Image Image

S2 EP173 – Addiction to Caretaking

Episode Summary

Caretaking is an addiction – giving to get something back rather than giving for the joy of it.  Is your addiction to caretaking stopping you from knowing yourself and knowing what you want? Learn the difference between caring, caregiving, and caretaking and discover the various ways you might be caretaking. 


Hi everyone! Dr. Margaret Paul here with the Inner Bonding Podcast. Today I’m talking about caretaking, and differentiating between caretaking, caregiving, and caring and giving.

Caretaking is doing something for others with an outcome in mind, such as that they will love you, approve of you, give you attention, give you money, have sex with you, and so on. It is giving to get something back, as opposed to giving for the joy of giving. Caretaking always has an agenda attached, as opposed to caregiving and true giving. Caregiving is taking care of someone who cannot take care of themselves, such as a child or an old or sick person whom you have agreed to take care of. True giving is giving from the heart with no expectation of getting anything back. It’s giving purely from love.

When we give from our wounded self, we are always giving to get something in return. This form of giving is manipulative because it always has an expectation attached of what the other should give back to us. We believe others owe us when we give from our wounded self, and we may feel angry and used when we don’t get back what we expect. Whether we are giving compliments, attention, money, sex, time, food, presents, and so on – if we have an expectation of how the other should respond to our giving, we are caretaking. Caretaking is a form of covert control, as opposed to anger, which is a form of overt control. While both caretaking and anger have an agenda attached, anger is obvious while caretaking is subtle. Caretaking is just another way of making another responsible for your worth and security, that is, “If I give to others what they want, they will give me the love and approval I need.” It’s one way codependency gets acted out.

We are being caretakers when we ignore our own feelings and instead take on responsibility for another’s pain and joy. Instead of taking responsibility for our own wellbeing, we ignore our own feelings – putting our inner child in a closet, and instead taking care of another’s inner child. As a caretaker, you likely believe that if you are loving enough to the other person, they will take your inner child out of the closet and be loving to you.

Caretakers have a hard time spotting takers. Caretakers tend to think that others are like them and are often shocked and hurt when this is not true.

How do you caretake?

Be sure you do not judge yourself as you listen to the following list, because self-judgment always gets in the way of learning.

  • Do you make others wants, needs and feelings more important than you own?
  • Are you often overly nice?
  • Do you give gifts with strings attached?
  • Have you made yourself emotionally or financially indispensable?
  • Do you flatter or give false compliments?
  • Do you have sex when you’re not turned on?
  • Do you give in, giving yourself up and go along the with things you don’t really want to do?
  • Do you not ask for what you want, putting aside what you want?
  • Do you agree with others’ points of view just to keep the peace?
  • Are you a people pleaser?
  • Do you try to fix or rescue others?
  • Do you censor what you say about what you want and feel?
  • Do you second-guess and anticipate what others want?
  • Do you put yourself down, keeping yourself limited so others will feel superior?

When we give from the loving adult, we are giving for the pure pleasure it gives us to give with no expectation of how another should respond. Others do not owe us when we give from the heart. We receive in the act of the giving and do not need anything back to feel fulfilled.

While caretaking may look loving, loving never has an agenda. It’s a pure gift of love.

Often, in relationships, you might be a caretaker sometimes and a taker at other times, depending on the issue. Perhaps you give yourself up and have sex when you don’t want to, or caretake your partner’s feelings, in exchange for being taken care of financially.

Takers and caretakers have a way of finding each other. Takers easily spot other takers and often don’t like them, or are even repelled by them. They like caretakers. Caretakers often enjoy other caretakers, but since takers are often charismatic people and pursue caretakers, the chemistry between takers and caretakers can be more intense than between two caretakers.

Takers and caretakers are like two sides of the same coin – both are abandoning themselves. Neither is taking loving care of themselves around others. Caretakers generally take care of themselves when they are alone but abandon themselves when with others who are takers. Takers abandon themselves both when alone and with others. They often have a hard time being alone, and may try to fill themselves up with work, TV, food and other substance or process addictions when alone.

Both takers and caretakers have the same challenge – learning how to take loving care of themselves. Neither has a loving adult self when they are operating as a taker or caretaker.

Caretakers generally believe that they are selfish if they take care of themselves instead of care-taking others. They believe that they do not deserve to take care of themselves – that they have to earn love. It’s not that they don’t know how to love themselves – it’s that they don’t believe that they have the right to love themselves unless they are alone and no one needs them. When caretakers realize that they are abandoning themselves by caretaking others, and realize that they not only have the right but the responsibility to take loving care of themselves, they often move fairly easily into learning to love themselves. Caretakers need to realize that takers will never take their inner child out of the closet. If their feelings and needs are ever going to get taken care of, it will only be because the caretaker starts caring about themselves.

