Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sabotage: Crossing the Line From Taking Care to Caretaking

How do we know if we are sabotaging our relationship? How can we determine if our actions are crossing the line from taking care to caretaking?

Co-dependency has been roughly defined as a condition which develops within us as a result of living with dysfunctional people outside of normal boundaries for an extended period of time. That definition, although specific, is general enough to allow a vast variety of dysfunctions to fall into the category of creating co-dependency. We can develop co-dependent characteristics as a result of being care givers to elderly parents, living with a disabled family member, having a partner who is an addict (alcohol, food, drugs, gambling, sex, etc., etc.), being subjected to extreme fear (post 9/11 trauma) or horrific violence (murder of a family member, rape, abuse, military service). There are many other obvious ways we can develop co-dependency, but what about the more subtle indications?

Overall we can say with accuracy that when we are doing for someone else what they can and should be doing for themselves, we are behaving as caretakers. That is the hallmark of co-dependency.

Why is caretaking a problem? Because the underlying message isn't help... no, it's incompetence. When we do for others what they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves we are telling them by our actions that we don't believe they are capable of self care. They don't feel good about what we are doing and act accordingly. They are ungrateful and annoyed with us for our interference. We feel hurt. We tried to hard to take care of the situation and have not gotten what we expected in return, appreciation. That is because the meta-message is felt clearly by the recipient... you are incapable!

Additionally, there is another matter involved in caretaking. Manipulation. We are taking action to force a particular result. We are not actually focused on what's best for the other party, we are focused on what we would like to have as an outcome. That message, although we try our best to pretend we are angelic in our role, comes through loud and clear as well. The recipient doesn't really know why they feel uncomfortable about what we are doing, but they sense something isn't right.

We must learn to let go of outcomes and find a way to let the universe unfold naturally. If we feel uncomfortable not controlling, we use our tools to decrease our stress and practice self care. In the end we will triumph in our relationship if we allow our partner to take care of themselves as we do the same.
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