Many people are lucky enough to have a “responsible friend” – the one who organizes day trips, volunteers to be designated driver, and makes sure everyone’s hydrated after a night of drinking. This friend could be a natural caretaker or a caregiver.
The two may sound the same, but there’s a sharp difference when you look closer. Counselor Elizabeth Kupferman says, “I view caretaking and caregiving on a continuum. We usually aren’t doing both at the same time.”
A caregiver is someone who’s happy to help when asked. She does favors because she wants to. Caregiving is an expression of kindness and love.
Caretaking, on the other hand, comes from a less happy and secure place. A caretaker will often cast herself into situations out of self-imposed obligation and a need to be in control. Often she’s disgruntled about putting the needs of others before her own.
She’s frequently disgruntled about putting the needs of others before her own, but feels she doesn’t deserve to be a priority. Instead, she’s likely to keep her mouth shut and let the resentment build because she’s so conditioned to living this way.
If you sense that your form of caring may be the latter, it’s important that you examine the reason why you’re like this. Not only is it not always good for your friendships, it’s not good for you – and that’s what’s most important.
It’s also useful to stop and reevaluate whether one of your friends may be living unhappily in Caretaker Central. Has she ever insisted on driving an hour to pick you up at the airport, only to make a grumpy remark about it three weeks later?
Here are a few telltale signs that someone is a caretaker:
- They volunteer to help you with things before you ask, and are borderline insistent about it
- They’ve shown signs of resentment after helping you or bring up what a good friend they are in times of disagreement or argument
- If you tell them about a problem you have, they talk about the problem itself more than potential solutions
- They always think they know what’s best for you even if you’re not asking for advice
- They frequently seem stressed and don’t prioritize their well-being
By kindly pointing out a friend’s caretaker tendences, you could be doing her a big favor – as long as you’re strategic about the way you approach the topic and are careful not to put her on the defensive.
It’s hard to take a look at what’s really bothering us, but good friends can act as mirrors. Seeing our true reflections for the first time can often be the first step on a new path to behavior that honors self-care. Self-care can lead to a happier life for a Vina and all the people around her.
If you’re ever in doubt, here’s the rule of thumb: the healthier and happier your relationship, the more you are caregiving rather than caretaking. You’ll also start to attract healthier people who you can build more fulfilling relationships with. In the meantime, remember that modeling caregiving for others is to give a huge gift to your friends.
(Feature image via @lifewithjulianna)