I used to think that caretaking was the opposite of narcissism. I thought that narcissists were people who demanded that others give themselves up to care-take the narcissist. I thought that caretakers were people who were programmed to take care of others instead of themselves. I thought that caretakers needed some healthy narcissism and that takers/narcissists needed more compassion for others.

Now I know that there is a bit more to it. Caretakers do give themselves up to take care of others, but underneath their caretaking, they have the same agenda as the narcissist – to be taken care of by the other person.

The kind of narcissism I’m talking about here is about making another person responsible for your feelings and needs.

We all have this kind of narcissism in our ego wounded selves. The wounded self believes that our good feelings come from getting love, rather than from being loving with ourselves and others.

For many years, caretaking was my primary addiction. I righteously believed that I was being loving when I was sacrificing myself to meet others’ needs. I firmly believed that, since I was sacrificing myself for them – for my parents, husband, and children – they ‘should’ sacrifice themselves for me. When they didn’t, I was hurt and angry.

It was easy for me to see them as narcissistic and entitled, since their demanding was fairly overt. But it was extremely difficult for me to see myself as narcissistic since my demands were so covert.

Now I know that anytime I expect someone else to take responsibility for my feelings and needs, I’m coming from my narcissistic wounded self. Now I know that ‘nice’ is not the same as loving, and that anytime I’m giving to get something back, I’m coming from my narcissistic wounded self, which is not the same thing as narcissistic personality disorder. That’s completely different than our garden variety narcissistic wounded self. I have found this awareness to be very helpful.

The way that it will be helpful to you is if you do not judge your narcissism. Unfortunately, this word is often linked with ‘wrong’ or ‘bad.’ I don’t see it as wrong or bad – just as misguided and wounded. It doesn’t help me bring love and joy into my heart or peace into my soul. It doesn’t help to create loving relationships.

Often, when I ask my caretaking clients why they keep on trying to get someone else to love them with their caretaking, rather than love themselves, what they say to me is, “I can’t do it. I don’t know how.”

I know that if they were to decide to treat themselves the way they attempt to treat others, they would know exactly how. Caretaking people need to be as kind to themselves as they appear to be to others!

The wounded self in both takers and caretakers believes we can’t take loving care of ourselves. And it’s true that the child or adolescent wounded self can’t. It’s not the responsibility of your wounded self to take care of your feelings and needs. It’s the job of your loving adult.

When you are operating as a loving adult, you are connected with your powerful and wise higher self. This aspect of you is capable of taking care of your feelings and needs, and of reaching out to others when you need help.

Asking for help to take care of your feelings and needs is not at all the same thing as making another responsible for you. We all need help at times, and needing help does not make us needy. Neediness occurs when we abdicate responsibility for our feelings and needs and either demand that another do it for us, which is the taker, or covertly expect it through our caretaking.

We are not islands unto ourselves. We all need help, love and caring from others. But it’s one thing to ask for help to take care of ourselves, and quite another to try to get someone else to do it for us. When this is the case, this means that the narcissistic wounded self is in charge.

“How do I know when I am caretaking and when I am being loving?” I’m often asked. The answer lies in understanding your intent.

Caretaking comes from the wounded self and the intent behind caretaking is to control. While it might look loving to be caretaking others, it is anything but loving. It is not loving to abandon yourself. It is not loving to give to get something back. It is not loving to enable others in not taking responsibility for themselves.

Loving behavior toward others always comes from the loving adult. When you are loving others, you are giving to them for the joy of giving to them. The intent behind the giving is to share your love. You don’t need anything from the other person because you are already full of love from having taken loving care of yourself.

There is no agenda attached to loving behavior. How the other person responds is fine because you don’t need anything back, nor do you expect anything back. You are giving for the pure joy of giving and are further filled in the act of giving.

Caregiving is a particular form of loving behavior. You are caregiving when you are giving to another what that person needs and cannot do for himself or herself. When you are caregiving, sometimes you do things even though you don’t feel like doing them, because you love or care about the other person’s well-being. An example of caregiving is taking care of children, even when you have to get up in the middle of the night and don’t want to.

Sometimes caregiving gives you joy, and other times it is difficult, but it never has an agenda attached. You are being kind because it makes you feel good to be kind – not because you are trying to get something back from the other person.

Often clients will ask me, “How do I know the difference between caring and caretaking? Isn’t there a fine line between caring and caretaking?”

No, it is not a fine line at all. There is not a fine line between the intent to control and the intent to be loving to yourself and others. The confusion comes in because the action may be exactly the same. For example, you might make dinner for your partner for the pure joy of giving, or you might make dinner to get approval or avoid disapproval. While the action of making dinner is the same, the energy of it is totally different because the intent is totally different. Food made with love even tastes different than food made from fear, guilt, or obligation.

