We socialize women to be caretakers of others. They are trained in these roles by their families, have it modeled by their mothers and the other women in their lives.
Being a caretaker can be a healthy pursuit when the person in question needs to be taken care of. This is certainly the case of young children or those who are sick or injured. But it can be extended to “helping” those that can be taking care of themselves. It can change from being a caregiver to being a caretaker. Giving care is one thing and care-taking is another.
Let’s look at how care-taking can be unhealthy and a drain on the resources of women. Traditionally women and girls are often set in a role of being a peacekeeper and making everyone OK in a family. There are times when it is fine to let others struggle with disappointments, failed relationships, failed tests, etc. and not try to “make them feel better.” It can be beneficial to not fix but allow that hurting family member to struggle with their problems. By doing so you can be helping them find inner resources or reach out to others to help them navigate through to the other shore.
This is not to say you do not help by being a listening ear or sounding board to their struggles. It is more about being present to yourself and noticing what you are feeling and being thoughtful on the way you respond. So, tune in and notice if you are feeling anger at the injustice they have suffered or sad for their loss or disappointment. By doing so you are giving yourself an opportunity to see what is going on for you that might be helpful to the person in the quandary. By possibly feeding back to them what you are feeling you could be helping by letting them be in touch with their own anger or sadness.
Women, as well as men can have co-dependent relationships. Co-dependency is a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s drug addiction, alcohol, lack of mental health or underachievement. There can be an over reliance on others for a sense of identity or approval. It is the outcome of growing up in unhealthy families where that type of behavior was modeling and therefore considered normal. It can be described as over caring. Also seen as over responsibility which can be a positive impulse taken over the top. The person who is co-dependent will do too much for others and overlook their own needs. The other person’s poor functioning can satisfy their own emotional needs to be wanted and needed.
The way out of these unhealthy behaviors it to first become aware of them. By working in individual therapy or in a group therapy process you can examine and explore patterns of your behavior that fit into the co-dependent or excessive care taking. It is an opportunity to look inward to see what is going on for you when others are struggling. Identifying feelings of helplessness, overwhelm or other feeling will help in sorting out what you are needing as you engage with others. You can start by coming up with healthier ways to calm and sooth yourself. Then you can then look at the behaviors and needs of others to see what, if anything, you need to do for them.
It can be the turning point in finding and making your own life the focus for you.