves. We can take care of those we love without sacrificing our own self esteem in the process. We can learn to say no when we feel the need. We will come to understand that when we let go and allow others to take care of themselves, they will pick up the slack and make our lives more pleasant. We use our tools to guide us through the maze of requests. In this way we practice self care and increase our self esteem.