Have you sometimes wondered how to know the difference between caring and caretaking?

To know the difference, you need to become aware of a number of issues. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Am I giving because I think I ‘should’ in order to be a good person?
  • Am I giving to be seen by others as a good person?
  • Am I giving because I judge myself as selfish if I don’t?
  • Am I giving to get something back – appreciation, approval, attention, love, validation, sex?
  • Am I giving to avoid something – disapproval, rejection, being seen as selfish?
  • Do I have some agenda attached to my giving?
  • Am I giving, or giving myself up, to avoid a conflict?
  • Do I feel empty inside and I’m giving to get the other person to fill me up?
  • Am I giving to feel safe in being indispensable to the other person?
  • Am I giving out of fear?

If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then you are caretaking.

If the answer to the following questions is ‘yes’ then you are caring.

  • Am I giving for the joy of giving, without any expectations or agenda attached?
  • Do I already feel full inside and I’m giving from this full place?
  • Does the act of giving fulfill me?
  • Am I giving because the person I’m giving to is my responsibility – my child, my elderly parent, or a sick person I’ve agreed to take care of?
  • Am I giving because it feels right in my gut to give?
  • Am I giving because it makes me feel good about myself to give?
  • Am I giving out of love?

As I said, it comes down to your intent: to control or to love.

When your intent is to love yourself and share your love with others, then your giving is a true expression of your love. You are giving, not because you feel empty and needy of approval, but because you feel full of love that is overflowing.

Caretaking others can prevent you from knowing yourself and knowing what you want. Despite years of therapy, this is the position I was in when our guidance brought us Inner Bonding, and this is the position Candice is in:

“I have had to parent my whole life, never really able to be a kid from my childlike mother to my son-like husband. Everything seems to depend on me doing the right thing and staying on the straight and narrow. My husband has been saying for years he is going to leave and maybe it is the right thing, but I’m scared of facing ME, I don’t even know who Candice is. What is one thing I can do to let go? After 18 years with my mother and 21 with my husband, dysfunctional relationships are all I know, despite my years of therapy and self-help books.” 

How is it that years of therapy and self-help books did not help me or Candice know ourselves?

The answer is that we can’t know ourselves through the eyes of our programmed wounded self. In all my years of therapy, no one ever helped me to have a spiritual connection so I could learn to see myself accurately. And no one taught me how to take loving care of my own feelings. Not once did any therapist tell me that I was responsible for learning how to love myself and how to learn from and take responsibility for my feelings.

The best thing Candice can do is to learn and practice Inner Bonding. Practicing will enable her to learn how to access her higher self, which will enable her to see herself through the eyes of love rather than through her mother’s or husband’s eyes.

The fact that she has been parenting her mother and her husband for her whole life indicates that she knows how to parent. Now she needs to take all her parenting skill and apply it to herself. This is what the Inner Bonding process will help her learn – to lovingly parent that little child in her who never got to be a kid, so that she can start to let go of taking responsibility for her husband.

She asked, “What is one thing I can do to let go?” The one thing she needs to do is to start focusing on herself – on her own feelings and needs. She has been ignoring her own feelings all these years, in order to care-take her mother and husband – which is why she doesn’t know herself – and she is now afraid to face herself. She has been avoiding her feelings for many years by caretaking others. 

Caretaking is an addiction, and like all addictions, it’s a way to avoid your own feelings.

Candice likely wants to avoid her feelings because she is afraid she doesn’t know how to manage them. It seems easier to care-take others’ feelings than to face her own. However, ignoring her feelings by caretaking others is a form of self-rejection and self-abandonment.

She will find, when she learns and practices Inner Bonding, that taking care of her own feelings is actually much easier than caretaking others’ feelings. She can learn to feel, learn from, and lovingly manage her feelings.

When she stops caretaking her husband, one of two things will happen. Either he will start to take better care of himself, and their relationship will improve, or he will finally leave. In either case, she will likely be better off. So, she has nothing to lose by learning how to take loving care of herself – and a great deal to gain.

Is your caretaking covering up your heartbreak?

Jenny grew up with a narcissistic mother who was incessantly demanding attention and demanding to have her way. Her mother would get furious when her husband or children didn’t do what she wanted them to do or didn’t pay enough attention to her. Jenny, not wanting to be like her mother, learned early to be “nice” and go along with things rather than speak up for herself. She decided that the only way to not be demanding like her mother was to always work conflicts out by herself – never voicing her feelings to anyone. In order to do this, she had to deny the heartache or heartbreak she felt when others were unloving to her.

But she often ended up being treated the same way she treated herself.

One of the things that both her boyfriend and her friends frequently did was to change plans at the last minute. Not wanting to be demanding like her mother or unavailable like her father, and wanting to be responsible for her own feelings, Jenny would repress her heartache and go along with what others wanted. Jenny also believed that, because she is a strong person, she could “take it”, so it was okay to give herself up.

Jenny believed that taking responsibility for her feelings meant that she was supposed to work all her feelings out within herself. As a result, neither her boyfriend nor her friends ever knew when their behavior was hurtful to her.

Finally, between her boyfriend breaking up with her and her friends constantly canceling dates, Jenny had to face what she had been covering up – her painful feelings of heartache and heartbreak that she had never faced.

As a child, she was not big enough or strong enough to allow herself to feel the heartbreak of her mother’s narcissism or her father’s distance. Jenny had learned to dissociate from these feelings with food, activities, and caretaking others.

Now, her wounded pain of aloneness was so big that she could no longer avoid pain with her addictions. The pain she was feeling as a result of attempting to avoid the pain of heartbreak and loneliness was overtaking her.

Through her Inner Bonding practice, Jenny stopped covering up her existential pain with the controlling behavior of her wounded self – compliance, judgments, food, and caretaking. As she let go of trying to have control over others and over her own feelings, she was able to deeply embrace her feelings of heartbreak and grief. She sobbed deeply as she lovingly held her heartbroken inner child.

Finally, Jenny saw that caretaking others was the way she had learned as a small child to protect against the core heartbreak of others’ unloving behavior toward her. She saw that all her life she had been trying to control getting love and avoiding the pain of rejection – and of the resulting heartache and heartbreak. But instead of avoiding pain, she ended up being in even more pain from the aloneness, anxiety and depression that results from self-abandonment.

As Jenny became more aware of her deeper painful feelings, she was surprised to see how often her friends behaved in uncaring ways toward her. As she learned to take loving care of herself rather than continue to give herself up, she started to speak up when she felt the heartache.

Her friends, who really did care about her, started to treat her with much more caring and respect. They had previously been mirroring the disrespect with which she treated herself, so as she learned to stop giving herself up and instead take loving care of herself, her friends were more loving to her as well.

A client once asked me if there is such a thing as healthy caretaking. I had much to go through before I knew the answer to this.

I was trained by my mother and grandmother to be a caretaker. The messages were: “Your feelings are not important to us at all. You need to learn to completely ignore your own feelings and instead take care of our feelings. In return for this, we will occasionally give you some approval for being a good girl.”

I learned my lessons well. I learned to stay in my head rather than my heart and soul so that I wouldn’t be aware of my own feelings. I learned to be very vigilant regarding others’ feelings and to do all I could to be what they wanted me to be. I completely lost touch with myself.

Of course, when I got married, I continued caretaking. I married a man who was very much like my mother and grandmother. I went about trying to win his approval by being what he wanted me to be – again ignoring my own feelings. Whenever I did feel upset, I believed it was because he was angry at me. Because I was taking care of his feelings, I believed he was responsible for my feelings, so when he was angry or withdrawn, I felt sad, abandoned and alone. It never occurred to me that I felt so badly because of how I was treating myself, rather than because of how he treated me.

As time went on, my body reacted to my self-abandonment by making me sick. My immune system was eroding from the lack of self-care, and I’m certain I would have eventually gotten a severe illness, such as cancer, had Inner Bonding not been gifted by spirit to me and Erika.

It was then that I started to learn to take loving care of myself. I was truly shocked to learn that my caretaking, which I had previously thought was loving to my husband, my children, and others, was a form of manipulation to get love and approval. All those years I had believed I was being loving by caretaking, only to discover that I was giving to get love, rather than loving myself and sharing my love with others. My giving – my caretaking -always had an agenda attached.

It took me a number of years to understand the difference between caring and caretaking, and I finally understood that there is no such thing as healthy caretaking. Not only is caretaking not healthy for a relationship, it’s not healthy for ourselves. Over and over, my clients complain of neck pain, back pain, shoulder pain and various illnesses that disappear when they listen to what they want and feel and take loving action on their own behalf. 

We can care and lovingly care give when we are loving ourselves and filling ourselves up with love. When we abandon ourselves – by ignoring our feelings, judging ourselves, turning to various addictions to numb our feelings, and/or making others responsible for our safety and sense of worth – we create an inner emptiness and aloneness.

Filling ourselves up with love is a gift to both ourselves and to others.

I invite you to join me for my 30-Day at-home Course: “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.”

And you can learn so much about loving yourself and creating loving relationships from my recent books:

And we have so much to offer you at our website at

I’m sending you my love and my blessings.

Related Articles


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *